Leadership – vi-strat-ess


Leadership Principles

Leadership is much more than just leading people. Leadership is how we make any endeavor successful. Regardless of education or experience, new jobs or new work will often require new skills, new knowledge and new relational interaction. We will certainly leverage our past experiences while advancing those experiences with new ideas, new approaches and new understandings.

This may look familiar to some if you have served in the Marines. I have slightly modified the Marine Corps Leadership Principles to be applicable to any organization. Unfortunately, there are some that view the leadership of the military, especially the Marines, as overbearing and heavy handed. While the discipline may be a bit more strong, the concepts of leadership are universal and proven in thousands of different scenarios. One could view the Marines as one of the most intense leadership schools in the world and not just for the military but for business in general.

Know yourself and seek self-improvement

Constantly evaluate yourself and determine your strengths and weaknesses. Work to improve your weaknesses while also finding ways to better utilize your strengths. Armed with the knowledge of yourself you can best determine the best way to deal with any situation.

Be strategically, technically and tactically proficient

Over the years you have developed notable proficiencies. The key is to maintain currency of the core proficiencies as well as on those proficiencies the work and role dictate. It is also important to remember a team blends their proficiencies to optimize their approach and solutions.

Develop a sense of responsibility among your team

When I was taking a dance lesson, the instructor made a momentous comment. She said “push or pull on your partner and expect them to respond poorly. Lead and guide them and you’ll have a rewarding dance”.

Team members, at all levels of the organization, will constantly demonstrate a keen sense of responsibility when they are guided and lead with trust and respect. Below is an acronym used to denote empowerment. All four elements must exist to achieve empowerment. Repeatedly we find “information” to be the one element most lacking when a person or team is empowered.

Make sound and timely decisions

To make sound decisions, i.e., competent or valid decisions, one will first make objective estimates of the situation. With that in hand our experiences, the experience of the team members, governance, directional alliance and risk analysis will enable sound decisions. The weight or impact of the decision will determine the magnitude of due diligence required.

This may all sound like a very elaborate way to make decisions but we are not talking about the run of the mill decisions. This is particularly true when we talk about Information Technology (IT). IT is typically expensive and requires the best decisions possible to leverage the limited dollars available. That is why IT governance and strategy is so important to ensure sound and enduring decisions.

When possible, solicit feedback from the team to include their identification of risks and potential mitigation.

Unnecessary delay or reservation in making a decision can impact costs or enervate confidence at various levels of the organization. Timely decisions should also provide team members with adequate opportunity to successfully complete their supporting plans.

Set the example

There was a defining moment while serving in the Marines related to leadership. A young Marine approached me and was very upset because of the type of work I had assigned him. We were toe to toe in a “discussion” when he asked why he should respect me. In my inexperienced, immature way I responded “you don’t have to respect me, you respect what’s on my collar”. This of course referring to my rank insignia.

I knew the second those words escaped my lips I had said something very moronic. I turned about, walked out of the area, shut the door and proceeded to have a very long and not so nice chat with myself. I then went back into the room, called over the young Marine and again we were standing toe to toe.

Marines probably have a different sort of way to actually apologize. I looked in right in the eyes and with a loud voice said “you and I know I just said something incredibly stupid. I want you to appreciate my rank but respect me as a leader.” As we turned to go back to our work the young Marine stopped and said “that’s why I do respect you”.

Know Your Team and Look Out for Their Welfare

First and foremost, your team consists of those that may work for you, those which you may serve with, the leadership above you and those which you serve such as the various business elements.

The best way to know your team is to make sure you create and contribute to healthy communications. Healthy communication starts with healthy listening. Woodrow Wilson once said “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people”.

You should know the strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations of your “team”. This knowledge greatly increases your ability to be effective and contribute to the overall success of the organization.

Looking out for their welfare is accomplished with open and timely communications, clearly defined objectives, clearly defined roles and responsibilities and supporting them with any additional education or training they may require. It also means knowing the capabilities of everyone on your team.

Keep Your Team Informed

While with a large energy company in Pennsylvania, I served on committees attempting to implement Business Process Re-Engineering (BPR). The consultant we hired stated repeatedly and quite clearly that we must ensure timely and consistent communication.

We provided poor communication. The feeling was that it would be much better to communicate only when we had more solid plans and could thoroughly answer all potential questions. That concept alone almost guarantees no communication. As a result, we had many good people resign, morale took an all time low and trust at all levels became strained.

Teams are creative and enjoy taking initiative. Morale is highest when teams are achieving meaningful successes and truly feel they are making a difference. Teams that are ill-informed are also ill-prepared. I would rather communicate what we didn’t know in order to find golden nuggets of sound ideas.

Seek Responsibility and Take Responsibility for Your Actions

The health of an organization depends on each and every team member to be responsible based both on your role and organizational expectations.

This square-rigged tall ship is an excellent example of how we exercise our responsibilities. The effective and efficient operation of this incredible ship is only possible when the crew executes their prescribed responsibilities in a timely, professional manner. The missed timing or incomplete execution by one will cause others to try and compensate if they are to optimize the wind and keep their bearing and speed. This ship also exemplifies the challenges and complexities we often encounter. The crew or team of this ship must be vigil and step up to the responsibilities necessary to permit the ship to successfully reach its destination.

Seeking responsibility is not just about finding new responsibilities. Seeking responsibility is also improving how we perform current responsibilities.

Without reservation, we must take timely and unequivocal responsibility for all in our charge or all that we influence. If we are to expect our team to be forthright and take responsibility, we must then create an environment where the team feels safe and confident in our desire to find solutions and not find fault.

Ensure Assigned Tasks are Understood, Supervised , and Accomplished

Remember ARIA from above? I = Information? We live in a world of abbreviations and truncated communications used all in the name of expediency. That expediency often widens the gap between intention and interpretation.

We must be clear in our expectations and equally clear in our information delivery. The military addressed this my introducing the concept of five paragraph orders. In fact, in military court they would often as if a five paragraph order was provided.

W. Edwards Deming once said “You can expect what you inspect”. This is the concept behind ensuring tasks are supervised. You want to inspect how tasks or projects are initiated as this establishes the course of action. You also need to inspect the processes being followed. Periodic review will permit improvements for future undertakings. In a healthy organization, such supervision also demonstrates leadership’s commitment to the team.

It seems obvious to ensure the tasks are accomplished. There are two points to be made here. First is the simple validation through a project report or inspection that the work has been accomplished and in accordance with any specification(s). The second point is to validate accomplishments so that you don’t forget to celebrate the success.

Train Your Staff to Work as a Team”

While working with a Bell Atlantic franchise on service delivery I found they were very proud of their team orientation. As we examined why it took so long to delivery a particular service we found the so called “team” was fragmented.

Like a river, a true team has natural flow. It is that very flow that should become the focus of any efficiency gains. Imagine all the engineering, labor, and materials used when trying to change the natural course of a river. Unfortunately, we often see people thrown together and declared a team.

The team is the cornerstone to achieving the vision and strategy. There are a variety of components in building a team but generally speaking, you need to find the natural flow or create the flow if this is a new function. Experience, training, passion, aptitude, etc. all go into the dynamic of team construction and subsequent performance.

Working for an energy company back east we had established an efficient team. The assignments were to the team, rarely to an individual. They worked out who was best positioned to perform the work and what support they may need {yes this does get close to self-directed work teams}. We also set up performance or merit increases so that 80% of the consideration was around team contribution and 20% around individual contribution.

Employ Your Team in Accordance with It’s Capabilities

We are speaking about both team utilization and the meaningful use of each team member.

I have witnessed organizations, especially large organizations, where groups assigned specific functions are not always utilized when that function was being performed. There are many reasons for it but in almost every case it is bad form. In the cases I have witnessed, the non-use of the designated team caused the organization to spend more money and continually miss the objectives core intent. If a team is responsible for particular functions – utilize that team.

Part of a leaders job is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Morale, performance, quality and timing are all improved when we utilize our staff in accordance with not only their capabilities but also their potential.

The Leadership to Hire in Today’s Market (Under Construction)

statues of unemployed men standing in an unemployment line during the Great Depression at the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C.

When I first moved to the west coast I had a difficult time finding a job and this was when the job market leaned in favor of the employee. The president of a consulting company called me one day and invited me to lunch. This was not to offer me a job but rather to explain the lay of the land.

During our luncheon, he explained that I would have a difficult time obtaining a job because I had too much experience.    WHAT?     How can someone have too much experience?

He went on to tell me how many of the CIO’s were promoted from within. I personally do not consider that a problem if they are the most qualified. The rationale also needs to be appropriate with the intent of matching the right person for the right job. Trying to promote from within as a reward or to avoid the expense of hiring from outside are more often failed approaches.

For me this was the first time I heard such a phrase. Of course when you first start in the workforce you fear not having enough experience. You long for the day you can add more experience to your resume. I have never heard anyone say “I better slow down on all this experience stuff before I have too much of it”.

Worse yet, many are advised to “dummy” down their resume so not to overwhelm the prospective employer. Let me rephrase that – we need to dummy down our resumes so not to look to smart or have too much experience or too much education or appear to have been too high up in the hierarchy of any organization. Still, we wonder why people have such a difficult time applying for jobs today. The only thing the employer and the employee (current or future) seem to have too much of is STRESS for being under-employed, under-valued, under-staffed and under pressure to do more with less. Does anyone else see a contradiction here?

I’m clearly not a psychologist although that won’t stop my analysis. One of the factors that has to influence stress levels is when the environment and/or our actions conflict with our potential, expectations, and personal architecture. An example would be unemployment. One’s potential is unrecognized and the expectation, such as finding employment, is is totally unfulfilled.

Phil Crosby once said “Selecting the right person for the right job is the largest part of coaching”. This is not just the core capabilities but also the energy that the person creates. Once I knew the capability to do the job existed, I always hired or promoted people that had a variety of experiences and in varied areas of industry. Notice how I phrased the concept of capability. “Once I knew the capability…existed”. A person may not have the actual job experience in the position description but possess a depth of experience that will deliver a higher positive impact to the organization.

I have often used the phrase “some people have a thousand different experiences while others have had the same experience a thousand times”. Often more varied experience creates more innovative ideas, permits greater adaptability and improves reaction times to problems that may arise.

I have been talking more about an individual and not an organization or company.
Yes, it is a drag in that it weighs us down and it literally makes us less efficient.