Good leaders are always learning. But legacy only happens when good leaders also take the time to share those lessons with the profession. Lieutenant Colonel Scott Shaw is a great leader, and has selflessly compiled this substantial collection of tips, templates, warnings, and insights to help other leaders succeed in their own leadership opportunities, command or otherwise. He deserves much credit for authoring this incredibly helpful post, but (as he states) the Cottonbaler leaders and Soldiers deserve the real acclaim for creating the experience that led to it.
Think about the unit you’re in or the team you’re on. Do you have the freedom to contribute your own ideas? Does the boss ask for your input in solving problems or does he simply tell you what to do? It’s safe to say that you want the freedom to add value. You want to feel like your contribution actually matters. You want a hand in solving the problem, not just in executing a solution. Such environments encourage creative thought and ultimately lead to better performance.
Why, then, do leaders flip so quickly to “transmit guidance” mode when the team faces a problem? Why do leaders start issuing solutions instead of asking for them? Why do leaders see challenges as opportunities to showcase their own intellect instead of develop the intellect of those they lead?
A recent email from a reader asked simply if there is a Military Leader reading list. As a professional who credits books with providing a sizable portion of my development, I was embarrassed to respond in the negative. Though I often write about what I learn from books (here, here, and here), I have neglected to compile a list. This post is a partial remedy.
This is not a cursory list. These are the books that have shaped me and imprinted lessons that directly reflect in my daily leadership life. These are the books that I reference and quote from, and I think you might benefit from reading. Be sure to scroll down, there’s a bonus list at the end. Enjoy!
I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about organizational culture and vision. [To me, vision is where the team is going and culture is the behavior, beliefs, and norms that get it there.] One point of dispute deals with when the new leader of an organization (say, an incoming commander) should begin shaping the culture and setting the vision.
Some feel that culture-setting is a ‘Day 1 activity’ that centers on the leader’s influence…“I’m the new leader and here’s how I want things to run.” Others feel it is haphazard and potentially disastrous to join a team and immediately set it off on a new course…“I need to understand the culture before I know what to change.”
Regardless of your personal preference, it’s tough to argue that leaders should ignore culture and vision. Even a leader who immediately drives vision and culture will have to assess whether or not the team is meeting the intent. Identifying and understanding culture, for all leaders, is a critical task.
As the saying goes, when everything is a priority, nothing is. In a system that heaps requirements and tasks on subordinate units, leaders routinely struggle to reach 100% compliance. Though some try, leaders cannot do it all themselves. They must prioritize tasks and delegate work to subordinates. But what tasks are appropriate to delegate? Which ball drops when there are conflicting priorities? It would be helpful to have a framework to sort it all out.
When I was in high school and the service academy, I did what many aspiring military leaders do. I studied famous generals from history and extracted the lessons that I wanted to live and lead by. I compiled quotes from Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Napoleon…Washington, Marshall, and Powell.
And of course, Patton. I had pages of Patton quotes. There was the “pint of sweat and gallon of blood” quote, the “good plan executed now” dictum, and “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!” But here’s the quote that stuck with me the most:
“You are always on parade.”
I referenced it almost daily as a clear reminder that example is everything in leadership. [I even wrote about it in You Are Being Watched.] But now, 20 years later, I think Patton’s analogy has a serious flaw.
Leadership and love go hand in hand. Just as leadership has both direct and indirect influence over others, love behaves the same way. How you express this love is unique to how you interpret the relationship. The stern drill sergeant provides “tough love” to young recruits to turn them into Soldiers. The chaplain will provide words of encouragement to reveal a different perspective. We often see them on opposite ends of the leadership spectrum, but the drill sergeant and the chaplain share one key understanding. They both understand how to employ the five love languages based on their situation.
Know this…the demands of being a leader put you on a path to break someone’s heart. Meetings and phone calls, requirements and taskings, emails and paperwork. They serve as culturally-legitimized distractions that can divert leaders from seeing and doing the right thing. And if you don’t sort through the sea of busywork to identify the glass balls, soldiers and families can get hurt. It took an ugly failure to teach me that lesson.