Vince Lombardi wisely quipped, “The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.” Success does not happen by accident…and neither does becoming a leader. The road to meaningful influence is marked by deliberate steps to acquire knowledge, gain experience, and engage in ways that specifically relate to leadership. Followers can do this on their own, but leaders have a tacit responsibility to grow other leaders and must find ways to further the leadership development of those around them.
Take a look at your unit calendar. Scan the clutter of appointments, meetings, formations, training events, ceremonies, and administrative commitments. Do you see any events dedicated to improving the quality of your people’s leadership? If not…if leadership development isn’t a separate line of effort…then how are you developing leaders?
Stanley McChrystal (retired General and Managing Partner at McChrystal Group) recently posted a LinkedIn article, How I Keep Up with an Unrelenting Work Pace. The article was published February 1, 2016 and is receiving excessive praise from many. It is also receiving criticism from those who note the inherent risks of applying strategic level leadership experiences without thought or reflection. Here are some things you should pay attention to when reading McChrystal’s article.
Leaders who find ways to connect with their people are the ones who build great teams, inspire the best performance, and rise to positions of influence when others wane. If you look back on your career, you’ll likely observe that the most impactful leaders were the ones who made a personal connection with you.
Maybe it was keen professional mentorship, or timely advice during adversity, or a personality trait that invited trust. Sometimes there’s no pinpointing it…just an intangible feeling that makes it easy to follow a person.
In the culture of busyness that we face today, it’s distressingly easy to ignore the personal side of leadership. But trust will never develop without a personal connection between leader and follower. And without trust, an organization will be confined to a transactional environment of mediocre results and melancholy people.
Photo by Mr. Fernando Sanjurjo, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Los Angeles.
This TED video featuring collaborative engineering expert Tom Wujec is 9 minutes long…and yet you’ll be hard-pressed to find another way to find so much insight packed into 9 minutes. The task Wujec presents his clients is simple: “Draw how to make toast.” What seems like an elementary exercise explodes into a multi-faceted lesson on collaboration, organizational creativity, decision-making, motivation, and leadership.
In case you don’t get to sit down with this video and take notes, here are some clear connections to military leadership that I observed through his talk. As I watched, I saw application to a wide range of situations:
- A commander and Command Sergeant Major bringing the new team together to cast the vision statement for their time in command
- Any staff member staring at a blank Excel spreadsheet or map of the training area, tasked with planning the unit’s next phase of training
- A supply sergeant frustrated with how to reorganize the broken shop she just inherited
- Unit leaders piecing together the events that tragically led to a Soldier’s death
- Any one of us handling a piece of military equipment and wishing there was some better way to do X
- Unit leaders searching for how to implement Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Program guidance
- Strategists writing future policy and operating guidance
- An icebreaker exercise for unit team building and leader development events
- Visualizing alternate courses of action for a tactical problem
- A lesson on simple versus complex systems and plans
- Advice on how to communicate complex ideas to your team
- Insight into how the team members perceive situations, analyze problems, and express their thoughts
- An after action review process for reverse-engineering events like training exercises, unit functions, and campaign plans
- A way to explain the abstract Design Process and simplify the convoluted Military Decision Making Process
- A method for walking out of meetings feeling like you actually accomplished something.
Ready to watch?
Simon Sinek is an ethnographer who has written two books on leadership: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. His books are a study of leaders in action and he often uses military examples to illustrate his points. (In fact, Major General Jimmie Jaye Wells at US Army FORSCOM is using Leaders Eat Last as a part of his Professional Reading Program Forum.)
Simon Sinek is also a TED contributor and his two recorded talks are powerful tools for military leaders. His first talk, recorded in September 2009, is about How Great Leaders Inspire Action. If you haven’t watched it yet, stop reading right now and go watch it. If you ever found yourself looking for a way to explain why commander’s intent is so important, this is the kick-starter you wanted.
His more recent TED talk, titled Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe, holds a mirror up to military leaders and offers some fantastic insights into trust, safety, and teamwork. If you’re looking for a way to talk to your leaders about sexual harassment, equal opportunity, or suicide prevention, this can be a powerful tool to start the conversation.
Art historian and critic Sarah Lewis delivers a thought-provoking TED talk on “The Near Win,” a concept that espouses the immeasurable gain resulting from just-missing one’s ultimate goal. She highlights examples of artists, musicians, and Olympians in explaining that developing Mastery in a craft is all about “staying at our own leading edge.”
There is parallel connection to the military in that we, like an Olympian archer, must hone our craft through repetition after repetition. Sarah Lewis comments that:
Success is hitting the 10 Ring, but Mastery is knowing that it means nothing if you can’t do it again, and again, and again.
But success in battle requires not only individual Soldier Mastery, but also organizational Mastery. Do we work military organizations with enough repetitions to reach Mastery?
I realized that I have been sorely remiss in not specifically recommending Simon Sinek’s talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” Sinek explains how great leaders bring out the best in followers by connecting them with “The Why” instead of just “The What.”