Leading by Training Others

    Leaders, by their position, are trainers. This important task is often overlooked by leaders particularly in larger organizations with training divisions. However, leaders are always responsible for their followers work and on-the-job behaviors, so they better be prepared to train them.  

Even when leaders are not training others, they are. Everything leaders do sets an example for others to follow. People begin to understand what behaviors result in recognition. Your behaviors demonstrate what behaviors are recognized. Photo by Nappy from pexels.com CC attribution.

    The purpose of training to create or change behaviors by influencing people work or behave in ways acceptable to the organization. One of the most basic training events is new employee orientation.  Orientation sets the stage for employees to conduct their activities in accordance with the organization’s documented procedures. In many organizations someone from human resources conducts new employee orientation. While this process serves to ensure all new people understand the company’s culture and expectations, only the leaders in each office, branch, or division can provide those employees with the expectations in their part of the organization. The best definitions of leadership include descriptions of influencing others, providing motivation, sharing a vision or improving the organization. Leaders who take time to train people do all these things.

    Frequently organizations introduce change by providing some sort of training program. The training describes the desired change. The goal is for employees to understand the new philosophy and provide the skills required to complete new processes. Frequently formal leaders are called upon to conduct the training but not always. How the trainer presents the material either improves acceptance and success or results in rejection of ideas by employees. Training presented passionately increases success and the trainer’s profile with senior leaders.

    Some organizations select high performing workers to receive training about changes then train the rest of the organization. Selection as an instructor gives line workers an appreciation for the vision of the organization’s top leaders. Using lower level employees as trainers has additional benefits. Those employees become in-house subject matter experts in the theory and process behind the change. They learn how to present ideas to influence others to change behaviors. They provide an opportunity for an organization to see how potential future leaders perform when given leadership tasks. The other employees view the trainers as leaders.

   Selecting peer trainers is an important task. Employees selected to become trainers take a few steps up the company ladder. This new position improves their view of the internal workings. Employees who learn to successfully influence others in a positive fashion demonstrate they are ready to become leaders. Their actions help implement the change senior leaders seek to implement. 

     Trainers learn more about the organizational culture. They help senior leaders determine if those employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities align with future leadership position requirements. Smart employees seek ways to open doors like opportunities to teach and train to prepare for greater leadership roles. Employees may be unaware their desire to teach marks them as future leaders. Many managers overlook training ability when leadership positions become available. Do not overlook them.

     Not all organizations rely on in-house assets to provide training and implement change.  Many look outside and hire consultants. There are times consultants and outside trainers are necessary such as when fielding a new piece of equipment or implementing a new leadership program in a growing company without a training office. If you find it necessary to look outside for training, remember those consultants become leaders in your organization. Check their backgrounds before letting them have access to your vital human resources. Make sure they have a track record of doing what they say they do. It amazes me how many organizations hire outsiders to teach leadership. The consultant comes in for a short period of time, presents the material, then leaves and may never be heard from again. This type of training rarely is effective.

Anyone who teaches is a leader. The instructor may be an established organizational leader, an expert with no leadership title in the organization, or an outside consultant. Regardless, trainers influence others to change their behaviors so they are by default leaders. Photo by rawpixel.com from pxhere.com

    If you hire outsiders to teach your people a skill or ability, insist on periodic return visits to reinforce the lessons learned. This is important even if the training is for some sort of new technology or process. When the consultant periodically returns, it provides your people with the chance to improve their skills. If you hired the consultant because they are a real expert, you people receive more and change more with each exposure to that person.

     This principal also applies to trainings you select your people to attend outside the company. A school or consultant should offer some sort of follow up for their training. This enables your employees to reconnect when they run into some sort of problem. Several training models require students to attend training a few days each month and then return to their work place. They return to the school periodically to discuss how what they learned in earlier lessons worked out in the real world. The experts guide and mentor students to be more effective.

     Examples of such training programs include any of the apprentice programs in the building trades. Apprentices work for a master for months and years. The master teaches the apprentice a new skill then allows the student to practice. The master looks over the shoulder of the apprentice making corrections as necessary. As the apprentice improves, the master spends less time checking the work. When the student masters that task, the master teaches a new skill.

     The New England Association of Chiefs of Police offers a series of trainings for police leaders. In this model, students attend a week of training and learn several important leadership lessons. They return to their home agencies and apply what they learned over the course of a few weeks. Students check in with their teachers and each other to learn how to make corrections and improve their skills as they actually apply them to real world problems. The students return to the school after a few months to report successes and learn a new round of skills.  The periodic interaction with experts and application to real world problems allow those student leaders to become expert leaders much the same as the building trades apprentices.

Never stop learning. After three decades of leading others the author is seen here attending a year long training program for children advocacy center leaders. The lessons learned here will be transferred to others using the techniques and methods shared throughout this blog.

   Leaders influence organizational culture and behavior by training. Learning to train others provides junior employees opportunities to show their leaders they possess skills to influence others. They learn to communicate important ideas and concepts. By creating quality training programs, trainers help management introduce organizational changes. Standing in front of the crowd provides the trainer a spotlight to demonstrate their ability to their leaders and for leaders to influence others. As a leader you are a trainer in your organization. Change a life; change your organization; take time to train others and become a leader.

Leading Problem Analysis

Paralysis by analysis is a common phrase used to caution leaders not over analyze a situation before taking action or making a decision. There are many on causes for such paralysis to include fear of moving forward and not understanding how or what to analyze. Leadership analysis should help leaders and their support staff to understand a situation to they can develop a course of action that helps resolve problems, adjust strategic course, and implement change. Conducting a proper analysis reduces fear, provides answers to important questions, and allows leaders to make quality decisions in a timely fashion. Here is a way, but not the only way, to improve leadership analytical skills.

There are several key steps to making a good situational analysis. Analyze key relationships, Figure out what data are available to inform decisions. Use data to identify relevant trends. Identify available resources. Figure out tasks required to implement the decision.

Identify Key Relationships

Key relationships are tied between individuals, positive and negative, as they relate to the problems or issue. Key relationships are those strong ties between people, not just associations. For example a husband and wife work in the same company and one would think they have strong ties. However each works in different parts of the organization and at work, rarely work together. An example of a positive strong tie might be between a particular sales person and a supervisor in the shipping department, or a project manager and a company supply buyer. Take the time to map out these relationships indicating their strength and whether or not they are positive.

During this step, you also want to identify each key players known position on the issue under consideration. Identify whether they against, neutral, or in favor of the position. Determine how likely they are to change their position on the matter. Identify what risks you face and controls you can implement to mitigate the risks. What messages do you want to communicate to internal and external audiences? Develop courses of action and use criteria to reduce options to the top two to four. Select a course of action and execute. Tailor the steps to meet your needs by prioritizing steps and the depth of each step to improve good choices.

What Data Is Available?

Data is important. It helps you identify the current state of affairs, and when things begin to change. You need data to identify trends. You also need to determine if key data is not available but can be produced. If the data cannot be produced, what methods may inferences about data can be made?

Data helps you identify what kind of problem you have. With simple problems you can easily identify the cause and effect. Therefore you can quickly apply best practices with little additional analysis. You categorize events and respond.

With complicated problems, you can distinguish the cause and effect from analyzing data. Once you identify the issue you can determine a set of good practices and apply them accordingly. You analyze complicated problems then respond.

When faced with a complex problem, cause and effect are not readily apparent. Frequently cause and effect are only identified in hindsight. Complex problems require you and your team to probe by asking analytical questions, sense potential courses of actions, then respond.

Cause and effect are not perceived with chaotic problems. To address chaotic problems, take action, step back to sense the results of those actions then respond with the action that appears to provide the greatest result. Develop selection criteria. Develop courses of action.

Identify Relevant Trends (internal & external)

With data in hand, organize it so you can identify trends related to key analytical questions. Such questions may include things like:

  • How do sales projections compare to actual sales?
  • How do production projections compare to actual production?
  • What relationship do interest rates have on other key performance indicators?
  • Where are the biggest buyers?
  • Where are sales non existent?
  • Which products and services are in greatest demand?
  • Who is our target audience?
  • How has our target audience change?
  • When can we expect regulations to change that affect our organization?

This range of questions imply that the team should look at a series of Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why questions related to the issue. Use caution answering Why questions at this stage.

Identify Available Resources

Available resources expand or contract reasonable options available to decision makers. Think about the smart phone in your pocket. How much of the technology was know to computer designers and software engineers in the 1960s and 1970s? The basics have not changed much since the introduction of transistors. What has changed in how to write code better and the manufacturing process required to reduce the size of the components. So why did we not have pocket smart phones before men walked on the moon? Answer, the resources were not yet available. The very things needed had not been figured out, effective code and micro transistors. There is more computing power in your smart phone than was on the entire Saturn V rocket that brought the astronauts to the moon. I would wager there is more computing power in that phone you are reading this on than was in all of mission control! NASA used the available resources to send men to the moon. They did not wail for the days of smart phones.

An example of available resources comes from Apollo 13. When the support module exploded ground and space crews had many problems to work out. It was not possible to introduce more resources to the crew in space. The crew had to work with what they had to return the crew and space vehicle safely to earth. The first steps in solving each of those problems included identifying the available resources.

An important part of analyzing available resources included figuring out resources that other posses that you can leverage. For example a small nonprofit trying to expand their community messaging mission could rely on a friendly ccorporate sponsor to provide staff part time from their marketing department. The nonprofit cold never justify hiring a marketing person but they cold use a corporate sponsors resources.

Identify Tasks required to complete change

Again another simple task. What needs to happen to make the project happen. The steps can be as bask or as involved as time permits. The end result is knowing what needs to be done, in what order, and what can be done concurrently.

Identify risks and controls

Risks imply danger. You can reduce the danger by developing adequate controls. For example in every building there is a risk of fire. To reduce that danger buildings have fire alarms, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler systems. Many workplaces conduct periodic fire drills. None of these controls prevent fires from occurring, but they do reduce the frequency of occurrence, the amount of damage to the building and increase the likelihood of people surviving fires.

Leaders should look at several layers of risk management. The first things risk management should look to do is decrease the likelihood of an occurrence. Using our fire scenerio, leaders would do things like ensure furnaces are maintained regularly and closed within a fire resistant room, or prevent employees from ganging extension cords. Controls should find ways to identify danger early, like those fire alarms. Early notification allows organizational leaders to start responding the the potential danger to reduce the loss. Controls that slow the consequences of danger help leaders develop solutions to stop what ever event is occurring to cause damage. The example from above are sprinklers and fire extinguishers. Neither will likely stop a fire alone, but both slow the spread enough to reduce the damage until professional help arrives. Finally, no controls work unless they are rehearsed. Like a fire drill leaders must make sure everyone knows what to do when things go sideways.

Identify strategic messages for internal and external audiences

Messaging often gets lost in analysis. It is an important part of any plan. Remember you have both internal and external audiences. If you do not plan to tell your story, rumors slowly grow until they become forecasters of the future. Take the time to develop messages for your key stake holders and put them out into the world. Communications plans that are developed and then filed away are about as helpful as an empty fire extinguisher!

Develop screening and evaluation criteria

Screening and selection criteria are important to help leaders make good decisions. We all know stories about low bidders. Be sure to think about what criteria defines success so the course of action achieves what you envision. Screening criteria is used to delete options that won’t work within your given perimeters. Evaluation criteria is weighted in some way so the important things receive more points, or weight, than less important things. If we thing back to the low bidder stories many times they happen because a low price item or process was allowed to be used rather than requiring a more expensive option. Even though chopping wood will eventually dull an ax blade, no one would opt to use wood to wear down steel. You probably want someone to use something like diamonds or carbide which cost more that a cord of wood but will get the job done quicker and better.

Develop courses of action

Charles M. Russell (1864-1926); Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia; 1905; Opaque and transparent watercolor over graphite underdrawing on paper; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas; 1961.195

Use some brain storming or mind mapping or whatever the popular term is when you read this to develop a bunch of ideas about how to solve the problem facing you. Throw them out there. Bad ideas will be caught during the screening process using the criteria set above. Okay ideas will be whined out by the evaluation criteria. The best ideas are likely to receive the highest, or lowest, score (depending on your rating system) and become obvious answers.

Decide

Now you have done all the work. You identified the problem and tasks. You developed messages. You created criteria and courses of action. You ran your courses of action against your criteria. Now it is time to decide. While it is appropriate for leaders to use all the time available to make a decision, do not avoid making a decision when the correct answer slaps you in the face. Frequently you may find more than one option has the potential to succeed. You still have to select one. If the path still is not clear, pick one option and start to work it before jumping in with both feet. You may find a few small adjustments result in peak performance, or that the idea was not as good as it appeared. That is okay; just go back and try one of the other options. Putting off a decision is deciding not to do anything and never solves the problem.

Execute

Execute means to communicate the ideas and answers you selected to those who will do the work. Assemble the required resources and do it, whatever IT might be. Failing to execute is the same as not deciding. It is still a decision to do nothing. This is often the hardness part as leaders often question if they did a good analysis going back and forth. You must pick one option and go with it.

Analysis often receives bad press because it hold leaders and organizations back from making decisions when faced with problems. Paralysis by Analysis only happens when you fail to follow a formula that ensures you conduct a good analysis that results in good options. Good analysis provides leaders two or more good options to move forward. It is up to the leader to make that decision. When done well, the leader can sit back and watch other execute making a few course corrections here and there. When done poorly leaders languish in the fog of information not sure what questions to ask or how to formulate ideas. Follow this method when faced with your next problem. I will not promise you will always find the perfect solution, but you will find one that probably will work. Avoid paralysis by using good analytical practices and make better decisions.

Photo Credits

All images are open source with CC0 license or in the public domain. Attribution in the caption if available.

Four Ways to View Ethical Behavior

Ethics serve as a compass. Like a compass, there are four points of view for every situation. Photo from pxhere.com, no attribution.

Wall Street struggles with insider trading scandals. Washington drowns in waves of corruption. The military suffers from trust issues inside and outside the force after many high profile sexual assault cases. Everyone of these groups have published values. They have codes of ethics. They investigate allegations of wrong doing daily. In spite of their best efforts the same ethical problems reoccur.

Each group trains their people in their professed values and ethics. Many of us have to sit through classes teaching us what is right and what is wrong based on organizational principles. None of these classes explores the underpinnings of ethical thinking. The result is all the failures reported in the news on a regular basis. It does not have to be that way. My teaching your workforce about the foundation of your guiding principals and their application, your employees will have a better understanding how to apply those principals in daily situations.

In their book, When Generations Collide, Lynne C. Lancaster & David Stilman explore the differences between generations based on the differences of the history that defined the moments each grew up with. The thesis of the book is that understanding the forces that shaped each generation allows the others to understand the motivations behind the behaviors of each group of people. Young people are not lazy, but rather value their free time to associate with friends and family. Of course the Millennials are not the first to receive this criticism. Back in the day, Baby Boomers were also accused of failing to live up the values established by the Traditionalist Generation. Boomers thought globally and acted locally, well until they invented the internet. Understanding the forces that shaped the values of others creates harmonious relationships at work and home.

Ethics are the same. When an organization professes to value loyalty, the committee that established that as an important guiding principle envisioned that everyone will understand what loyalty means. Everyone does, but their understanding may not be the same as the company’s understanding. Each person brings their own history to the definition. One who has strong family ties is loyal to his family. Another employee who values friendships is loyal to her friends. A third employee is a third generation worker at the company. He benefited from many of the past policies that rewarded hard working employees. His loyalty lies with the company. From different points of view come different views of loyalty, each equally valid yet when viewed by the others, bound to create disagreement and tension. A study of ethical theory enables understanding of how others define ethical values such as loyalty, honor or duty.

Four major concepts of ethical thinking include:

  • Seeking to do the Greatest Good for Me,
  • Accomplish My Duties & Safeguard My Rights,
  • Making Choices that are Just and Fair for All,
  • Living Virtuous Life According to a Selected Code of Conduct.

Using a story will help put each theory into perspective. While shopping, a person notices another placing a package of meat into a pocket on the inside of a bulky coat. What is the ethical thing to do?

Every situation is a moment it time. Sometimes, like the flowing water on the right everything is a blur and feels like a decision is need immediately. Other times the water seems to flow slower allowing more time to make a decision. When people make quick decisions they rely on personal values. When there is more time, they can reflect on the values of the organization.
Above from pxhere.com no attribution.
Right by author.

If we view this conduct through the first lens of doing the greatest good, the person realizes that everyone else pays a consequence when people shoplift. It would appear from this point of view that reporting the theft to a store employee or the police is the correct course of action. However, by reporting the theft, the viewer may find he is required to make a written statement at the store. He then has to wait for the police to arrive and possibly testify in court. This may mean missing time for work and not getting paid. He may find he will struggle to buy food for his own family and decide the greatest good in this situation is to go the other way and do nothing.

Viewing the second theory of duties and rights it again appears the shopper has a duty to her fellow shoppers to report the theft to the manager. Her report results in the same sacrifices already described. She has a right to pay the lowest possible prices for the products sold in the store. People stealing food causes prices to rise. She reasons that by reporting she fulfills her duty of being a good citizen and protects her rights to pay lower prices. From her point of view, she must report the theft.

When the conduct is viewed by a person using the Just and Fair outlook, shopper may take into consideration things like the ability of the thief to pay as well as time he will be required to miss work to go to court. He may reason that overall it is not fair for everyone to pay higher prices, but also that the other should be able to purchase food at a reasonable rate which must be more than the thief is able to afford at this point in life. He may choose not to report the theft, but rather approach the thief and offer to buy the meat and perhaps even slip the thief a few dollars for other life essentials..

I the final theory, living virtuously, the shopper decides that virtue requires reporting. She determines everyone must pay for food at the store. If people do not pay then the store goes out of business and no one is able to buy food locally. Stealing is against the law no matter the reason (the selected code of conduct) and must not be tolerated. She would expect her neighbor to report someone stealing something from her home therefore she has a responsibility to report this theft. Reporting is the only virtuous thing to do.

A person’s view also depends on how close they are to the problem. The farther from the problem, the easier it is to see the whole problem. When one is against the wall, all they can see is a giant rock. As they step back they realize there are other ways to view the problem. Photos by author

As the example shows, the lens of one’s ethical view determines how principles such as loyalty, duty, and honor determine actions. Based upon the ethical point of view, none of the answers provided are incorrect. In fact you could use those very same points to argue the reverse outcome in each situation. Likewise in the workplace, when employees make decisions, they select choices based on their ethical lens. In order to maximize mission statements, value selection, guiding principals and visions for the future, leaders must train their employees about the guiding principals of the organization and how the organization expects employees to view behaviors. Failure to recognize employee focal points ensures failure of ethical decision making efforts. Take the time to teach junior leaders and their employees which lens is used by the key leaders. Learning how senior leaders view the world enables those junior leaders to make better choices and prepare for more senior positions. Youngsters are not lazy. Old people do not know everything. Learning how each group in the workplace views the world helps leader develop methods so they all view workplace behaviors with greater similarity and reduces those pesky scandals on the front page of the paper.

Learn to Lead: Join a Club

Learning leadership involves more than study. One only becomes a leader after they apply influence on others in an organization that results in desired action to accomplish a mission and improve the organization.

Leadership is an art requiring practitioners to gain experience by applying known principals to a variety of problems as they arise. People can study about leadership their whole lives. Until they step into a leadership role, they will not know how to lead. Younger people often struggle to gain leadership experience inhibiting workplace promotions. Learning to lead is not a Millennial problem. Youth struggled gaining experience in every generation. So what is a kid, or anyone else who wants to lead others, to do in order to gain experience leading? Join a club! Yes, really join a club.

Leadership is leadership. It doesn’t matter if you are leading a bunch of pre-schoolers to lunch, a Fortune 500 company, or a grass-roots campaign against the latest injustice. Once you learn how to lead, you can lead almost anyone or any type of organization. What matters is understanding what level of leadership you are at and applying the principals required for that level of leadership.

Several years ago I was asked to take a position as a senior leader in the logistics division of my organization. I started my career in the organization as a logistician but found I disliked it and moved into an operations. I was counseled by other senior leaders to accept the position because the job required leading other leaders, not directly supervising logistical support.

I accepted the position with a bit of apprehension. I found there was some resistance to my leadership by a few individuals due to my lack of logistics background. Most were receptive to my influence. Those who were resistant left the organization as I began to institute changes to making our division more responsive to the needs of the rest of the organization.

Understand that I am not advocating that the warehouse foreman be assigned to directly supervise bookkeepers in accounting. At lower levels of leadership, front-line supervisors require knowledge of the work being done. What I am saying is that when it comes to supervising other leaders, application of broad leadership principals is required rather than specialized job knowledge or particular tactics for a given situation. That broad leadership knowledge is directly transferable from job to job. You can gain that kind of experience outside the workplace and set yourself up to succeed within your workplace. This win-win tactic not only helps you improve as a leader, but also improves your community, whether geographic, professional, or any other description of community. Run or volunteer for a leadership position in a civic or professional group. After leading a civic group or professional organization you only need explain how you will apply the principals you learned to the specific leadership job you want at your workplace.

Practice leadership by leading a civic or professional group of volunteers.

Many of the civic or professional groups set up their officer positions to teach new officers about the whole organization. The lowest level officer learns the very basics such as how to set up for meetings. In other leadership positions you learn group’s rules, tracking property, running organizational ceremonies, finances, and controls. Each position eventually runs up to the vice presidency and presidency or the equivalent name for that group. The basics of each position happen to coincide with requirements for leadership in the professional world.

Every business, governmental organization, or nonprofit requires someone to track property, They need people to develop, implement, and enforce policies. They also need to comply with reporting requirements. You do not have to be a certified public accountant as a senior leader in any organization, but you must understand restrictions on spending funds, sources of funding, and reporting. Even nonprofits have filings to complete for the IRS.

Ben Franklin believed everyone should belong to at least three clubs. His reasons included having a network of friends, working to improve the community, and developing skills required to become happier in life. Participating in various leadership positions in a club of your choice allows you to develop skills to achieve happiness and success regardless of your measurement of effectiveness. As you build your network through club participation, you encounter people who are senior leaders in the professional world. Those people are always watching for talent. You may be asked to apply for a position before others become aware it exists. As you work within the community served by your club, you also develop connections within that community outside of your workplace. The people helped also know about opportunities and your good work.

Many civic and professional organizations offer leadership training at no cost. They do so to ensure local and higher level chapters and such have leaders who have some understanding of leadership. The application of principals, tactics, provided in these leadership trainings apply specifically to your group. The principals are universal. The tactic of having two people in a civic group sign checks is based on the principal of establishing and enforcing financial controls. The principal of establishing and enforcing financial controls is universal to leadership. Every business, government agency, and nonprofit needs financial controls. The same idea applies to all leadership principals. The application in the club you belong to will be different than the application at your workplace, but the principals are the same in the club and the workplace. You only need to learn how your workplace applies those principals.

As you can see, there are many reasons to join a civic or professional organization and accept leadership challenges. You have the opportunity to learn and execute leadership. You learn how to influence volunteers; you just cannot be bossy as they will leave the club or your committee (that happens in the workplace too). You learn the foundations of financial controls and limitations of spending and sources of income. You learn how other parts of the organization can help provide resources for training and problem solving. You expand your professional network in ways you could not by staying in your bubble at work. You earn the right to add leadership experience to your resume. If you want to gain critical leadership skills and experience, join a club and led it!

Grateful Leaders

This is a week of giving thanks. The tradition memorializes a year of cooperation between the European immigrants and native people who lived in the Plymouth Massachusetts area in the early 1600s. Thanksgiving is frequently celebrated with family and only for events, people, or possessions we perceive as blessings. Leaders must also remember those adverse followers and events that challenged them to grow.

Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1925; Jennie Augusta Brownscombe; National Museum of Women in the Arts. Public Domain

Some of you are wondering how we can be grateful for the bad things that happened. Adverse events and people cause us to grow as people and leaders. Earlier this month I posted an excerpt from a book one of my Soldiers is writing (http://bit.ly/33yL14Q). His book details many of the bad things happened during our deployment. He shares some of the struggles he had upon returning. He makes it clear that those adverse experiences made him stronger. He says that those struggles set a standard for what bad means.

Jocko Willink tells a story of a time one of his SEALs came to his office with some bad news, The SEAL told Jocko he knew what he was going say, “Good.” Jocks has the philosophy that every experience is good (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdTMDpizis8). You just have to figure out why the experience is good. His thinking aligns with the old saying on rainy days, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

I am not, nor have I ever been a morning person. However after a lifetime of seeing the struggles of others, I know my life is pretty good. I may not have the material wealth of Warren Buffet but I have more than those living in other parts of the world where war, poverty, starvation, and violence thrive. As a result, even on those mornings when my head is foggy and I struggle to make my first coffee I great others with, “Good Morning!” because I know what bad mornings look, sound, and smell like and most mornings are good compared to those bad mornings I and others experienced.

Being grateful is important. Leaders need to speak their gratitude. Effective leaders publicly thank others for their efforts, contributions, ideas, and hard work. They thank employees, volunteers, board members, customers, clients, vendors, and other logisticians for their contributions to the success of the organization. They recognize the sacrifices made by family members so their loved ones can contribute to the organization’s success.

Like the celebration after the harvest of 1621 Plymouth, we should give thanks for our blessings. Gratitude is an important leadership quality. Be grateful for all your blessings, even the ones that you do not currently view as a blessing. Tough life lessons are those that are best remembered. Publicly thank those who contribute to success. Demonstrate gratitude year round not just the fourth Thursday of November. If you are a leader, you have much to be thankful for. Those who follow you could have chosen to follow someone else. Thank your followers so they know they chose well.

In Lieu of MPs

HHS (FWD) 2BN, 197th FA (ILOMP) musters for the first time in Berlin, NH. Photo courtesy MAJ (r) Matthew Boucher

In 2004, I was assigned to be a Platoon Sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Headquarters Battery (Forward) 2nd Battalion, 197th Field Artillery Regiment (In Lieu of Military Police). We were a bunch of highly skilled cannon cockers, fire direction specialists, wrench turners, and clerks. Some of us had experience in law enforcement but none of us ever trained to be MPs or Infantrymen. It did not matter. The Army needed MPs, not artillery, to fight the insurgents in Iraq so we received 10 or 14 days of training and became MPs. The training was squad-centric, nothing for platoon or company leaders. As a result, none of the Platoon Leaders, Platoon Sergeants, the First Sergeant, nor the Company Commander received any training to be or lead MPs. With our little training, we boarded planes and headed to staging areas in Kuwait determined to do our jobs to the best of our humble abilities.

When we arrived in the Middle East, our company was split and served in three locations, Mosul, Tikrit, and Baqubah. The Baqubah mission was to provide 24/7 force protection to the provincial police headquarters building downtown and train Iraqi Police. Everyone knew Mosul and Tirkrit were dangerous. None of us had ever heard of Baqubah. It had to be relatively safe, right? I had the opportunity to visit the newly renovated police training facility in Mosul. It was nice, rivaling the academy police officers in New Hampshire attend. Given the quality of the Mosul police academy, the perceived safety of Baqubah, and the opportunity to complete a mission that would help the locals develop security forces to protect themselves, I volunteered my platoon to execute the Baqubah mission. When we arrived at the Diyala Police Provincial Police Headquarters we all realized that not only were we not in New Hampshire anymore Dorthy, this place looked nothing like the facility in Mosul!

One of the Soldiers in my platoon, Aaron Marshall, is writing a book, Baqubah; Bones and Blood, about his experiences during that deployment. He provided me an advanced copy of his manuscript. He expects it to be ready for publication in 2020. Marshall reminds me of Medal of Honor recipient Maynard Smith who demonstrated exceptional bravery under fire, but always found trouble when the bullets were not flying. Marshall is a very brave person but always had a knack for finding trouble. Still, he was someone I wanted by my side when the shooting started.

Squad members training in the snow at Ft Dix to prepare to fight in the desert of Iraq in 2004. ibid

I have published a veteran based post each Memorial and Veterans Day since starting my blog. After reading Aaron’s manuscript, I thought he did an excellent job of describing many parts of the experiences of combat veterans. I asked permission to publish an excerpt of his book here for Veterans Day. He granted me that permission. What follows is a brief excerpt as written by him with a few edits for clarification. His writing is graphic and may be offensive to some readers. I decided to publish this post using his graphic words because war is both graphic and offensive. I will post when the book is published.

Please read and reflect on the words and experiences of PFC Aaron Marshall.

My call sign in Iraq was “Spoonman”. We were told to come up with our own call signs, and I loved the song by Soundgarden so I went with that. At that point I had never tried heroin and wouldn’t until my second divorce about 7 years later. But that’s a story for another time. An even darker tale of the human experience; loss, tragedy, insanity, and redemption. Now that I think about it, it was sort of a self-induced experience very similar to Iraq; to War. I relived the terror of death on a daily basis with that drug, but I was one of the lucky few who was able to kick it before it took me completely.

I had too many experiences with death. Too many. I’ve felt the breeze created by a snipers bullet gently flow by my face. I’ve been hit with anti-tank rockets so close it made me think the world had ended. I’ve had septic shock, pancreatitis, renal failure, and felt the peaceful calm that comes over you when you die. I’ve overdosed too many times and woken up to people standing over me crying.

Humvee of Platoon Leader, 4th Platoon/293rd MPs. ibid

And I’m still here. I’m still trudging forward, marching on. To what I haven’t the slightest idea. I have no idea why I’m still here. Dumb luck maybe? A purpose I don’t yet know? I would go with dumb luck over fate. Regardless, I give thanks to the people around me. If I gave thanks to a supposed god, I would be squandering an opportunity to make an actual difference in the world. That was one of the original ideas behind me joining the military in the first place. After September 11th 2001, most young men my age were jolted by a sense of duty to do something, anything. But still only a few signed up to voluntarily fight in a War that we all knew was coming. We all wanted it. There was that part of the collective unconscious of the country that needed war; vengeance, justice. The same type of situation occurred in Iraq in 2004 when a Sergeant (SGT) From the 3rd ID and a Lieutenant (LT) ended up both losing one of their arms during an RPG attack on a patrol. We all felt completely helpless immediately after.

Searching within ourselves for the answer to the question why? Why did it happen? Why did the RPG enter the front of the Humvee like it did? Why that road? Why them? Why not me? And every single man and woman at the Police Station wanted vengeance, justice. We knew we would get it but we just didn’t know when. It was part of all our collective unconscious at the station. We would get it. At least that’s how I felt about it.

Diyala Provincial Police HQ, our home for 13 months. Note that we used sand bags in the windows to keep out sunlight for those working the overnight sifts, and what ever projectiles came our way from the city around us. ibid

During one of our QRF (Quick Reaction Force) missions shortly after the SGT and LT were severely wounded, we would get our revenge. We needed to kill one of the enemy, a hundred if we could, to make us all feel like we were doing something good for our wounded family. My team got called out to pick up a soldier that had been wounded by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device, commonly called a roadside bomb) just down the road from us on what was called “RPG Alley”. When we went to pick him up, it was a dangerous feeling, a feeling like something bad was going to happen. I’d get that feeling from time to time, and I learned to trust it. Over time that feeling was correct more often than not, and at the very least that feeling would heighten your senses so you’d be even more ready for an ambush.

You never knew when and if another IED was going to be set off after the first one. But we had to get the wounded out. The soldier was in good spirits. Pretty bloodied but happy to be getting the hell out of there and onto a base with medical care.

A village along RPG Alley. author

Halfway to F.O.B. Warhorse we were ambushed by some AK-47 fire that pinged off the vehicle in front of me then skipped just over our vehicle. I got out of the kill zone by ducking down into the vehicle. When the gunfire stopped hitting our vehicle my SGT yelled, “shoot!” I popped up, unlatched the turret, swung it counterclockwise, locked the turret back in, and looked down the barrel of my M249 SAW. I didn’t even have to aim. I was looking directly at a man slightly crouched beside a wall, exactly where the gunfire was coming from, holding a weapon. I didn’t even think about it. I let loose as many rounds as I could and I’ll never forget how he instantly slumped to the ground when my first bullet hit, and stayed motionless (Marshall said that the gunner in the next Humvee behind him also engaged the insurgent. Karl rarely received credit for his role in that fight. Marshall remembers hearing the gun firing). I ducked back into the Humvee and said the SGT, “Holy shit I got him!”, and we called in the confirmed kill.

When I got back to the Police Station you could see the look of everyone had changed from a somber mood to a look of vindication. None of us ever had a conversation about these feelings. In fact, at least with those I associated with, we didn’t really talk about feelings at all, ever. The way I perceived, it was that we got our revenge for what happened to the SGT and LT. I think that helped us move past the incredible horror of being helpless for them. It helped me move past it and not dwell on the event so much. Of course there was nothing we could have done. But you still feel like, and always feel like, there is something you could have done to prevent it.

It’s still hard to piece everything together; the entire year. Where to start; how to finish telling it. It doesn’t help that I had multiple head traumas while I was there and multiple head traumas when I returned home. But I’m determined to tell my story, our story, the story of the 2/197th FA unit that went to Baqubahh, Iraq in 2004 as hastily trained MP’s. The Army owned us and we would all do our part to make sure every last one of us got home. We would do our best, and that’s exactly what we did, our best. I wasn’t trained to be a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee but by the end of the tour, I guarantee I was one of the best. That’s not cockiness in the sense that I thought I was better than anyone else, but a sense of confidence in my abilities. A turret gunner needs that confidence to do his or her job. Without it, fear can creep in and take over, rendering you useless. No, I wasn’t better than any other gunner in the war, I was simply one of the best. I hope that now makes sense.

Most of Marshall’s squad training at Butler Range in eastern Iraq. They managed to get an armored Humvee stuck in the only mud hole for a 100 miles! Author
Marshall’s book cover.

To paraphrase one of my favorite schools of Philosophy, the Stoics, and more specifically, Epictetus; there are things in our control like our opinions, desires, and inclinations. There are also things which are not in our control like our body, possessions, honor, and reputation. So why worry about the things that are not in our control? Well, that turret and anyone around it that wanted to do us harm was in my control for that year. I made it my mission to be the baddest motherfucker I could possibly be. It was out of my character. But like an actor that gets stuck in role after making a movie, I became a machine gunner. I became the turret. It was my home. That 2 inch wide strap for a seat was my bed, my home, my church, my religion, and baptism by fire is not an understatement. Some jobs you ask for in the Army, but for the most part you just do what you are told as an enlisted man. And I was told to get in the turret. I did my job and I did it well.


Marshall’s book is now available. You may purchase it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble in paperback. Hard cover is not available for retail at this time. Search for Baqubah Bones and Blood at your favorite online book store.

Building and Maintaining Trust

If character is the foundation of leadership, trust is the cornerstone of the foundation.

In an earlier post http://bit.ly/2N0pCwi I proposed that the foundation of leadership was character. I still believe that to be true. Character is the sum of your habits that tell others what you value. Leaders should adopt habits so others know they value their organization’s guiding principals. Organizations make a big deal out of their organizational values or guiding principals because those behavior are what they want the world to think the organization represents. Rarely do people talk about the corner stone of the foundation. However, if character is the foundation of leadership, trust is the cornerstone. If trust is so important, you have to wonder how do you develop and maintain trust. Like being a good leader, developing and maintaining trust takes effort.

Trust often exists in new organizations whether a company, team, or partnership. The same principal applies when new people join an organization; for the most part they are trusted. People generally trust each other. In spite of the warnings our parents gave us as children, and we as parents admonish our children, people trust strangers. That is one reason scammers are successful. Even scammers are trusting of others. Just watch any of James Veitch’s Scamalot videos on YouTube or Mashable to see him scam the scammers. The scammers trust him to do what he says he will do, well, until they realize he is jerking them around.

Humans learn to trust early. Trust is an important survival tool learned in families and with friends.

Trusting one another, family, friend, or co-worker is an important human quality. Early humans had to rely on each other to survive. As a result our brains developed to release certain hormones when we trust and cooperate with other people (Sinek, 2014, pp 33-38). Someone had to guard the existing provisions while another group went to hunt. The guards had to trust the hunters to hunt. Hunters had to trust the guards to protect what little they already gathered.

Today we have the same need to rely on others to survive and thrive. Military commanders rely on their higher headquarters to coordinate resources they require to accomplish missions. They also rely on subordinate commanders to execute tasks without direct supervision as well as their peers to their left, right, and above (l mean in the air over the battlefield) them. Each risks potentially life threatening tasks with little but a promise that those around him or her will complete their tasks and the others rely on that commander complete his or hers.

During World War I Major Charles Whittlesey found himself in command of his 1st Battalion of the 308th Infantry Regiment along with attachments from other 77th Division units in a pocket behind enemy lines. The plan was that the division would attack to a phase line with several units on line and in mass to overrun the German trenches. As the attack progressed the units on Whittlesey’s flanks began to break and retreat. Commanders on his flanks warned him they had lost contact with units to the regiment’s left and right. Division headquarters assured Whittlesey several times during the attack his flanks were covered. He reached his objective that day, but was the only American unit to do so. The Germans restored their lines by the end of the next day and surrounded the 1-308th(+). Whittlesey trusted Maj. Gen. Alexander when he continued to press the attack. In spite of that let down, he continued to trust that the General would find a way to relieve them. Alexander had sent for reinforcements, but only a small number reached Whittlesey’s position before they were cut off from the Allied lines.

LTC Whittlesey receives his Medal of Honor. He trusted his senior leaders would relieve him and his Soldiers. He encourages his Soldiers to also have faith in their comrades efforts to come to their aid bolstering their trust.

Whittlesey established a strong defensive position and encouraged his men to fight well and have faith they would be relieved. His phone lines had been cut off by the Germans requiring him to rely on carrier pigeons to communicate with his regiment and division. The Soldiers of the 308th fought through six days of repeated German attacks rather than surrendering. They trusted their fellow Soldiers would fight their way forward to relieve them. In the movie version of this story, Major Whittlesey tells his junior leaders that they will win the battle. He trusted MG Alexander would be determined to relieve them. Whittlesey was right. Alexander trusted that Whittlesey would hold out as long as he could. Alexander used the Lost Battalion to motivate other units to fight hard. He continued to pressure the German lines to reestablish contact with Whittlesey and his men. The Germans could not continue to stand against the pressure on the lines while also trying to dislodge the 308th. The 77th Division broke through and finally relieved Whittlesey and the men of the 308th Infantry (Durr, 2018 & Carabatsos, 2001).

In this example there was lot of reason not to trust, but leaders did trust each other. The leaders passed along their trust to the Soldiers. The result was an Allied victory in the Argonne Forrest that led to the cease fire several weeks later on November 11, 1918.

As Veitch’s Scamalot videos show, sometimes it is easier to trust strangers than people we already know. Strangers have yet to do anything to cause us not to trust them. We know the flaws of those around us which may cause us to not trust them as much a those strangers. This is where leadership happens. Establishing trust is easy. Maintaining trust within existing organizations takes the most work. It would have been easy for Major Whittlesey to surrender and stop trusting his commanders. They had let him down by not telling him the truth about the other units falling to the rear.

Trust, like solid stone, can erode over time. Leaders recognize factors that cause trust to erode. They make small corrections and repairs along to prevent the foundation from collapsing.

Trust erodes as people are unwilling or unable to live up to expectations. Jim is unable to complete a project on time because Pam did not budget enough money to complete her assigned task. Pam did not know the task would cost that much because she relied on a vendor’s quote. The vendor was out of stock so Pam had to order from another supplier and request additional funding. Both took more time than planned and jammed up Jim. Now the manager does not trust either of them, and neither Jim nor Pam trust each other. None of the people in this story intended to behave unethically. The vendor did not predict Pam’s order and ran out of stock. Pam trusted the vendor had a good supply of what she needed. Jim trusted Pam had checked out the vendor. Michael, the manager, trusted Jim could lead the project and complete it on time and within budget.

On the surface keeping trust is simple. As the above example shows it only takes a small mistake to loose trust. However if people live by the organizational principals, difficult situations can be navigated so lessons learned are applied in the future. People have to take responsibility for their mistakes. Leaders have to forgive those mistakes and reestablish trust.

It is easier to make small repairs when trust is breached than to try to rebuild trust after things fall in around you.

Leaders are responsible for building and maintaining trust. They do this in several ways. Leaders define their organization’s guiding principals through regular communication, education, and setting the example. Leaders allow others to make mistakes, analyze what went wrong, and learn how to avoid those mistakes in the future. The final step for leaders is to allow the employee to try again. Doing so shows he still has trust in the employee and has faith he will succeed. Leaders respectfully share employee mistakes so others learn what not to do. You do this by setting them up as the new subject matter expert. Employees rarely act to sabotage you and the organization. If they do, you need to take appropriate disciplinary steps which also establishes that you can be trusted to make hard choices.

There are times when bad things happen out of the leader’s control. When handled poorly, those events destroy trust between key players. Rebuilding trust is difficult. Leaders ensure trust is rebuilt after a crisis. There are several ways to reestablish trust such as using some sort of mediation process to settle disputes between aggrieved parties; reassigning people to new positions to reduce friction; terminating those who willfully violated the organization’s guiding principals; training about roles, responsibilities and shared values; or celebrating victories through teamwork over extreme challenges. Regardless of the reason trust has been lost, it is the leader’s responsibility to regain trust within the organization. The leader takes action allowing others to regain trust.

Trust is the cornerstone of character, the foundation of leadership. Leaders are responsible to establish and maintain trust in their teams and organizations. Often it is easier to trust a stranger than the person you worked with for years because of many large and small transgressions violating trust. Trust however is the force that inspires others to do more than they thought they could do. Leaders consistently communicate organizational guiding principals and live those principals as a model for others to follow. Leaders keep open lines of communication to detect the earliest signs of mistrust to do what is necessary to repair transgressions. Sometimes leaders have to face the fact that someone deliberately did something wrong for selfish reasons and needs to be separated from the organization. While rare, failing to take such action causes increased distrust. Leaders allow honest mistakes by reviewing causes and effects with employees and developing means to correct those mistakes. They treat the mistakes as a learning opportunity for everyone which shows respect and builds trust. Like Soldiers on a battlefield surrounded, without food, water or ammunition, organizations with strong ties developed by trusting relationships can accomplish deeds that seem impossible. Trust is the strong cornerstone of every leadership foundation.

References

Photo Credits

  • Cornerstone by the author CC attribution no commercial
  • Trusted adult by Liane Metzler from unsplash.com, used with an Unsplash license
  • Award ceremony LTC Whittlesey from the National Archieves
  • Eroded stone by the author CC attribution no commercial
  • Reconstruction by Milivoj Kuhar from unsplash.com used with Unsplash license

Say it Three Times if You Want Them to Remember

Anything you want others to remember is worth saying three times. One of the first times I remember hearing this rule was during DARE Officer Training with Linda Lang. She taught me to make learning points by using an auditory method, a visual method, and a kinetsetic method. Several months later I attended a class about courtroom presentations. Ray Mellow introduced first of his rules: that if you wanted the judge and jury to remember an important element of your case, repeat the point three times. About a year later I was taking a firearms instructor class. The instructor, Brad Parker, told us to ensure students remembered what we taught them to tell they what you are going to tell them in a class as an introduction, tell them during the lesson, and then tell them what you told them in the review. I am not a rocket scientist, (although I can operate a rocket launcher) but I learned after three times of being told that if you want your message to stick, repeat it three times.

When I applied this rule to my communications with others I learned how to use different communications methods to improve retention. Repeating something three times is an obvious lesson for trainers. It is also an important lesson for leaders. People remember better if you tell them something and then follow up with at least two other reminders using different means communication such as a phone call, a calendar invite, a text message, or an email.

This simple rule can be used all areal of your career and life. As simple as it is, execution can be hard. I gave a task to a direct report. A couple days later I had a follow up conversation checking on progress. He said he forgot. I thought I should only have to tell him once. Then I could remembered times when my boss spoke to me about completing a project or task. I recognized that he had to remind me a couple times after that first tasking before it really stuck in my mind. The lesson I took from that event with my employee was to apply the repeat three times rule.

The key to using this strategy effectively requires some creativity to avoid hen pecking. Calling an employee into your office and telling him, “I want you to do this, I want you to do this, I want you to do this.” is not effective. Likewise, calling the employee into your office in the next two days and asking, “Are you done yet?” makes you sound like an annoying sibling on a family road trip. How you implement this strategy requires you to identify your communication strengths and how your intended receiver best receives information. Using three different methods increase effectiveness.

Begin by simply telling the other person what you want or expect. You might suggest they take a few notes. Follow up within 24 hours with an email, letter, a social media private message, or a sticky note. Place a phone call or send a text message two or three days later to see if the other person has any questions and check on preliminary progress. Using this method allows you to pitch your message three times and reinforce the importance of the task or appointment. Each connection allows opportunities for additional information sharing, idea swapping, asking of questions and clarification of expectations which improves the quality of the finished product. Using different modes of communication, in person, in writing and by telephone, also improves communication by appealing to different communication styles of others. What they miss in one, they pick up in another. Making your pitch three times means you are more likely to have results three weeks from now during your follow up meeting,

I commonly employ this tactic. I start by reaching out to someone by mentioning to them I would like to talk with them soon about whatever the project or task is. We set a time then to meet. Giving them notice allows them time to think about the topic. During the meeting, I tell the person what I expect. I frame the expectations using loose interpretation of the SMART goal model so they have the information they need. A couple days later I will follow up with an email. I may tell them I think the project deserves a goal setting sheet and ask for a time to meet again to clarify expectations and standards. After someone has worked with me for awhile, they arrive at these meetings with a completed worksheet (see my post on setting goals: ). We reviewing and adjust the goal. I set calendar reminders during that meeting for appropriate follow up briefings. It is uncommon for projects not to be completed on time.

Three repeat works equally well with family and friends. For example, you ask your spouse about a weekend away in the fall. She says sure so you figure you are all set. I found that touching base a few days later with something like, “How does Columbus Day Weekend sound in Maine?” Again she agrees. A few days later follow up with more of the details. When Columbus Day Weekend arrives, you will be less likely to hear yours spouse say she planned on working the rummage sale at the church on Saturday afternoon instead of spending the weekend with you.

Conversely, you can reverse the tables. When your friend mentions going to the big game in a few weeks, reach back to him a few days later. “Hey, who is ordering the ticket?” Such a question does two things. It shows you paid attention, and helps your figure if your friend really wanted to go to the game. A text a few days later about how much you are about going with your friend keeps your friend engages and demonstrates your excitement about the event.

During this message, the repeat three times rule was introduced by a series of three teaching stories. In the middle of the article three examples of failure were provided to reinforce the message of the importance of the repeat three times. The middle of the essay also provided directions to apply the repeat three time rule by using three means of communication for each pitch, and examples on how to apply them at work, home, and with friends. Here, in the conclusion, I discussed each item I said I was going to discuss again to ensure my messages were received, understood and acted upon. Go forth and start and start repeating!

Photo Credits

All images from PXHere.com used with 0CC license. No other attribution available.

Three-Part Recipe for Workplace Success: Developing Procedures

Soldiers execute a standard battle drill in the desert.
Formal procedure create leadership freedom, allow rapid responses, and provide for internal communications.

“Contact right!”, shouted the point man at the sound of small arms fire. The team reacted instinctively. Every member of the team came on line and returned fire from covered positions. The team leader assessed the situation and reported back to the squad leader.  The squad leader directed his second team to flank the enemy position. When ready they laid down suppressing fire drawing the attention away from the first team. The second team leader came up on the radio, “Shift left!” The first team adjusted their aim to the left as the second team began to move across the enemy position. As the second team neared the middle of the enemy position he called for the first team to cease firing and they did. Once across the position, the second team leader advised the first team leader. The first team leader led his Soldiers across the position 90 degrees from the second team’s assault. Within a few minutes the shooting stopped. The enemy was suppressed and withdrew. The squad was victorious. 

React to Contact is a critical Infantry battle drill. It is the foundation of ground combat tactics used by Hannibal during the Second Punic War.  A well drilled squad or platoon can execute the drill with the few words shared in the above story because every squad and platoon in the Army does it the same way, well at least the successful squads and platoons. When executed well, a smaller force has the ability to defeat larger forces. This basic principal of movement is a procedure known to all Infantrymen because it works. This drill allows leaders to initiate action with few words and little direction. In this example the squad leader was the senior leader yet the only decision he made and direction he provided was to a single team leader to flank the enemy. In this battle drill there are only three decisions for the squad leader to make; commit your second team to suppressive fire and allow the platoon to flank, execute the flank with your second team, or break contact. Infantry squad leaders and team leaders rehearse this drills hundreds of times so they know when to suppress, when to attack, and when to withdraw.

Leading an organization of any size becomes easier with formal, practiced procedures. Formal procedures appear to remove a leader’s freedom to make decisions. The opposite is true. Well thought procedures allow leaders to detach from the current crisis and plan for what comes next. Benefits include increased speed by reducing the number of decisions required of a leader, specified lateral lines of communication increase responses, and required actions for teams and individuals without additional instruction. 

Reducing Decision Options

Freedom is defined by dictionary.com as the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint; or the power to determine action without restraint. Formal procedures may confine some leaders because they have limited choices. However, well thought out procedures identify best practices and offer a short menu of options proven to work reliably. Formal procedures allow leaders to stick their heads above the weeds and make big picture decisions

Standard operating procedures allow leaders to look at the bigger picture rather than getting stuck in details.
Procedures free leaders to look at the big picture rather than restrict their attention to what is happening in the weeds.

At the front-line level of the React to Contact Drill, the squad leader has a variety of choices. He can direct the supporting team to provide additional fire power to suppress the enemy and ask the platoon to flank. The squad leader can establish a base of fire from the flanking element and have the element who established contact to maneuver across the enemy’s front. He can call for artillery or air support. He can withdraw. However, it is only through the actions of the team in contact, executing without direction, that he as the freedom to evaluate the situation and determine which course of action is best.  Without this drill, the squad and team leaders would have to solve each problem as it occurs.

In organizations outside the military the same principals are true.  The front line leader has a process to execute. For example, a new employee is assigned to work in the leader’s team. If the organization has a process to orient new employees, none of the leaders need to spend much time figuring out what the new person needs to learn. The leaders follow the check list, tailor the learning to the new person’s position, and the new person quickly becomes a functioning member of the team. Without a procedure to welcome new team members, leaders loose time figuring out what the new person needs to know. They make lots of decisions about what parts of what organizational documents new team members need to read. The leaders need to figure out what administrative processes must be completed to ensure the employee is paid, receives benefits, and knows what is expected of him or her.

A new employee orientation procedure takes away some decision making from leaders but only because the leaders decided earlier what new team members needed to do. Now instead of spending a few days figuring out what to teach the new guy, who should teach it, and where the information is stored, the leader turns to the procedure and execute. The procedure frees his time to decide on other matters.

Lateral Lines of Communication

Allow leaders to communicate with their peers to coordinate actions and permit senior leaders to continue to look forward.
Lateral communications ensures leaders are not bombarded with information they do not need and only to make decisions appropriate for their level.

Establishing internal lines of communication allow lower level leaders to coordinate actions and support without having to always run to the boss. The boss does need to know what is going on, but does not need to make or approve every decision. Establishing peer-to-peer communication channels frees up senior leaders to look farther ahead. Procedures specify what types of decisions senior leaders make and what types of decisions leaders lower on the org chart may make.

In the infantry squad example, peer leaders, the team leaders, directly communicated their intentions and directions to move and shift fires. This communication allowed the squad leader monitor the situation. The squad leader had the freedom to call for more resources and determine what actions to take after the enemy attack was stopped.

A non-military example of this principal is a nonprofit providing a service to their clients.  A new client is referred for service and appears at the office. The person meeting with the client knows the organization has a procedure for new client intakes and referrals. The employee welcomes the client and moves them through the intake procedure and determines the client’s needs. The employee directly contacts outside organizations necessary to provide resources and services for the client without having to clear each referral through a manager. Organizational leaders recognized the needs for those services and previously established processes to refer clients. As a result, the clients receive services and resources quickly because the number of people involved and the levels of communication are reduced. 

Action without Instructions

Formal procedures provide direction so others know what to do in a variety of situations without direction.

Formal procedures provide direction to employees about how to perform their jobs. Procedures spell out what kinds of decisions employees can make and what decisions and information require the boss’s attention. In the infantry squad example, each team member knows when they received contact to move on line to ensure they had clear lines of fire towards the enemy and to find a place of cover to return fire. They did not have to wait for direction from the team leader. They were expected to take those actions without directs in order to free the team leader to report the situation to the squad leader.

In an example from the private sector, Tim Ferriss talks about how he empowered his assistants to deal with customer services issues in his book The Four Hour Work Week and several of his podcasts. He found his assistant was reaching out to him several times every day for him to decide how to deal with unhappy customers. Tim realized he was not able to focus on growing his new business when he was dealing with those types of issues. He developed a list of ways the customer service assistant could offer help without consulting Tim and what types of customer issues he reserved to resolve himself. As a result, Ferriss was able to return his attention to growing the business and his customers received improved and faster resolutions to their problems.

Procedures receive a bad rap because organizations implement them poorly and never review them to determine their continued relevance.  The purpose of procedures is to create leadership freedom by providing a menu of choices for common events rather than problem solving every time something similar happens. As a result, the leader is free to focus on developing teams and improving the organization.  If the decisions a procedure allows become irrelevant, they need to be changed. Therefore, leaders must periodically review all procedures for relevance. Failing to do so causes confinement rather than freedom.

Quality procedures help leaders at all levels achieve freedom, increase the speed or response, and improve the quality of service by reducing the number of decisions leaders need to make. Communications improve communications laterally and vertically because leaders only receive the information they need to decide. Employees are more effective when addressing problems and opportunities.

Leaders and workers frequently view formal procedures as limiting their freedom, however, they provide a structured format for leaders to take action without additional control or restraint. Employees who are trained well know what is expected of them in many situations allowing them to make decisions without always running to the boss for guidance. Like the well run battle drill, formal procedures direct action without additional inputs and free leaders to lead.

Reference

Definition of freedom was retrieved from: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/freedom on 8/28/19.

Photo Credits

  • Infantry Attack from pxhere.com with a 0CC license. No attribution provided.
  • Dictionary by John Mark Smith from unsplash.com with a CC Attribution license.
  • Tin Can Phone by Chris Tag as CWD802 from pexel.com with a pexel.com license.
  • Arrow from pxhere.com with a 0CC license. No attribution provided.

Leading Change

“Tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes.” (Bullock, 1716), everything else is subject to change.

Change is certain. Be a leader of change.

I wrote this article on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon. It caused me to think about how that happened. There are lots of examples of leaders creating great things in government, business, and in social services after creating a vision of what could be dating back to the beginning of recorded history. As I study and apply leadership lessons, I found there are five principals of leaders who effectively lead change within their organizations. Those leaders set examples by living and enforcing organizational guiding principals, communicating a clear vision for the future, establishing goals and benchmarks, taking disciplined action to accomplish required tasks, and possessing humility.

Leaders establish guiding principals through their behavior. The old maxim, “Actions speak louder than words,” says it all; leaders who say respect is important and treat others respectfully are more convincing that those who treat others disrespectfully. Whether you are new to the organization, in a new position, or a veteran in a leadership role, you choose your values. Ensure they are aligned with the organizational principals, or advocate to changing them. It takes time to establish character, but even if you have been an angry, disrespectful, fly-off-the handle kind of a leader, you can change. Others will notice and your character will change.

In addition to behaving in accordance with your professed and the organization’s values, leaders ensure others also develop character. You cannot ignore a direct report’s violation of an organizational principal and fire a more junior person for the same behavior. If your organization values people’s time, then the person who is consistently two minutes late for work, meetings, and leaves five minutes early needs to be held to account. Not every offense requires firing. Not every offense requires a written reprimand or other disciplinary action. Often pulling a person aside and pointing out their faux-pas is enough to gain compliance. When misbehavior is displayed by otherwise compliant people it may signal trouble. Pulling that person aside presents an opportunity to address the trouble and become aware of their problem.

A few years ago I gave in and went to the eye doctor because I noticed road signs were not as clear as I remembered them. I needed glasses. Over time my vision dulled and I needed someone to help me see clearly again. An organization’s vision is the same. In the beginning everyone knows why they belong, where they are headed, what they are doing, and how to do it. As the organization grows older, the vision fades, just like people’s eyesight.

Help other people see your vision of the future.

Leaders often think they only need to cast their vision before their followers once and they are good for life. They are wrong. There is a reason all major religions have services on a weekly basis. That reason is to refresh the soul. Face it, after ten years of church going, you probably have heard all there is to hear. Services keep your faith fresh.

Likewise leaders need to continually project their vision for the organization. Those who work in the organization need to see it so they can properly care for clients and customers. Clients and customers need to see it so they understand why you do what you do; it builds brand loyalty. Vendors and contractors need to see it so they are on the same page. Leaders, from each member of the Board of Directors, to the shop foreman, need to see it so they can magnify and amplify the vision for their followers.

Vision statements are not one and done. Leaders constantly need to proclaim their vision to inspire everyone they encounter. Leaders develop credibility when they not only talk about their vision, but take action to make it a reality.

Based on the leader’s vision, the leader and junior leaders establish goals to accomplish the mission and vision. Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time bound, and task oriented. Many of you will recognize the SMARTT goal setting model. I added and extra tee for the task steps.

Task steps are important. They provide the directions to achieve the goal. The goal is your What. The task steps are the How.

Use your vision of the future to establish goals.

Leaders should establish a plan for goal setting. Good goal setting happens in cycles. The first step is to assess. Your assessment establishes your starting point and destination. As you walk your selected path, you will encounter life and may find you stray from your planned path. Periodically check your progress and adjust course as necessary. As you move along, you learn; apply those lessons along your journey. As you near the end of your journey, it is time to assess again and establish new goals. Click here http://bit.ly/2YfQH0Y for a short lesson on the goal setting cycle.

Disciplined action ensures accomplishment of critical tasks for mission success. Discipline has several meanings. In this case I intend it to mean controlled behavior resulting from training (adapted from https://www.thefreedictionary.com/discipline). Action means activities required to complete the mission. Disciplined actions are planned and controlled activities that are scheduled, measured, supervised, and coordinated across all teams in an organization.

To be effective, organizations must plan. Planning includes scheduling, measuring, supervising and coordinating actions. Planning requires discipline. Planning also identifies key performance indicators. Controls are necessary to establish measures of performance and effectiveness (insert link to that blog). Supervision is only effective if supervisors know what they are looking for in performance and effectiveness. Coordination ensures things are going according to the plan across all teams. Coordination communicates the plan and status of activities to everyone.

An example of disciplined action are the steps required to make a widget and ship it to a customer. In the planning stage, leaders determine what needs to be done, what resources are required, what will be measured, how often, by whom, and how to coordinate across all the teams. The organization identifies the material, machines, and people required to make the widget. They order material and hire people. They schedule activities such as when raw material should arrive, when workers need to be at their machines, when product will be shipped, and the means for delivery to customers. Coordination is required so there is material on hand to manufacture widgets when workers are available; trucks are available when enough widget are ready to ship, and adequate capacity exists to meet deadlines. Coordination is an on going process. For example, if machine operators are sick, it causes reduction in production. The shipping team needs to know so they can adjust shipping schedules.

Disciplined action requires advanced planning to accomplish leader goals.

Much of this step is as much management as leadership. Management is an important leadership skill. People are involved in each part of disciplined action and that is where the leadership comes into play. Fail to lead disciplined action, and your organization may achieve a task, but it will not remain successful.

I remember reading in Seven Habits that Stephen Covey claimed to have studied great people for years before boiling down their secret of success to seven habits. I thought, “Why would anyone dedicate themselves to such work?” I found myself reviewing Good to Great a short while ago and read Jim Collins’ assertion that Level 5 Leaders are humble. That was not the first or last place I encountered that idea, but it struck me then how many times I learned that point from so many other sources including people I chose to follow. I now wonder if Covey stumbled across those seven habits the same way I found the five principals of leading change.

Humility is an important trait for being a good or great leader. Great leaders do all the things I present in this article, but they also recognize they lack certain skills, lack knowledge, lack connections, and other important resources to make things happen. Great leaders recognize they need to rely on others to help them accomplish the organization’s mission. If they are the smartest, fastest, most skilled person in the organization, they are leading the wrong group of people, and they know that. They seek out people who are smarter they them. They hire others with greater skills. They know these others are their superiors and they are blessed to lead them, or put another way, they know they are blessed those high speed individuals choose to follow them.

You can develop humility. It is a skill that can be learned. I saw it in action during my first General Staff meeting. In a General’s staff meeting there are standard scripts everyone follows to ensure the General receives the information he needs to lead the force and make important decisions. According the script, other staff sections presented their canned information to the General. Then it was my Colonel’s turn to present.

At the time, Colonel Shawn was the Director of Logistics. On schedule, the slides with the logistics information were projected on the screen. COL Shawn hardly noticed. Instead he looked at the General and said, “Sir, I know you’ve seen my slides and our information is pretty good this month. If you don’t mind, I want to tell you about the great work that Kris Skinner has done this month with our surface maintenance program.” The Colonel went on about LTC Skinner’s accomplishments that month. At the end of the story COL Shawn asked the General if he had any questions about his directorate’s data. When the General said he did not, Shawn introduced the next staff chief.

I was impressed. I thought it was a one time thing to bring some attention to the boss about good work done by his followers. The following month however, COL Shawn had another story about the good work another member of the section. Again at the end, instead of getting into the data on the slide he moved onto the next speaker. COL Shawn had someone every month he highlighted at the staff meeting. Now of course none of those workers acted independently. Col Shawn knew what each was doing and used all his leadership ability to encourage them to do the greatest job they could do. Each individual responded by regularly exceeding the standards and expectations.

Disciplined actions result in desired change.

COL Shawn was promoted to Brigadier General. He is a confident and competent leader. He accomplished plenty of big things in his own right. Yet when ever he talks with someone, he learns about them. He shares what he learned in a recent book he read. He asks what he can do to make things better for lower-level leaders. He practices humility.

Change is inevitable. Leaders must navigate future changes. Even choosing to maintain a certain level or quality of business without growth or shrinkage requires organizational change. Laws change. Customers change. Demand for products changes. Organizational staff change. Leaders who do not lead change will find there is no one left to lead. Leaders effect change by creating a desired vision of the future. They set and help followers set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time bound goals with task steps. They plan and manage disciplined action to accomplish the mission and change. They are humble people who understand they still have much to learn. Change is coming. Are you leading to adapt to that change?

/ —- Photo Credits —-/

  • Coins by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay using pixabay license.
  • Eyeglasses by Skeeze ibid
  • Fortune Telling by Tumisu ibid
  • Agenda Calendar by Rawpixel.com from http://www.pexel.com using pexel license
  • Man Outdoors Snow no attribution available from pxhere.com using 0CC license

/ —- Reference —-/

Bullock: https://www.mightytaxes.com/death-taxes-quote-history/ retrieved 7/31/219