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

Dynamic Dozen: Be Technically and Tactically Proficient

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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