It’s true what you’ve heard. Leadership is not about likership.
But if those you lead can’t connect with who you are…
or relate to your perspective…
or aren’t inspired by your emotional engagement…
or don’t believe you will listen to and help them with their struggles…
…the best you’ll get is compliance.
Personality is the conduit over which leadership happens. The only way to deliver your talents to the rest of the world is through personality (akin to emotional intelligence, relatability, charisma, and so on). Without a good conduit, leadership talents lie dormant.
Don’t strive to be liked. Strive to be relatable.
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Every movie has a hero. Luke Skywalker. Harry Potter. Indiana Jones. Even Austin Powers is a hero. The hero is the heart of the movie, the person or thing on which the movie focuses to tell the story. Movies take these heroes on journeys that follow a common path. The hero encounters a problem he can’t solve, a villain he can’t overcome. Then a guide appears to help the hero become the person who can rise to the challenge. Yoda is a guide, so is Gandalf. Then just when you think all hope is lost, the hero uses the guide’s teachings to win the day and defeat the villain.
U.S. Army Soldiers with 1st Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, provide support by fire during a multinational training event for exercise Puma 2 with Battle Group Poland at Bemowo Piskie Training Area, Poland on June 14, 2018 as part of Saber Strike 18. This year’s exercise, which runs from June 3-15, tests allies and partners from 19 countries on their ability work together to deter aggression in the region and improve each unit’s ability to perform their designated mission. (U.S. Army photo
by Spc. Hubert D. Delany III /22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
Despite the breadth of the Army’s leader development journey, leaders often serve for years without learning those intangible skills we all recognize in great leaders. What classroom can teach a leader to “understand context” or “communicate appropriately” or “inspire the best in people?” The leader talents I describe here are among those qualities. They’re nuanced and underrepresented during formal and informal leader development training.
Marine Corps School of Infantry East students detonate an explosive charge during a breaching exercise at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 18, 2018. Marine Corps photo
by Lance Cpl. Ginnie Lee.
What are the most impactful things you do everyday as a leader? What can you do for your team that no one else can? What consistent effect must you have in your organization to create the culture you seek? These are challenging questions, but ones that leaders must answer to achieve their purpose for their teams.
I originally started this post by exploring how easy it is for daily distractions, those Urgent/Important shiny objects, to draw leaders into the weeds of busywork. But if you are a leader, you already know what that feels like. You start the day with good intentions, get distracted by the next big crisis, then pick your head up at 1800 having bounced from problem to problem. Problem solving, however, is not the leader’s most important role.
Instead, the leader’s principal responsibility is to define the landscape for the organization, chart the course it will travel, tend to followers’ needs, and many other “big picture” responsibilities that no one else is qualified to execute. Other key leader tasks include providing vision, shaping culture, developing leaders, fighting for organizational maneuver space, identifying risk, pursuing opportunity, and so on.
It’s a worthwhile exercise to determine the few things that leaders should do everyday to achieve the desired leadership effect. I’d like to take a moment to share mine with you.
What is this a picture of?
“Well that’s easy. It’s a brick wall.”
It’s a paper wall.
Brick walls are unmovable obstacles, roadblocks that prevent progress, hindrances to achieving an endstate. They represent phrases like “It’s too hard,” “We can’t do that,” and “That’s never been done before.” Brick walls halt effort.
Paper walls, however, are flimsy, easy to break through.
Under certain circumstances, profanity provides relief denied even to prayer.” Mark Twain summarizes the crux of the leader dilemma I found myself in while deployed to Iraq: when is it acceptable to compromise important organizational values to lessen the hardship of an extreme operating environment? The issue arose at the crossroads of a continuous workday in a harsh environment, a new leader assuming responsibility, and the escaping element that music provides.
Army Pfc. Matthew Wilson arrives at a tactical assembly area to relieve personnel and resupply ammunition during a mission supporting the Iraqi army’s 9th Division near Al Tarab, Iraq, March 18, 2017. Army photo
by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull
Wait, did I just accuse you of being afraid? After all, we are leaders who face grave danger in training and combat aren’t we? If it is not fear, then how do we explain why our people are not being counseled? Some might see it differently, but I argue that too many of us have either never experienced counseling or been counseled only a few times in our careers. In a career spanning 27 years, I could count on one hand the number of times I was counseled effectively, meaning my boss invested time working with me to identify the obstacles standing in the way of my growth and advancement.
The pivotal moments are easy to spot: the shot on goal or diving catch with a just few seconds left in the game; the final interview for the position you’ve always wanted; your first day in command. We prepare ourselves for these moments. We practice and rehearse and refine, hoping that when the pressure is on, we’ll emerge victorious.
Finding inspiration to perform during these key milestones is typically easy. What’s not easy is finding inspiration on your 112th day in command. Or on a Wednesday afternoon about to start your second workout of the day. Or when you’re still 37 pounds away from your goal weight and your body physically craves a cheeseburger.
Discovering inspiration in these moments is not easy, but nothing worthwhile will ever happen unless we can find the daily motivation to take small step after small step in the direction of our goals. This motivation is everywhere, but are we plugged into it?