I had a lesson hit me the other day on a run. It was a damp, chilly morning, the kind that leaves you raspy and congested during a workout. And as I ran past the four mile mark, I decided to blow a snot rocket to free a little sinus space.
As I let it fly, I noticed a pedestrian strolling on the sidewalk to my left. He was wearing a tie and blue blazer on his walk to work. And he had an unmistakable expression of dissatisfaction, maybe even disgust, at the nostril-clearing activity I had engaged in. He thought my snot rocket was gross.
Ok, he was at least 15 feet away and not in my blast area, so I know I didn’t hit him with it. Clearly, though, he did not approve of what he saw and I can only conclude it’s because he had forgotten, or has never known, what snot rockets are for.
Which brings me to my point…
In these waning moments of 2017, take a moment to consider a number…67,108. You’ve never before had to ponder 67,108, yet it has significance in your life. In fact, it’s existence has universal meaning to all of us and reveals an important lesson if we pause to reflect on it.
If you’re reading this, you already know how important continual learning is for personal and professional development. There is no growth without quality input – period. I get my input from specifically tailored email subscriptions, my Twitter feed, podcasts, websites, and books.
While I can’t keep pace with the likes of Nate Finney or Joe Byerly at From the Green Notebook…who, by the way, has a Reading of the Month newsletter you should be following…I was able to knock out a few good ones this year. Many I listened to on Audible, which you should check out.
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?
In the midst of a pleasant two-week road trip with my family, I observed something of note. Interrupting my view of the rolling grasslands of central Oregon and the twisting turns of California’s Highway 101, were “Adopt-A-Highway” signs. Standard issue: small, square. Oregon’s were green. You’ve seen them. Some person or group pays the state for the responsibility of keeping this particular mile clean and in return, gets free advertising.
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.
LTC Scott Shaw and the “Cottonbalers” of 3-7 Infantry at Fort Stewart, Georgia in January 2015, following his assumption of command.
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?
U.S. Marine Cpls. Armondo Cortez, left, and Estevan D. Hernandeza discuss their plan for dismantling the command operation center during the retrograde of Patrol Base Boldak in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Aug. 15, 2014. Cortez, a data network specialist, and Hernandez, a telephone switchboard and personal computer intermediate repairer, are assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. Link