What is Synchronized Leadership?

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“The single most important element of success in war is leadership.”
Gen David Goldfein, USAF

As a young officer our formal leadership training consisted largely of learning our military specialty and a few vague lessons about balancing “mission and people.” They were lessons born of, simultaneously, thousands of years of military tradition and 20th century industrial mass production. In fact, our leadership classes were called “management” classes–which brings me to my point. Twentieth Century management theory and practice has it’s place, but management is no substitute for leadership. We manage things and processes, but we lead people. In the modern military as in modern business, we require agility–and we achieve agility only through good leadership.

But My Process is Solid!

When I was on a major command inspector general team many years ago, we went to a fighter wing for an Operational Readiness Inspection where we expected the wing to do very well. The unit had a great reputation, and reported readiness ratings in the top tier. When we arrived, however, we saw a different unit altogether.

The Airmen in the wing were so dispirited they could, literally, barely look up. I had inspected dozens of units prior and seen many dozens since, and have never seen 2,500 people shuffling around looking at their feet before. The wing commander–the equivalent to a CEO–had simply run them into the ground. They feared their commander, and worse, had lost confidence in their own ability. They felt defeated even though they were, in fact, highly professional and competent. All the inspectors saw it. The wing ended up passing the inspection, barely, but in spite of their commander and not because of his leadership. They were professionals, and wouldn’t allow themselves to fail. Frankly, it was a close run thing and several times during the inspection it could’ve gone the other way. Their processes were solid, they followed all the procedures, but without confidence in their leadership they were simply going through the motions.

It’s fairly common in business for a company to be doing everything right process-wise and see their performance fall precipitously when a bad leader is at the helm. Ruinous business partner relationships, poor ethics, or just plain ill temper are common reasons to see even highly profitable and well-known companies falter. The story of the leadership failures at American Apparel is a famous case, but there are countless others. Leadership, not just project or process management, truly matters.

Syncing It Up

Good leaders understand looking after the people on the team is a prerequisite to success, not the “icing” on top. As leaders, we certainly have to get the mission done, and we also have to serve the institution, but first we have to care for the people entrusted to our charge. This is finding the “sweet spot” in your leadership mission. Our institutions have requirements in the form of policies, culture, and profit or mission objectives. The individual tasks or projects we manage on also have requirements such as budget, timeliness, stakeholder communication, etc. The people on our team, likewise, have needs such as job satisfaction, growth and development, and compensation. Leaders must harmonize these three things and optimize the “sweet spot” where they converge. The bigger the sweet spot, the more the convergence, and the higher performance you can achieve.

Originally posted on General Leadership


Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 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, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Synchronize Leadership to Achieve Agility

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Sync to Swim

Take a look at any photo of industrial production during the Second World War and think about the scale and volume of it. Any way you slice it, it’s impressive! Millions of workers producing millions of items from bombers to Liberty Ships to trousers. The emphasis then was on process efficiency and so we developed dozens of management theories and practice to optimize quality and production. I’m sure there were many good or even great leaders in that most impressive of industrial eras, but that sort of mass production by the millions of people is just not how we work in the 21st Century. To be successful in the current era, we need to be agile. Enter the Synchronized Leadership Model.

Synchronizing Institutional, Project, & People

There is a “sweet spot” where leaders can cultivate high performance–the intersection of the needs of the Institutions we serve, the Projects we manage, and the People we lead. Twentieth Century management theory largely addresses only production efficiency or personal motivation. Those theories are perfectly fine for what they are, but they are inadequate to describe the total environment 21st Century leaders find themselves working in. Our companies and institutions have needs such as profitability, company ethics, culture, and governance. Similarly, the task at hand or project we’re working on has it’s own set of requirements such as schedule, budget, deliverables, and quality. Project managers know that list as the “iron triangle.” Finally, leaders are charged to care for and develop the people in our charge–those people have needs as well. Bob is creative, Sue is good with numbers, Alex likes to work alone, and Sally is a good leader; choosing the right person for each task and developing people in your organization are key requirements of leading the team.

Effectiveness and Efficiency

Project leaders have to strive for the “sweet spot” and avoid the trap of pitting one against the other. In seeking to serve the institution, accomplish the task, and lead the people we can’t simply pretend that efficiency and effectiveness are enemies. Certainly there are times when we must prioritize efficiency and focus on conserving resources and avoiding risk. Likewise, there are times when we must be effective above all and push the organization even to the point of over-consuming resources and taking risks to get the mission done. Those are the extreme cases, of course. It’s possible to develop and grow your people and serve the institution by alignment with policies and values and accomplish the assigned mission. I know there’s a “sweet spot” because I’ve seen exactly this behavior in high performing teams. The bigger the “sweet spot” in those three areas, the higher performing the team.

Bottom Line

When leaders don’t force themselves into false choices like choosing effectiveness or efficiency then they are truly high performing leaders. Creating the “sweet spot” of Institutional, Project, and People needs means harmonizing and optimizing.  


Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 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, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

“Sync To Swim”: The Synchronized Leader Model

Posted Leave a commentPosted in People Development Network, Sync to Swim

Twenty-first-century business requires agility–from teams, from institutions, and from leaders–and that agility comes from synchronized leadership. Despite the radical change in the environment, many institutions still cling to Twentieth-century management models. Those Industrial Age management models are ill-suited to guide leaders in the Information Age.

Perhaps the “king” of management models from the last century is the Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid. The Blake-Mouton model (below) uses a 0-9 scale to quantify the “production vs people” tension, and is still in use in some circles, and is good for creating leader archetypes for discussion.

Blake Mouton Management_Grid

Fig 1. The Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid

However, the Blake-Mouton model has a couple of shortcomings. First of all, the leadership environment is much more complex than a simple linear graph can describe. A two-axis grid implies there are only two things leaders must hold in balance, and those are dependent on each other. Secondly, a graph with a 0 to 9 scale implies a limit. By virtue of looking at a chart, some of us will set limits for ourselves and hold in tension those things that should be harmonized.

The leadership dilemma is not whether to balance people and mission, rather it’s how to synchronize the various needs and priorities a of task, institution, and team members’ individual needs. At a basic level,leadership means working with people and managing things effectively. That means the most effective leaders find the best fit for people to task within an institution to get something done. So how do we visualize that?

The Synchronized Leader Model

Leaders have many considerations and priorities to balance, but we can group most of them into three major categories: Institution, Project, and People.

The Synchronized Leader Model (c) Mickey Addison

Fig 2. The Synchronized Leader Model

As you can see from the figure, the Synchronized Leader Model is not linear, nor is it binary. This model reflects the complex nature of integrating people, tasks, and institutions into a single mutually supporting system. Leaders who maximize the intersection of all three categories of needs will get very high performance from their team.

There’s clearly tension between competing priorities, to say otherwise is to be Pollyanna, but “competing” doesn’t need to be “opposing.” In the Synchronized Leader model, leaders have the ability to move the circles around based on resources, staffing, and the situation. It’s a dynamic model that reflects the complexity of the environment with the realities of constrained resources. In the end, leadership is about people—but people operating in a real environment rather than a binary world. That makes the three sets of needs–Institution, Project, and People–independent variables rather than dependent. Being independent variables is a key point. It means it’s possible for a leader to commit energy or resources to something without necessarily reducing the ability to do the same elsewhere.

Institutional Needs

Organizations have institutional needs. Boards of directors and shareholders demand profits and efficiency, donors want to know their money is going to the mission, manufacturers are concerned about quality, and everyone wants to have a good reputation in the community. Leaders must work within a structure or institution, and with other leaders who set agendas and distribute resources. They have to be respectful of culture and process within that institution. Leaders who ignore their parent organizations and its institutional needs at their own peril. The institution’s needs are legitimate, and must be part of a leader’s calculus. Leaders have to take on their institution’s values as their own, and transmit those values to their teams. As I’ve written before, if you can’t respect your institution get yourself another institution. It’s leaders’ responsibility to help their teams understand and accept their institutions’ needs and internalize their institution’s values. Leaders who do that successfully will inspire confidence in their teams and give them a mission with which to connect.

Project Needs

Each individual project has it’s own set of “needs” leaders must consider. Leaders can succeed by understanding and accounting for the various demands on their resources. Project needs are time and resource driven, and so managing those things is usually a math problem. This is an area where many leaders prefer to “live”–math is straight-forward and easy to understand. We can produce charts and graphs to use in decision-making, and we can even allow the “data” to make our decisions for us. Accounting for project resources is certainly important, as I wrote above, but it can’t be the only way for us to lead. Said another way, because we manage things and lead people, the data isn’t the only answer.

People Needs

The third set of needs are the personal needs of the individuals on the team. Each person has their own reason for what they do, as well as their own skills. Leaders have to know their people well enough to understand each person’s motivation and ability. By way of illustration, consider the case of professional football teams. Team managers will actively recruit players for their athletic ability and even for particular positions: goalkeeper or striker, for example. But those same managers also understand that not every player fits in with the team’s culture or the other players. That same team manager might pass on a very talented player because they “don’t fit” with the team dynamic. The goal is to find out, by knowing the player well, where a particular person is best suited and will be happiest. Happy players are usually the most productive.

That same principle of hiring compatible people and placing them where their skills are best used and motivations are best “fed” applies to any team, not just athletics. In my own military experience, we trained our people for particular jobs but we also were keen to place people where they were happy and productive. It does no good for a leader to recruit a star performer only to have him or her drag the institution down because he’s unhappy. So how does a leader make the right choices? There really aren’t any shortcuts–leaders have to engage individuals on their teams and understand them. Put more simply—the most successful teams aren’t always the ones with the most talent, but the ones where the entire team is made up of people contributing, collaborative, and happy.

Bringing It All Together

The real aim of the leader, then, is not to simply parrot their institution’s values, minimize cost, or create a happy workplace; rather, it’s to synchronize all three to make the “sweet spot” in the middle as large as possible. It’s a constant balance of sometimes competing priorities, but if done skillfully can create an impressively productive and happy team. Understanding and transmitting institution needs effectively to the team leads to them internalizing institutional values. Effective project management reduces the stress on the team, and gives them creative space to innovate. Hiring and coaching “players” into the right spots in the institution so they can be their best harmonizes the workplace and inspires people to be their best. The larger that “sweet spot” becomes, the higher the performance of the team.

Originally posted at People Development Network.


Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 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, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Leading Teams to Greatness – Part 2 – Making a Plan

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

wpid-patton1-620x519.jpg

“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
General George S. Patton

After all the instruction and practice on the beach, it was time to actually put my board into the ocean and paddle out to the break. I knew how to surf—well, I knew what my instructors taught me–but I’d never actually put my board into the water and paddled it before. I was a little intimidated. The waist high waves weren’t particularly big that day, the sea was smooth and glassy, and the wind was light. I had no reason to be nervous yet there I was hesitating on the beach pretending to continue to watch the waves. My surfing buddy and instructor walked past me and shouted over his shoulder as he put his board in the water, “C’mon Mick! Can’t surf on the beach!”

In my previous post I wrote about the process of understanding the environment to lead change. This month, we’re going to talk about making a plan. Great teams understand the world changes and they need to lead the change to be achieve and remain at the top.

Know Where You’re Headed

Effective leadership requires we establish a clear vision of what future success looks like. Having a vision gives you a clear focus, and can stop you heading in the wrong direction. The world doesn’t stop spinning because we’re planning, so remaining aware and flexible during the planning process is key. Returning to my surfing analogy, once we know where and how the waves are breaking, it’s time to paddle out. When paddling out to the lineup, conditions can change–it’s the ocean after all–so we have to be ready for it. We might go over or under a wave, depending on its size, and we have to be alert for other surfers. This is analogous to the planning process.

The Planning Process

The process of planning a change involves taking the intelligence we developed during the Survey the Environment phase and creating a specific plan with milestones and planned decision points to reach our goal. There’s many methods for planning, but the simplest and most commonly used in the US military is creating a Plan of Action and Milestones–POAM for short. To create a POAM, we need to follow the following steps:

  1. Write a clear definition of your endstate.
  2. Break the job into tasks.
  3. Map the tasks from start to finish
  4. Establish intermediate milestones
  5. Establish intermediate decision points
  6. Establish criteria for passing the milestones and decision points

A couple of those steps are worth a little emphasis: (1) writing a clear definition of your endstate and (6) establishing criteria for passing milestones and decision points. Besides the obvious project management benefits of smart planning, the leadership benefits are what I want to emphasize. Leaders cannot lead if they don’t know where they’re going. You absolutely have to have the end in mind when creating a plan–and believe me no one will follow a leader who doesn’t know where he’s headed! The same is true for establishing intermediate criteria. To effectively maneuver the change once you start to implement you’ll need to be able to know if you’re on track. For example, proceeding with a project might be contingent of raising a given amount of money, or securing the concurrence of local officials, etc.

Prepare for Disruptions

Finally, understand the world will change while you’re planning so be prepared for disruptions. Key to leading teams to greatness during the planning process is anticipating and mitigating problems. Planning for the unexpected and leading through the planning process is an important part of leading change. One of the best illustrations of this idea comes from General Norman H. Schwarzkopf’s memoir It Doesn’t Take a Hero where he wrote about his technique for planning for the unexpected. After he and his staff were caught completely unprepared for helicopter crash, he began to write down each day three bad and good things that might happen based on the day’s activities. It was his way of anticipating trouble and preparing to lead through it.  Planning ahead for road blocks is central to leading teams to greatness.

In my next post, I’ll wrap up the series with a system for implementing the change we’ve planned using this process.

Be sure to check out my “Change Management” Resources Page

Originally posted on General Leadership.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, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

Sign up for Mickey’s mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

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: 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.

“Sync To Swim”: The Synchronized Leader Model

Posted Leave a commentPosted in People Development Network

Twenty-first-century business requires agility–from teams, from institutions, and from leaders–and that agility comes from synchronized leadership. Despite the radical change in the environment, many institutions still cling to Twentieth-century management models. Those Industrial Age management models are ill-suited to guide leaders in the Information Age.

Perhaps the “king” of management models from the last century is the Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid. The Blake-Mouton model (below) uses a 0-9 scale to quantify the “production vs people” tension, and is still in use in some circles, and is good for creating leader archetypes for discussion.

Blake Mouton Management_Grid

Fig 1. The Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid

However, the Blake-Mouton model has a couple of shortcomings. First of all, the leadership environment is much more complex than a simple linear graph can describe. A two-axis grid implies there are only two things leaders must hold in balance, and those are dependent on each other. Secondly, a graph with a 0 to 9 scale implies a limit. By virtue of looking at a chart, some of us will set limits for ourselves and hold in tension those things that should be harmonized.

The leadership dilemma is not whether to balance people and mission, rather it’s how to synchronize the various needs and priorities a of task, institution, and team members’ individual needs. At a basic level,leadership means working with people and managing things effectively. That means the most effective leaders find the best fit for people to task within an institution to get something done. So how do we visualize that?

The Synchronized Leader Model

Leaders have many considerations and priorities to balance, but we can group most of them into three major categories: Institution, Project, and People.

The Synchronized Leader Model (c) Mickey Addison

Fig 2. The Synchronized Leader Model

As you can see from the figure, the Synchronized Leader Model is not linear, nor is it binary. This model reflects the complex nature of integrating people, tasks, and institutions into a single mutually supporting system. Leaders who maximize the intersection of all three categories of needs will get very high performance from their team.

There’s clearly tension between competing priorities, to say otherwise is to be Pollyanna, but “competing” doesn’t need to be “opposing.” In the Synchronized Leader model, leaders have the ability to move the circles around based on resources, staffing, and the situation. It’s a dynamic model that reflects the complexity of the environment with the realities of constrained resources. In the end, leadership is about people—but people operating in a real environment rather than a binary world. That makes the three sets of needs–Institution, Project, and People–independent variables rather than dependent. Being independent variables is a key point. It means it’s possible for a leader to commit energy or resources to something without necessarily reducing the ability to do the same elsewhere.

Institutional Needs

Organizations have institutional needs. Boards of directors and shareholders demand profits and efficiency, donors want to know their money is going to the mission, manufacturers are concerned about quality, and everyone wants to have a good reputation in the community. Leaders must work within a structure or institution, and with other leaders who set agendas and distribute resources. They have to be respectful of culture and process within that institution. Leaders who ignore their parent organizations and its institutional needs at their own peril. The institution’s needs are legitimate, and must be part of a leader’s calculus. Leaders have to take on their institution’s values as their own, and transmit those values to their teams. As I’ve written before, if you can’t respect your institution get yourself another institution. It’s leaders’ responsibility to help their teams understand and accept their institutions’ needs and internalize their institution’s values. Leaders who do that successfully will inspire confidence in their teams and give them a mission with which to connect.

Project Needs

Each individual project has it’s own set of “needs” leaders must consider. Leaders can succeed by understanding and accounting for the various demands on their resources. Project needs are time and resource driven, and so managing those things is usually a math problem. This is an area where many leaders prefer to “live”–math is straight-forward and easy to understand. We can produce charts and graphs to use in decision-making, and we can even allow the “data” to make our decisions for us. Accounting for project resources is certainly important, as I wrote above, but it can’t be the only way for us to lead. Said another way, because we manage things and lead people, the data isn’t the only answer.

People Needs

The third set of needs are the personal needs of the individuals on the team. Each person has their own reason for what they do, as well as their own skills. Leaders have to know their people well enough to understand each person’s motivation and ability. By way of illustration, consider the case of professional football teams. Team managers will actively recruit players for their athletic ability and even for particular positions: goalkeeper or striker, for example. But those same managers also understand that not every player fits in with the team’s culture or the other players. That same team manager might pass on a very talented player because they “don’t fit” with the team dynamic. The goal is to find out, by knowing the player well, where a particular person is best suited and will be happiest. Happy players are usually the most productive.

That same principle of hiring compatible people and placing them where their skills are best used and motivations are best “fed” applies to any team, not just athletics. In my own military experience, we trained our people for particular jobs but we also were keen to place people where they were happy and productive. It does no good for a leader to recruit a star performer only to have him or her drag the institution down because he’s unhappy. So how does a leader make the right choices? There really aren’t any shortcuts–leaders have to engage individuals on their teams and understand them. Put more simply—the most successful teams aren’t always the ones with the most talent, but the ones where the entire team is made up of people contributing, collaborative, and happy.

Bringing It All Together

The real aim of the leader, then, is not to simply parrot their institution’s values, minimize cost, or create a happy workplace; rather, it’s to synchronize all three to make the “sweet spot” in the middle as large as possible. It’s a constant balance of sometimes competing priorities, but if done skillfully can create an impressively productive and happy team. Understanding and transmitting institution needs effectively to the team leads to them internalizing institutional values. Effective project management reduces the stress on the team, and gives them creative space to innovate. Hiring and coaching “players” into the right spots in the institution so they can be their best harmonizes the workplace and inspires people to be their best. The larger that “sweet spot” becomes, the higher the performance of the team.

Originally posted at People Development Network.


20141026_102425Mickey 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 six 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.

#TBT Rule #5: The First Report is Usually Wrong

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules

wpid-Breaking_News.jpg

5. The first report is usually wrong. Be patient and ask questions.

In my military career I’ve had the unique opportunity to watch news bring made, both in Washington and in the field, then watch it being reported on TV. I’ve also meet many reporters, and in my experience they’re trying their best to tell what they see, but it’s also been my experience that the “breaking news” first reports are at best incomplete and at worst completely wrong.  That situation is not confined to journalism.

my military career I’ve had the unique opportunity to watch news bring made, both in Washington and in the field, then watch it being reported on TV.  I’ve also meet many reporters, and in my experience they’re trying their best to tell what they see, but it’s also been my experience that the “breaking news” first reports are at best incomplete and at worst completely wrong.  And that situation is not confined to journalism.

The first reports aren’t usually wrong because the people reporting the news are trying to get it wrong.  The first reports are usually wrong because in fast moving situations it takes an enormous amount of skill and patience to sort through to find out what’s really going on.

Everyone expects a little chaos in an emergency situation, so commanders and first responders learn quickly how to sort “possible” from “probable” and “true” from “false.”

Those same “sorting” skills are useful in any situation when leaders have time-sensitive decisions to make and the information is coming at them in rapid bursts.  Perhaps the hardest thing to do in a scenario like that is to breathe deeply and patiently ask enough questions to determine the veracity of the report.

The reason it’s hard for leaders to be patient is that there is pressure to act now in a crisis.  No matter if it’s a terrorist attack or someone forgot to notify the customer their order is messed up, subordinates and teammates will look to the leader and demand action.  What’s more, leaders often pressure themselves to act, sometimes painting themselves into a corner where action is both inevitable and unwise.

Good leaders resist pressure to act until the time is right for action.  Somewhat counter intuitively, sometimes the best decision is not to act.  But act or not, the leader has people looking at him wanting to know what’s next.

Now, before I go on, there are certainly many instances where some action now is better than the perfect action later.  Combat or an emergency situations are times when it’s important to act immediately rather than later.  It doesn’t mean that those quick actions are rash or uninformed, rather, the soldier and the first responder train to face uncertain and dangerous situations so that they’ve done their “cold consideration” many times over before engaging the enemy or running into the burning building.  But these instances are not the point of Rule #5.

Rather, the purpose of Rule #5 is for those crisis situations where there is a little time to figure out what’s true and what isn’t.  In those situations, the skilled leader takes a deep breath and thinks before he acts or speaks.  The skilled leader is patient while she sorts out where she needs to put her attention.

Last tip: be sure to separate your skepticism of the accuracy of the first report from the truthfulness of the person making the report.  People are usually doing their best.

That requires the leadership maturity to be patient enough to figure out when and how to act.

 

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

 

Champions Don’t Take Shortcuts

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

nfl_lombardi_01The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.
Vince Lombardi

I’ve been an athlete my entire life. From Little League, soccer, and football growing up in Texas to intramurals of all sorts in college and the military, athletic competition is a big part of my life. Sports are a great metaphor for life and I’ve gleaned countless leadership lessons from it. In fact, it’s one of the reasons the military uses athletic competition as a training opportunity from entry level (Basic Military Training) to senior executive level (e.g. Air War College). It was the quotable General Douglas MacArthur who shrewdly observed, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields will bear the fruits of victory.”

A lesson every successful athlete learns quickly is champions don’t take shortcuts. Sure, an athlete can take performance enhancing drugs or try quick fixes, but those short term wins are usually overshadowed by long term defeats. The true champion, the one who everyone aspires to emulate and sports magazines profile, is the one who did the hard work even when it would’ve been easy not to do it. It’s the one rising before dawn to work out before starting a full day at work or school, then repeating it day after day until they reach their goal. In Texas, many championship high school football programs start their first practice at midnight on the first day the league allows teams to work out. Those coaches know the players who start out with a “do the work” mentality develop into teams who’ll give their all when the time comes.

In short, champions earn their titles long before the title contest in November. They earned their championship at midnight in August under stadium lights.

The same is true in the military. We “sweat in peacetime” so our skills are second nature to us and we can respond quickly under stress. The drills are sometimes fun, but training can be boring if one has to repeat similar tasks over and over. However, everyone is grateful to their trainers for being demanding and requiring them to learn procedures by heart when the stress level is high, because being well trained makes a person confident. To paraphrase the old military maxim: No one rises to the occasion in stressful situations, they sink to the level of their training. That sense of confidence usually carries into high performance.

In the busy and highly competitive world we live in, it’s very tempting for leaders to cut corners to save time or money. I’m here to encourage leaders to resist the urge. Speed in business is essential, but your team is unlikely to have the ability to hit the mark if leaders don’t train, resource, and lead them. Spend the time ensuring your team has the skills they need to get the job you’ve assigned them done. Believe me, time spent in the training room doing quality training will pay off enormously when there’s a crisis or short deadline. A team that’s raised on shortcuts, however, will dissolve into chaos when the pressure is on. In a high-pressure job I had at the Pentagon once, we had a saying: “Speed kills.” It was our way of reminding ourselves to be precise, but taking shortcuts would lead to mistakes we couldn’t afford to make.

Just like Airmen honing their skills or athletes doing conditioning, well-led teams put in the work required to get the job done when the pressure is low. They do that because they know that when they do the preparatory work and training when they need to, they won’t have to try to rely on shortcuts later. Rather, they’ll perform at the same high level they did in practice.

Originally posted on Generalleadership.com

General Leadership: So Say We All

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience

Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama, Photo Courtesy of NBC UniversalIn my latest over a GeneralLeadership.com, I talk about leading change while channeling my inner Commander Adama from SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica.

“It won’t be an easy journey. It’ll be long, and arduous. But I promise you one thing: on the memory of those lying here before you, we shall find it, and Earth shall become our new home. So say we all!”
Commander Bill Adama, Battlestar Galactica

Studying fictional leaders is sometimes as profitable as studying actual ones. For example, Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos) in the SyFy TV series Battlestar Galactica is a great character study in leadership during crisis. I’m a big BSG fan, and consider it one of the best sci-fi TV series ever made. The quote above is from the end of the pilot, after the Cylons have destroyed the entire human race except for 50,000 survivors. The last Colonial warship, the Battlestar Galactica now leads a ragtag fleet of survivors, and the fleet’s leaders must find a way to keep humanity’s last remnants alive and moving toward a goal. That goal is the “Thirteenth Tribe of Man” located on the legendary planet of “Earth.” As a sci-fi nerd and a movie fan, I often see parallels between the storylines of my favorite movies and real life. So it was that as our Air Force embarked on a very significant re-organization I find myself reflecting on Commander Adama as I lead a group of people to a (figurative) new “land” and leave behind much of “the old ways” to learn new ones. Not to be melodramatic, surely no Cylons are chasing us through space, but we are now leading our Airmen through some very significant change.

Read the rest here.

GL.com: Finding the Sweet Spot and Leading Teams to Acheivement

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com
The Sweet Spot
Which Way Are You Going?

I’m very proud to announce my first contribution to General Leadership, “Leadership Advice from America’s Most Trusted Leaders”!

In military parlance, a Common Operating Picture (or “COP”) is a single presentation of the battlespace to a wide and distributed audience.  The purpose is to provide common understanding and situational awareness for all involved. I’ve adapted this idea to graphically display the “battlespace” a leader has to understand so the team can achieve success. Leaders must harmonize the needs of their organization, their task, and individual team members to prevail. It’s a complex and people-focused job. If a leader can find the sweet spot in the “Leadership COP”, then they’re truly leading teams to high performance.

Read the rest here.