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: Know Yourself and Seek Self Improvement

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

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

Who Inspires You?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Pure Inspiration

 

abraham-lincolnAs a student of history, I’m often inspired by the lives of the people who lived through and shaped great events. I think we need heroes, and not just the ones we watch for 30 seconds on a news program’s “profile” short. Great men and women from history should inspire us to see our own circumstances in light of how they conquered adversity and achieved greatness.

Sometimes we reduce historical figures to “ordinary” status by over emphasizing their flaws and under-selling their accomplishments. I think that’s a mistake. What makes our heroes “great” is not merely their virtues and accomplishments, but that they did great things despite their flaws. Celebrating only a hero’s virtue without acknowledging the flaws is dishonest, but so is discounting their accomplishments because of those flaws. Sometimes a historical person’s human weakness and failings are defining characteristics, but most often those people are like the rest of us: a mixture of weakness and strength married with the courage to rise above and accomplish something remarkable. In my mind being mortal makes their contributions all the more inspiring: that somehow our heroes were able to rise above (sometimes even themselves) to do something great.

I think leaders need heroes and role models. We need them because even the most confident Type A leader has self-doubt. We need heroes because we sometimes take counsel of our fears. We need to be inspired to believe even flawed humans can do good, even in spite of their own flaws. Acknowledging that there’s no such thing as a perfect human, but that imperfect humans can do good is beneficial for our collective souls. Inspiration can come from the unknown person working hard on a cause they believe in, but let’s not overlook our national heroes.

Heroes can teach us something about ourselves and inspire us to greatness—if we allow it.