The Navy SEALs coined an ideal that we do not rise to the situation; rather, we fall to the level of our training. Basically, we do not get magic super powers when we are faced with a challenge. Instead, we rely on our preparation. Whenever I have planned out a certain event, it never went as planned. I always had to enact at least one of the contingencies we built into the plan. However, there have been situation where there was no contingency for that specific issue and it was not pretty. I didn’t magically make it happen. Prepare for what you expect to happen tomorrow now and you will be ready.
Being a leader is not about getting a fancy duty title or fringe benefits. The 1950’s model of leadership was to have the minions serve the boss. They would run in front of him and remove the obstacles in his path, they would lay their jackets over the mud hole so his boots wouldn’t lose their luster. That is an archaic view and completely opposite of what a leader is. A leader should be looking for and destroying the obstacles in the paths of his team members so they can do amazing things for the organization. When this happens, there are hordes of people achieving goals for the team not multiple people serving the whims of one person.
I always used to laugh when people would say the smartest person in the room is the one who asks the most questions. I would instantly think of all the commander calls where the wing commander would be asked about why the eggs were “tepid” at the chow hall. I thought, “no, the one who asks the most questions is the most annoying one.” It is about those who ask questions that further the conversation and clarify something others may want to know. Ask questions that matter and be willing to look the fool.
We are horrible managers of our own time. Case and point, we have no problem staying up just five or ten minutes longer to do something seemingly useless like scroll our phones or watch a fidget spinner infomercial. Then we fight the alarm clock the next morning because we are too tired to wake up. And that is how we start our day. If we look at the other areas of our lives, we will find a similar pattern. A time waste here prevents something else there. Look for those lost minutes in your day and spend them on something that matters to you.
Why do vegetables taste worse than candy? I have wondered my whole life why the hardest thing to do is often the best…like eating vegetables in lieu of candy. I am not sure of the reason for this, but we all know it is better to do the hard things over the easy things most of the time. Don’t let fear or laziness hold you back; just go out there and make it happen.
In the movie Training Day, Denzel Washington’s character, Alonzo, tells Ethan Hawke’s character, Jake: Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open, you might learn a thing or two. While Alonzo is talking about the streets and how actions there affect a Narc officer, these words apply to us as leaders.
Our teams, much like the streets, offer a certain dynamic. Read the team: what does the team do? How they do it? What motivates them to complete tasks? Do they ask for feedback or does it need to be forced? Do members slack off and use social media instead of accomplishing tasks? Does the team watch the clock?
What things happen to cause an affect on the aforementioned dynamic to make it better or worse? Early release, additional tasks, PT, shift in duty hours, just to name a few can change those dynamics. We are charged to recognize those baseline measures, changes, and lead the team to success. Be the change you want to see in others.
Learn who is who in the zoo to build that baseline. Strengths and weaknesses also need to be understood. Learn where power resides within the team. Is it expertise, referent, or charisma? How does the power holder lead others? Why does the team follow that power? Who is the “go to”? Why? Which team members are struggling with the mission or the admin? How can you help grow the everyone from the struggling team member through the go to?
These answers will not reveal themselves quickly. Rapport and trust need to be built with the individuals and the team as a whole. Slowly, as rapport and trust are built through daily interactions and you become more comfortable with the team and vice versa, answers to the why will start to become clear. Then, the time to speak, act, and implement changes will be up to you.
Alonzo fails to recognize the time to speak, act, and make changes to the environment (streets), grow his team, or enforce any standards which become his ultimate demise in the movie as he carries out his self-serving actions.
Fortunately, we aren’t limited to a 150 minutes in a movie, and have much more time to capitalize on the opportunity to change the environment through our actions as leaders.
We can make changes through understanding our team members, which helps build an individual plan for each team member; we need to understand their (personal, professional, educational) goals, then guide the member to reach those objectives. Those individual goals lead to meeting greater team goals because an inspired member will share their story and inspire others.
As leaders, we should also set high standards for the team as a whole and for each individual. These high standards will help push to each member to hit goals. We cannot forget accountability with standards though, as it is our responsibility to hold them accountable throughout the process. If there is a break away from the baseline or a failure to perform, inject yourself, course correct, and give the feedback needed.
There is a saying in politics that goes something like, “never waste a good crisis.” When something big happens, these leaders are looking for ways to make things better. For example, WWII led to the creation of the UN. If it hadn’t been for that, the UN may have never been. When things are falling apart, look for the one thing you can do to make something better. Does anyone have an example of a time they did this or saw it in action?
One of the greatest lessons I ever learned was from a martial arts instructor. This man was very talented, a proven champion, high-ranking and the owner of the school. However, he never referred to any of the students as “students.” We were fellow martial artists, workout partners, teammates, etc. He was clearly the leader of the school, but he viewed those on his team as equals; he just held the leadership role. It was such a powerful lesson in humility.
“I can’t do that right now.” How many times a day do we say this to our team or to our families? It saddens me to think about all the times I put off time with my kids for something that doesn’t matter in the long run. “After I reorganize this sock drawer, I will play catch with you.” My sock drawer isn’t going anywhere, but my boy will eventually leave home. We do the same thing to those we work with. That mountain of emails will be there tomorrow and even if we clean out our tasker list, it will come back. Take the time to invest in your team first and then alphabetize your socks.