The question shouldn’t have been a surprise. “So, you just came from command. What did you learn?” Here was my chance to impart all the wisdom I had accumulated over the previous 18 years, culminating in command of a Navy Super Hornet squadron. “So, what did you learn?…”, the inquisitor repeated. “Um…” I sputtered. I had no clue what to say.
The best leaders don’t use anger as a leadership tool. Anger is not a mandatory component of leadership because there are countless examples of successful leaders who never get angry. Yet, we can think of many leaders whose anger has compromised their effectiveness. The question is: what does anger get you? And then at what cost?
Leadership is as diverse as the individuals who exercise it. We influence through distinct talents, shaped by experiences, personality traits, core values, and an endless list of other factors. Nonetheless, when we look back at the leaders we’ve encountered, it’s easy to identify behavior trends that point to a set of defining leadership styles. The aggressive risk taker. The deliberate planner. The encouraging coach. The intense micromanager.
Each profession has its own set of styles that generally lead to success. The military is no different. Here are three types of military leaders you’ll find that, for better or worse, produce results.
In Performance-Based Mentoring for Busy Leaders, I revealed how I selectively divided my time to avoid becoming bogged down by Anchors – non-performing members who display no desire to contribute to the command’s mission. But being busy meant I also needed to divide my time based on paygrade. I did it by viewing my subordinates across these categories: Direct Reports, The Junior Officers, The Chief’s Mess, The First Class Mess, and the Base.
Early in my Navy squadron XO tour, I was distracted at dinner thinking about an upcoming non-judicial punishment case. When I explained to my wife the history of this continual troublemaker, she nearly cried. “I can’t believe this is what you spend so much time doing at work.” She had come to recognize the “10:90” rule – that 10 percent of your people will take up 90 percent of your time. It was then that I decided to adjust the ratio. I was going to take control of my limited mentoring time and focus on engaging in areas with the highest return on investment.
Have you ever had the Lieutenant Colonel who was the best squad leader in the battalion and made sure everyone knew it? Ever seen a team leader trying to lead a fire team from the rear during a live fire? Have you ever had majors worrying about whether soldiers should load ruck sacks or duffel bags into the belly of an aircraft?
The results aren’t always pretty. The organization suffers when leaders forget the level at which they’re supposed to lead. At each rank, officers and NCOs fit into the unit in different ways. Their expanding education and experience means that they should bring different talents to the organization. The unit depends on them for it.
This article is a framework for visualizing and describing the types of leaders a unit will typically see: Action Man, Planning Man, Concept Man, and Decision Man. No rank or role has greater value than the others, only different responsibilities and functions in the formation. If today’s military leader knows where he fits into the team and what role he plays, he’ll be a hero.
We are all familiar with the warning that “power corrupts.” And if you’re like me, when you hear the phrase the first type of corrupted power you think of is greed. The ruthless Gordon Gekko from Wall Street comes to mind. If you shift the phrase to the military frame of reference, you might think of generals breaking joint ethics regulations on TDY travel and contracting, or perhaps the senior leader with the moral lapse.
The commonality among them is a feeling of invincibility that either distorts judgment or severs behavior from prudent thought. When power is involved, we are all at risk.
If you were a fly on the wall of my high school 20 years ago, you’d see me walking to class with a copy of Colin Powell’s My American Journey. And why Powell’s 600 page autobiography and not, for instance, a car magazine or the latest Pearl Jam album? Because I’m a leadership nerd, that’s why…and still am.
I already had my sights on a career in the military, but this book seized my attention. Powell recounts his memorable career from Vietnam Captain to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and in plain language delivers poignant leadership lessons relevant for every profession. It’s not an overstatement to say that it became a foundational resource for my leader development…my leadership bible.
Although I underlined text on nearly every page of My American Journey, here are the quotes that have had a lasting effect on my career and have shaped my own leadership journey.