Dynamic Dozen: Lead Your Team to Reach Their Potential

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 (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jason Epley)
Airmen and Soldiers load into the back of a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle Dec. 11 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jason Epley)

“When things go wrong in your command, start wading for the reason in increasing larger concentric circles around your own desk.” – General Bruce D. Clark

Leading your team to reach their potential requires you to balance the tension between leading your team to stretch to achieve at their capability, and overextending your team past what they’re able to do. Sometimes leaders have to inspire people past what those people think they can do–that’s growth and development. Push too hard, however, and leaders can break people and organizations. It’s a delicate balance and requires leaders to know their people and what those people are actually capable of doing. In the military, we expect leaders to train alongside their troops–teaching, guiding, coaching, and even pushing them to excellence and proficiency. Leaders who know their people well will lead them to high levels of performance.

Know Your People

It’s a common theme here on General Leadership that leaders must thoroughly know their people, and it’s fundamental to leadership at any level. Leaders are in the people business, which is why we always make the distinction between leaders and managers. We “manage” processes and resources–we lead people. In order to be an effective leader, you have to know what motivates your people and what they can do. Each person is different and requires something different from you as a leader. This person has a creative streak, that person is good with numbers. Knowing a person’s strengths and weaknesses assures you are able to assign them tasks commensurate with their skills and motivations. Doing this right means developing relationships with the team and being genuinely interested in their development. At a basic level the answer is simple: spend time with the team.Visit their work areas, ask about them and their families, learn their strengths and weaknesses, and be genuinely interested in them as people. In doing this, leaders can develop an understanding of who their people are and what are their capabilities.

Help People Reach Their Potential But Know Their Limits

Leaders can push people to their limit so their teams reach their potential, but must be careful not to go too far. As a military leader I’ve always been careful to listen to my sergeants and watch for signs of fatigue among the troops. The men and women I serve with are dedicated and mission oriented–they’ll extend themselves well past their breaking point if we allow them to do so. Military leaders are constantly monitoring their troops to ensure their well being, while at the same time pushing them to learn new skills and be more efficient. In this way, we develop camaraderie, learn the strengths of those we lead, and are able to place people in the right positions to contribute.

A leader who leads their team to high achievement is usually the one who believes in them the most. Many people only need a little encouragement to stretch themselves past where they think is their limit. That type of leadership demands a positive attitude, technical competence, and a vision for success. A leader who can teach and lead at the same time is a leader who can get the best from every person they lead. Military leaders know this, which is why we spend so much time developing competence and maintaining the morale of the troops.

Employ Your Team

The team might excel if they’re good–but they will excel if they’re well led! It’s a leader’s responsibility to know the team and employ them within their capabilities.

Originally posted at GeneralLeadership.com


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Dynamic Dozen: Know Your People and Look After Their Welfare

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james-jabara-standing-on-a-f-86-sabre-in-an-air-force-photo-from-april-1953Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.
 Harold S. Geneen

During the 1950-1953 Korean War, American fighter pilots dominated the skies, even though the Soviet-made MiG-15 jets were faster and more nimble than the American F-80 and F-86s. The difference wasn’t the technology—it was the battle-tested American veterans flying the aircraft that made the difference. In the military, we often speak of our people as a “human weapon system” as a way to understand the central role of humans in war. Put more simply: military leaders are in the people business. Knowing the people we lead and taking care of their welfare is therefore integral to military leadership. It isn’t just military leaders, but all leaders who are in the people business.

Know Your People

The fundamental difference between leadership and management is “people.” We manage things, programs, and processes–we lead people. Spreadsheets don’t respond to charisma, and no one cares if the bench stock is feeling “off” that day. A manager can maintain control over stuff and processes without caring or even knowing much about what they’re actually managing. Not so with leadership. Successful leaders understand their mission depends on knowing who their people are and what they’re capable of doing. Clearly, there’s some practical reasons for knowing your people on a personal level. Everyone has their own quirks and talents, and being able to assign work commensurate with your team members’ skills is vital to performance. An effective leader will not hesitate to push people to be their best, but will never push people beyond their limits. Those limits are impossible to know if leaders don’t connect on a personal level with the people they lead.

There is a deeper reason to know your people, however, and one tied even more closely to organizational performance and your team members’ welfare. If you know your people and understand them, you will take your team to the next level in performance, they’ll be more engaged, and the workplace will be a better place to work. People respond to other people they know actually care for their welfare. In fact, when people understand they’re valued as persons first by their boss they’re much more engaged and loyal in return. Each year, Fortune Magazine puts out the 100 Best Companies to Work For. In order to make the list, Fortune partners with Great Place to Work to conduct random surveys of employees in nominated companies. Two-thirds of the final score came from employee evaluations of things like management credibility and camaraderie. Good scores on surveys like that come from companies where leaders are connected and employees feel like they have a mission, not just a paycheck.

Look Out For Their Welfare

Inspiring people to engage and perform is only half the job; the rest of the job is taking care of the teams’ welfare. In the military, it means providing for people’s needs, and as well preparing them for their mission. Leaders have a responsibility to put their teammates welfare above their own. The shorthand for all of that is Leaders Eat Last. If the troops are cold, so are you. If they’re eating meals out of a bag, so are you. If they’re in danger, then you’re leading them from the front. Leaders make sure the troops are fed and bedded down before taking a single comfort for themselves. In this way, military leaders demonstrate their commitment to never treat the troops’ welfare casually, and that breeds trust in the leader’s decisions.

The same concept easily applies to civilian life. Be sure the work area is safe, pay a fair wage, make sure you’re willing to share their hardships. If they have to stay late, you stay with them. The occasional pizza for that late night doesn’t hurt either. Leaders have to put their teams ahead of themselves–eating last–or else risk losing credibility with those they lead. On top of that, celebrate your teammates’ success and cry with them during tragedy. Remember birthdays and learn about what your teams do for fun, and about their families. Doing that, being authentic, will ensure your team understands you care about their welfare.

There is an enormous difference between the person who sees leadership as a means of controlling others, and the leader who sees leadership as a responsibility to serve others. Leaders who know their people and look after their welfare are able to get their mission done and help others be the best they can be.

Originally posted on GeneralLeadership.com

 

Dynamic Dozen: Know Yourself and Seek Self Improvement

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Leadership Quote AFS

Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.
― Heraclitus

One of the most valuable lessons I learned as a new “fish” in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets was I would never be a leader until I learned to follow first. Believe me, an Aggie Cadet follows like hell their first year. In addition to the academic demands of our coursework, we were required to join a club, and attend various sporting and University events. Our upperclassmen also led us in volunteer work and intramural sports.

What my upperclassmen were trying to give us the space and example to do, was to discover who we are as individuals, and to develop in us the desire for continuous self improvement. For people to grow into maturity, these skills are important–for leaders, they’re vital. You can’t lead anyone if you don’t know who you are or where you want to go.

Know Yourself

Getting to know yourself is a lifelong pursuit, and there are no shortcuts to the journey. You can go to seminars and read books, and those are helpful aids to discovery, but the only sure way to learn who you are is to step out and live life. As I told my Airmen many times, “Don’t be a cave dweller. You can’t live your life coming home to XBox and energy drinks–get outside and do something!” Experiencing life is the only sure way to learn who you are and what you’re capable of doing. Obviously, this approach involves risk–you might fail–but even those failures can illuminate our character and our aptitude. I’m not talking about living recklessly or violating your conscience. What I am talking about is living deliberately instead of allowing life to happen to you. Set goals, take (reasonable) chances, and be prepared to make mistakes. Thomas Edison famously spoke about the number of times he failed to make a light bulb before he succeeded.

Learning about yourself means knowing what you want and setting about getting to that destination. That means you do have to do some introspection, but once you’ve settled on a direction: move out. If you allow life to just happen instead of living each day deliberately, you’ll never get to the next step: seeking self improvement.

Continuous Self Improvement

One of the hallmarks of every great leader is each continued to seek to improve themselves. To do that, we need to understand the ways we see ourselves and can improve ourselves. I like to think of the human person in three facets: Mind, Body, and Spirit. In approaching your life as seeking balance between these three sides or facets of your person, you can take deliberate steps to improve yourself. I was privileged to attend several in-residence professional military education colleges, and I remember being awed by the very high quality of the guest speakers we heard. Each of them, man and woman, military and civilian, were high achievers: generals, military heroes, C-suite executives, statesmen, and professional athletes. All of them had a couple of things in common: they were early risers and they continued to improve themselves in each facet of their person. They were widely read and continued to keep up with current literature; they found time to exercise regularly, and they spent time attending to their human spirit.

As leaders, our commitment to continuous self improvement not makes us better people, it also increases our effectiveness. The sort of leader who is a life-long learner and always seeking to better himself is the same sort of person who sees opportunity when others see disaster. Indeed, a commitment to continuous self improvement usually translates to a leader whose eyes are on the horizon. Those men and women are people others want to follow, and better yet, they are leaders who know where to take their teams.

Summing Up

Leaders who know themselves and seek to improve themselves are exactly the sorts of people we love to follow.

 

Originally posted on GeneralLeadership.com