Dynamic Dozen: People Need a Purpose, Not Just a Paycheck

Posted Posted in GeneralLeadership.com, Practical Leadership

S.L.A._Marshall“A man has integrity if his interest in the good of the service is at all times greater than his personal pride, and when he holds himself to the same line of duty when unobserved as he would follow if his superiors were present”
– General S.L.A. Marshall

It was very dark and cold on the flightline at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base where teams of Airmen and a Kuwaiti contractor were working furiously in the desert night to repair a critical fuel line prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The fuel line had been damaged in the 1991 war, and we were racing the calendar to get fuel to the airplanes who would launch the opening of the liberation of Iraq. No one knew the exact date we’d “go north,” but we all knew it was soon. Getting the air base ready for combat was our purpose.

As I made the rounds checking on my engineers and talking with the contractors, I made sure to thank them for the very important work they were doing. The Airmen were in cold and miserable conditions, but all of them were upbeat and positive. “Sir, we know this project is important and we’re proud to be here!” one of them said in the darkness. He knew what was coming and was excited because he was doing his mission. Our Kuwaiti site superintendent gave me the most moving response, however. When I shook his hand and thanked him for his work, in heavily accented English he said simply, “Sir, it is our duty.”

The Myth vs Reality of Military Leadership

Watch almost any military story told on film and you’ll eventually meet the “Colonel Jessup” character–you know, the guy who feels the insignia on his sleeve or collar entitles him to give orders that are followed without question. It’s a popular myth, but it is a myth. While there are certainly occasions for swift and decisive action, good leaders know people aren’t robots and need to know the “why,” especially if there’s danger involved. Further, and more to the point, when leaders give their people a purpose larger than themselves instead of just a paycheck, their relationship transcends the transactional and enters the realm of high performance.

We actually do an exceptional job in the military of giving people a higher purpose to attach to themselves and their work. It’s part of the military leadership model to ensure the team understands and to the maximum extent possible buys into the mission. In war, especially modern war, we expect even the most junior leaders to understand their commander’s purpose and even anticipate that commander’s decisions. The military orders process includes rehearsals and detailed explanations of the plan. We explain how individual tasks fit into the overall plan. Furthermore, military leaders know our work is dangerous and so spend a great deal of energy motivating their teams to understand the risks and why those risks might be necessary.

It’s the same in the day-to-day training environment. Leaders spend energy personally helping the entire team, from the newest “one-striper” the the seasoned veterans understand and appreciate their contribution to the overall mission. It’s common for people to be able to connect even the most mundane tasks to the mission of the larger unit–it’s often the unit motto. “We fuel the warfighter!”, “No comm, no bomb!”–you get the idea. Regardless of whether someone is carrying a rifle, flying a plane, cooking a meal, or repairing an air conditioner, he knows how his particular job contributes to the larger mission.

Private Sector Companies Get It Too

The most successful private sector companies are very good at giving their employees a purpose instead of just a paycheck. There are loads of great examples, but Recreational Equipment Inc (REI) and Space Exploration Technologies, Inc. (SpaceX) are among my favorite examples. REI sells outdoor apparel and equipment, and SpaceX is in the space launch business. Despite being in vastly different industries, they have many things in common. Both companies are innovators, with REI crushing their competitors with record sales and profits, and SpaceX setting a new standard for space launch. They also have something else in common: they are impressively successful at giving their team members as since of higher purpose–a mission. For REI, their mission is to get people outside to enjoy the great outdoors; SpaceX is going to Mars.

To these teams, their purpose is a greater motivation than the bottom line. To be sure, profit and loss statements are the lifeblood of any business—but the heart and soul of that business is the purpose. Leaders who can inspire by connecting individual effort to the overall mission of the organization are the ones who can get high performance from their teams. When that purpose itself is inspirational, so much the better. Case in point is the video below—SpaceX employees cheering the launch and landing of their Falcon 9 rocket like it was the Super Bowl. That sort of excitement doesn’t come from a good compensation package. It comes from visionary leadership energizing the team with the knowledge they’re part of something important. It’s no surprise then, that REI is in an elite category for outdoor equipment and SpaceX is about to launch the same rocket for the second time dramatically lowering the cost of space travel.

Inspire Them, Lead Them

Not everyone is going to Mars or helping people enjoy the great outdoors, but every business leader can help their teams understand their contribution to society and community. Retailers supply the needs and wants of the community, service industry businesses are the fuel for other businesses, city service providers keep the community clean and healthy. All but the most esoteric of luxury businesses contribute directly to the well-being and success of the community. The lesson is this: If you want to lead your organizations to high performance, the inspire them first by giving them a purpose, not just a paycheck.

Originally posted on General Leadership.

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: Lead Your Team to Reach Their Potential

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com
 (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: Give Clear Direction, Then Follow Through

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

The ballplayer who loses his head, who can’t keep his cool, is worse than no ballplayer at all.  – Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig, NY Yankee great - Give Clear Direction, Then Follow ThroughIt’s baseball season again, and so we begin the annual Rite of the Green Grass and White Lines. Each year, baseball coaches struggle to give clear direction to help their teams make good decisions on the field and follow through with good execution. It’s rare to see major leaguers allow a ball to hit the ground between them, but it’s bound to happen at any given Little League game. How many times have you heard, I thought you had it?! The teams that win, the ones who don’t let those fly balls hit the ground, are well-led, coached, and drilled. Winning requires leadership from the players and the coaches alike. Off the field, to keep our “baseballs” from hitting the ground, then we have to master the art of giving clear direction, then following through.

After taking care of the people in our charge, leaders have to be concerned with getting the mission done. That requires us to give direction clearly, supervise it appropriately, and then follow through. This basic formula–task, supervise, follow through–is the same at every level of leadership, but the methods change as leaders rise in rank and responsibility. This skill is a crucial leadership skill for leaders at all levels to get their teams to the championship.

First Line Leaders Use “HandCon”

For first line leaders, “HandCon” is the way they operate. “HandCon” is military shorthand for direct, personal leadership–“hand control.” The time and distance between issuing orders (“direction”) and carrying out those orders (“execution”) is short. First line leaders personally issue orders, explain or even demonstrate tasks, and supervise execution. Success depends on checking things personally and seeing the comprehension of their instructions in the faces of their team. They learn quickly how to communicate, and occasionally demonstrate, the task they want their teams to perform. They can make on-the-spot corrections when things go awry, and they can see immediately when their team member’s motivation or training is deficient. In military parlance, these types of orders are usually called “fragmentary orders” if they’re simple or “field orders” if they’re more complex.

Senior Leaders Give Mission Orders

As leaders rise in rank and responsibility, the distance between “direction” and “execution” grows. A consequence of that distance means leaders have to practice the art of giving clear direction, and then following through in different ways since their teams will necessarily function without the leader’s personal supervision. As my Leadership Course instructors taught me at the Eisenhower School, “What got you here won’t make you successful here.” Leaders have to master new skills to effectively give direction, ensure their teams understand their instructions, and then follow up to be sure it’s done.

Senior leaders are leading other leaders, so they will give instructions to outline the desired end-state, boundaries, and overall intent. The military calls this type of leadership “Mission Command,” and so the orders are “mission orders.” Mission orders give the team boundaries, or rules, for getting to the desired end-state. Senior leaders have to define what they’re after and allow their teams to get to the finish line their own way. That doesn’t mean style or cost isn’t important, it just means leaders cannot rely on “HandCon” to ensure a task is well understood all the way to execution. Allowing for sufficient initiative and creativity while clearly explaining boundaries and end-state will get us much better solutions than if we had simply micro-managed the task. It also has the virtue of growing the next generation of leaders.

Call the Ball

A well led and practiced baseball team will communicate well, and execute on the field what they learned in drills. Just like that baseball team manager, leaders at all levels must learn how to communicate with their teams in ways that allow them to be successful when it’s time to go to work. If led effectively, your teams will call the ball and enjoy the game, too.  

Originally posted on 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 writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, and GeneralLeadership.com.

Dynamic Dozen: Know Your People and Look After Their Welfare

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

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: Be Technically and Tactically Proficient

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

Grader FestThe vast majority of Airmen we train are going to be somewhere in harm’s way within the next year or two. It is up to us to impart to them the talent and skill they need to accomplish their mission in a world-class fashion and at the same time make sure we get them back safely to the families that love them.
General William R. Looney III, USAF

I remember it just like it was yesterday. As a young lieutenant, I was designing an asphalt road for a road my engineer Airmen would construct during a Field Training Exercise (FTX) I was to lead. The master sergeant assigned to my leadership team leaned over my shoulder and asked,

“Watcha doin’ L-T?” I looked up and said, “Calculating how much asphalt we’re going to need.”

He looked at my calculations where my arithmetic indicated 30.56 tons of asphalt and smiled. “L-T, asphalt comes in 10 ton trucks–you need four trucks.” It was an object lesson in technical and tactical proficiency from a seasoned professional, and I was grateful to him for correction. His mentoring saved me from the giggles I’d surely have received from my Airmen if I’d tried to order “30.56 tons” of asphalt.

Leadership is More Than Charisma

Personal charisma is certainly useful in leaders, but charisma without actual proficiency in the business of the organization only goes so far. While it’s true an exceptional leader can help an organization through difficult time, if you really want your organization to be high performing, you have to hire the right team captain. I’ve worked in many different teams during my nearly 30 years in uniform, and the leader with the most charisma wasn’t always the one who got the most from their team. Rather, the leader with a keen sense of how to garner resources and put the right team member in the right job is far more important. Some of my most effective commanders were among the least charismatic. What those leaders lacked in charisma they more than made up for in developing their team and setting clear goals.

Leaders Need Technical and Tactical Proficiency

The combination of solid interpersonal skills and technical proficiency is a formula for an exceptionally successful leader. If your team spends half their time trying to educate you on the “nuts and bolts” of your mission, I can guarantee they’re not spending enough time getting the mission done. A technically proficient leader can skip the “101” go directly to the graduate level. That’s where a leader really shows his worth. It’s analogous to a team rowing a boat. If the leader has a steady hand on the tiller and eyes on the horizon, the boat will reach its destination quickly.

A tactically and technically proficient leader marries their knowledge and vision to lead their teams. A technically proficient is constantly learning. Developing a leader’s mind means keeping up with the current books in your field, attending conferences and industry forums, and engaging in the industry’s conversation online and in person. LinkedIn groups, professional societies, and reading lists by thought leaders are all proven ways to build and maintain your technical proficiency. A tactically proficient leader understands the environment. Networking with other leaders and contributing to your industry’s development through writing and speaking are ways to build your tactical proficiency. Finally, a technically and tactically proficient leader is a teacher–he or she is able to pass on their skills to the team and elevate the team’s performance by increasing their skill level.

Summing Up

Leaders who pay attention to their proficiency as well as their leadership skills have an edge over those who don’t. If your team is spending all day teaching you the business, they’re not doing the mission. Additionally, it’s difficult to give direction if you don’t know what you’re doing. Therefore, learning the business is just as important as relating to people. If you do both, you’re truly leading the team to high performance.

Originally posted on GeneralLeadership.com