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Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader

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Leadership

Don’t Be Difficult

Have you ever had to deal with a difficult person? It is so frustrating and even harder when that person is an A-Player on the team. Are you ever that person to your boss?

Recently, I was reading a book where a story about how Dwight D. Eisenhower had such a situation. His top General, George Patton, was constantly saying and doing things that were actions not becoming of a senior leader and lost countless hours trying to figure out the best way to deal with it all. What made matters worse is that this person was a close personal friend who rose through the ranks with him. Eisenhower was in a tough place, because he had to discipline him, but if he was relieved from command, the Germans would take advantage of this. And most of this was right before the launch of D-Day.

This story made me think about all of the times I was a thorn in the side of my leadership. Why? I can’t give a solid reason, but wish I could take it back in most situations. Yet, many of us do this to our leadership and we make things very difficult for them.

Think about this as if you are house shopping. The first house has everything you want. It has that Pottery Barn kitchen, pool, professional landscaping and huge air conditioned garage, but the price is much higher than it should be for that neighborhood. The next house has an ok price, but needs to be gutted and would cost almost as much as the first one to do all this work.

The first house is like General Patton. Your teammate has all of the talent you can imagine and can deliver like no other; however, he is constantly stirring the pot and angering his peers and your leadership is pressuring you to remove him. The cost is very high, but the features you need are there.

The second is that person you are unsure of. You know she needs some work to be where you need her to be, but she says she is willing and she works well with her peers. The amount of work needed to make her successful is not known, and who knows for sure if she can do the job.

As a leader, it is situational. In the case of Eisenhower, he had to stick with Patton because he had no room for error at this time. However, had this been during peacetime or later in the war, he would have been gone and the next person in line would have been tapped. The best talent for the job who could add the most value to the team would be (and often is) removed because his price was way too high. The next person in line would be put in place and the masses would suffer through his learning curve.

It is rare to see amazing talent and humility in the same person. I think it is because we get to the point where we see or think that we are the go-to person and doing more of the value-added tasks than the others and think we deserve special treatment. I fell into this trap when I was a young instructor. I was on a streak where I was the go-to guy and knocking big things out of the park. Well, I hated rushing in the mornings and got to work a few minutes late each day. My boss at the time could have easily reprimanded me or some other form of punishment, but he saw an opportunity to mentor.

This SNCO took me aside and asked me what was going on and I had the audacity to try and justify it. Something about the fact I stayed late each day, always did my job well, blah, blah. If I were him, I would have Darth Vader choked me. Instead, he helped me see that acting in this way actually took away from all of the hard work I was doing. He taught me the value of the very first leadership lesson we all receive, “lead by example”.

Anyone can be taught to do great things. Anyone can have a great season where they are knocking it out of the park. Anyone can become that fixer-upper house that is now completed. Honestly, that is the easy part. It just requires effort. However, the hard part is to lead with character. Doing big things is great and all, but we are missing the ability to bring others along if we are not willing to lead with character. When we decide to develop our character within and lead in this way, we become the right person for every situation.

Daily Deliberation: 28 December 2019

This is one of the most under appreciated notions. We become fearful of taking on new opportunities or doing something that takes us out of our comfort zone. However, every single time that we do, we learn something new that sets us up for some future role. I once was tossed into a retention manager job as a high schooler and hated it. But in this role, I learned some very valuable lessons that helped me all throughout my military career. Don’t be afraid of new challenges, they are the only way you will truly grow.

Daily Deliberation: 23 December 2019

Do you agree that respect is earned? When I first started my career, I thought this was true on an individual level. For example, “he takes care of his people, he has earned my respect.” However, if you think about it, there are two different types of respect. We respect people out of fear for their position or respect them for the quality of their character. If the wing commander was the biggest jerk on the planet, we might not respect his character, but we would still follow his lawful orders out of fear for his position. Respect is always there; Trust isn’t. Seek to Earn Trust.

Why All the Meetings?

I’ve sat through a lot of meetings over the past few years; I found myself spending more time in a conference room rather than at my desk.  I would carry my little green notebook and scribble down the action items, guidance, and dates of importance. 

Beyond getting the tasks and important upcoming dates, the commander’s guidance was the most important piece of each meeting.  I learned why we did certain things, why it was important to the greater plan, and why I needed <insert task> done.  Learning the boss’s perspective and guidance cleared up things that I didn’t understand as a young NCO.

Arriving back at the office, tasks and dates would be distributed to the appropriate person through various one on one or small team drive by taskings, dates would be emailed, and the team went on with their work-day.  Now that the work from the meeting is going on, the team doesn’t have the why, just the what.

Later, the why would be relayed to the team in, yes, another meeting.  It is important to use the time with the team to explain why their part of the mission was important, where it made a difference at, and why we were doing the things we were tasked with. The reason this is done later, instead of with the tasks, is to save time and have 1 discussion instead of 40 individual conversations.

Simon Sinek’s Start with Why is a great read and explains the importance of giving subordinates the why and how it motivates them. But even with understanding why I need to know the guidance and how we fit in, isn’t enough.  Someone needs to tell me, so if you need me, I’ll probably be in a meeting.

In order to make it through meetings, I’ve used these techniques:

  • Get there earlier so you start on time.
    • Find the coolest place in the room to sit.
    • Avoid being crammed in the corner, next to the equipment. It can be a distractor.
  • Be a part of the meeting, not just being present.
  • Active listening is crucial to understanding the message.  This includes body language.  Make eye contact with the speaker, even as it goes around the room.  Take notes and if a question comes from the dialogue, don’t be afraid to ask. The old saying goes, if you have a question about something, someone in the room probably does too.  
    • Ask questions when things are unclear.
    • Questions about acronyms should be asked immediately, politely ask the speaker to break it out.
  • Bring the water bottle.
  • Be brief when presenting.
  • Practice courtesy and save sidebars for after unless it is necessary for the discussion.
  • If you are leading the meeting, share the agenda early so everyone is prepared and knows what to expect, including how long it should last.

Make it happen.

Daily Deliberation: 21 December 2019

We allow others to tell us we are not good enough or that what we do is not going to change anything. We could have 1,000 people advise we are on the right path and then some random troll under the bridge will totally turn us around. Don’t be afraid to take a risk that you think will make you or your team better.

Daily Deliberation: 16 December 2019

I don’t believe all the answers to all the problems are in books, but I do believe the seeds to those answers are. Books we trust and enjoy are a constant source for growth. However, if we don’t use our own experiences in conjunction with what we read, we become sheep. When we do, we become leaders.

What’s Next: Prepare for Life After the Military

The day will come when you hang up that uniform for the last time. How will your next chapter read? More importantly, what are you doing now to script that next chapter? If you’re counting only on TAPS to set you up, you’ll be sorry.

During my last couple of years in the service and this last year as a civilian, I was/am asked constantly, “how can I set myself up for the future?” Then, this meant a future as a SNCO and now it means getting a great job after getting out. The advice is the same no matter what the next chapter is.

Time travel: The easiest solution to all of this is to travel into the future and see what choices work best for you and then execute. As absurd as this sounds, we can make it happen…sort of. Have you ever said, “I wish I knew then, what I know now?” At some point we all do. We look back 5 years and think, ‘if only I would have done this, I’d be miles ahead of where I am now.’ Or maybe we look at the young airman or our children and think, ‘if they just started doing this now, they will be setting themselves up for a great future.’

Good news, if you have ever had similar thoughts as this, you have the ability to do the same for you…you just need to reverse engineer the gift. Instead of relenting on the past, look to where you want to be in five years. Then figure out what you need to do to get there and create some milestones to work towards.

In the service, this is much easier. We can see the stripes on the sleeves and we want 8 but only have 5 at the moment. To get there, we have a road map of what to do and access to those who have reached those goals already. Our problem is that we don’t take a more deliberate approach to getting there and time passes us by. So step one: look for someone with two stripes more than you and ask them what they did at your current rank to set them up for the future. Then ask them what they wish they did to prepare even better. Step two: do that.

After the service, it is much harder to do this. Most of us have a limited view of what we want our lives to look like. We want a good job to support our families and lifestyle, but what does that really mean? A lot of my peers were chasing the 6-figure income and others were looking to fill the gap from what their retirement paid and current income. Others simply wanted a healthy home-life where they had more time with the family. Step one here is to determine what matters to you.

The next thing I would do is go to Google. Just type, “6 figure jobs in <insert city>” or “best work life balance jobs in <insert city>” and explore the different results. When I was originally planning to get out, I was in the 6-figure category because I wanted to move my family back to our hometown and the Mrs. would be staying home. That area has a major manufacturing presence so I read all the job descriptions I could until I found some that interested me. We ultimately decided to stay in Charleston, so I went the work/life balance route and did the same thing.

Once you find a job description that speaks to you, there are a couple more steps to prepare you. First of all, is this something you can see yourself doing in five years when you actually get out of the service. Remember you will be older and have more experience in the future and may not want to be doing as much manual labor or travel as you do now. Take things like this into consideration.

The next two things are most important to truly setting yourself up. What are the job requirements in those descriptions? Sometimes a bachelors is required, sometimes only a certification, sometimes more. This is your road map. Work on checking these boxes now so you will be ready when you do leave the service. For example, my masters degree was not as important as a PMP certification was. Learn what is important and plan those next steps.

The most important thing (and I can not stress this enough) is to network, network, network. Your chances of sending out an application and then being selected for an interview are around 5-10% when you apply to a job ad. However, this goes up to over 80% when you are referred by an insider. In fact, 4 out of 5 jobs aren’t even posted because bosses lean on their team to refer someone they know. Who would you rather hire? A known or an unknown. Become a known.

To do this start off on a site like LinkedIn. Search for people in the company or career field you are interested in and reach out to them. Especially look for those with recruiter or human resources in their job title. These are the gatekeepers that push your resume to the next level. Ask them to look over your resume and tell you where you are lacking. I had about a 50% success rate doing this and have made some good internet pals along the way. Feel free to connect with me and leverage my network (Joe Lawrence LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/inspiretomorrow/). On LinkedIn, the larger your network the better your search results.

Also, reach out to those actually doing the job you want and do the same thing you did to those SNCOs with 2 stripes more than you. Ask them what they did to get there and what they wish they had done to better prepare. Before you know it, you will be well prepared for whatever comes next.

Daily Deliberation: 15 December 2019

I think all of our units have a mission and vision statement written or hanging on some wall. We walk past it everyday and may have caught a glimpse. Sometimes, we memorize it because the Chief has called people out during roll calls. What is the purpose? EPR/OPR bullet for our leaders? At least, that is what we tend to think. A vision is intended to paint the picture for where the team is heading. Like before we start a road trip, we know we are going to grandma’s. We need to do the same thing with our teams. Tell them where we are going and the milestones we need to hit along the way and then equip them to accomplish each. This is how you turn random words on a wall into action.

Daily Deliberation: 13 December 2019

Many of us probably have no clue why we are here on this earth. Some believe we were created to do something. Some believe we are here as a product of chance. Whatever the cosmic cause of our existence, the fact is we are here. Now the real question is, what are we going to do with the 1,440 minutes we have each day? We have the choice to add value to another; we can take from others; or we can simply exist. What is your choice?

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