Trust, the Cornerstone of Leadership

One has to build bridges to build trust. Bridges require strong foundations. Trust is the cornerstone of any strong leadership foundation.
-Photo by author

A few years ago, I found myself struggling to repair trusting relationships between members of a team I lead. While my relationship was still good, some team members had a spat that reduced trust and increased friction. We invited a consultant to do a training event focusing on improving trust in professional relationships. As this drama unfolded, the leader of a different organization asked me to provide as short presentation to the other senior leaders in that team on the importance of trust for leaders. A few months later, was in a leadership seminar and trust was a key discussion topic. As I reflected on the things I learned from these opportunities, I started rethinking my position that character was the foundation of leadership. As I worked though the connections of leadership, character, and trust, I realized my initial impression of character as the foundation of leadership was correct. I also realized that trust was the cornerstone of character and therefore the cornerstone of leadership.

As I continued to reflect on the cornerstone analogy, I found six areas leaders can work on to develop trusting relationships with their followers, peers, senior leaders, and people outside their organization. Those areas include communication, being responsible, building your team, developing proficiency, demonstrating respect, and setting an example. Over the next few months, I will post examining each of these areas in more detail. The balance of this post focuses on introducing each of these topics.

Character is the foundation of leadership. One develops character by the way they live their personal and organizational values in a consistent, disciplined fashion. Living a life of character creates trust. Trust enables leaders to know that what they ask and expect followers to do will be done, even when they are not there. Followers do what is expected and make important decisions when the leader is not around because they trust their leader will support them.

Everyone thinks they know what trust is. If I asked you to provide a definition, how long would it take for you to formulate one? After some reading and reflecting, I define trust as: a choice to risk something you value to the actions of another based on your belief in their character. A quick analysis of this definition shosw you have to value something, whether it is time, money, property, or a relationship. You have to be willing to access to an item of value to another person in such a way they can either add, subtract, or protect the base value based on their actions. You use your knowledge and understanding of their perceived capability to decide if the risk is reasonable. The basis of your judgment is your observed ability of the other to accomplish things, and their record of virtue in their personal and professional life.

Character is the foundation of leadership. Foundations must be strong or things collapse. Strong cornerstones hold more weight. Trust is the cornerstone of character.
– photo from pxhere.com

Leaders are trusted to provide valuable guidance, actively pursue goals, use resources effectively, and treats others respectfully. The supporters of the organization, such as board members, stock holders, customers, and employees, decide to trust a leader based on their perception of how well the leader competently executes with available resources and cares for people. Leaders earn trust by by communicating, acting responsibly, building the team, demonstrating proficiency, acting respectfully, and setting a good example.

Leaders are in the communication business. They must communicate consistently up, down, and across their organization. Honesty is important. Without honest communication, there can be no trust. Honest communications reduce anxiety in stressful times. When leaders develop a reputation for honesty, others tolerate the absence of communication on a subject or topic on occasions when a leader indicates she cannot speak on it. Even in those cases, it is critical for a leader to disclose the constraint and when they will be able to discuss the matter.

There are several aspects to being a responsible leader. You must do what you say you are going to do, and keep track of the people and property entrusted to you. The first part of this quality seems simple enough, if you say you will do something, do it. However, it is not always easy. Sometimes life gets in the way of what you promised to do. When you find a way to accomplish all you promised, you will be trusted as a reliable leader.

The next part of this quality is tracking people and things. When I say it is important to track people, I do not mean creepy internet stalking stuff. I do mean that you know where your people are during working hours, you know what things they are working on, you know they are being paid properly, you know they are taking adequate time off to remain fresh and avoid burnout, and that they are well trained. In fact, if you do not take care of all of these things, you do not deserve to expect to attract and retain quality people nor expect quality results.

Turing our attention to tracking property, there is more to it than just knowing the numbers. If you lose track of property entrusted to you, you and your people will not have the resources to work. Equally important to having the right numbers of things is that the property is operational. If you have 20 widgets but only five are working, you only have 5 widgets.

The next facet is building your team. You do that by working them hard. Whether it is a challenging problem to solve in a meeting or developing a new product or service, nothing builds that team like hard work. It creates a shared team identity and history.

Proficiency ensures you know what right looks like. As a result, you know when people are doing the right things, the right way, for the right reasons.
– photo from pxhere.com

Be proficient in your field. You do not need to know how to operate every machine, or generate every report, but you need to know enough so you know what is and is not real. Others judge your competence by your demonstrations of skill, knowledge, time, and capacity to complete a given task. If you lack something, you build trust by admitting it up front and solidifying a plan to overcome the shortfall.

Act respectfully of others all the time. There are several ways you can do that. Speak positively about others when they are not there to defend themselves. Be punctual. When you are late you send a clear message that you do not value other people’s time. Be empathetic. Sometimes connecting someone with a mentor or asking about a family problem shows you care.

Set the example by living the standards you set. Model expected behaviors. Others will follow your example. Setting an example by living your values and values of your organization is the most demonstrative way you build character and establish trust. It shows you are willing to walk the talk and know that what you expect of others can be done.

Leaders build character and develop trust with subordinates, peers, senior leaders, and leaders outside your organization by improving in each area. You build character one day at a time with every single action you take. As your character grows, the trust others place in you grows. Increased trust provides greater influence. Bigger and better opportunities become available to you and your team with greater influence. Character is the foundation of leadership. Trust is the cornerstone of that foundation. The cornerstone must be solid or everything else collapses. Without trust, leaders and their teams fail. With trust, you and your team harness the power and influence necessary to accomplish anything. Now that you are done reading this, pick up your hammer and chisel and begin to carve your cornerstone of trust.

References

  • Covey, S. & Merrill, R. (2008) The speed of trust. Free Press. New York, NY
  • Feltman, C (2008). The thin book of trust. Thin Book Publishing. Bend, OR

Thank a Vet by Hiring a Vet

Cha-BOOM! Another morning starts with mortars landing on the roof. Bap-bap-bap-bap-bap. The M-240 machine gunner on the observation post over my head fires at someone or something as I roll out of bed and turn on the radio. I hear the Sergeant of the Guard (SOG) informing the operations center that we are receiving direct small arms fire and indirect mortar fire. I think, “No $#!7, we can hear it!” As I pull my body armor on, I hear the SOG directing one of the posts to fire on a position believed to house the forward observer for the mortars. He controls the fire of that position by calling in small corrections, allowing the gunner to zero in on the forward observer. As he radios each correction, we can hear shots cracking around him and the mortars continue to rain down.

Making life and death decisions under pressure creates a level of character for all Veterans, a quality adaptable to any job.

By now I am racing to the operations center to check in, receive accountability from my other squads, and coordinate a counter-attack. Cha-BOOM – another round lands on the roof, shaking the building. “I’ve been hit!”, the SOG yells into the radio. “Tweak it down one more notch,” he directs the machine gunner as they continue to zero in on the observer. “You got him. Now find that RPK.” directs the SOG. The mortars stop and soon, so does the small arms fire. The insurgents melt back into the city before we can roll out the gate and engage with them.

The one thing that stands out in my mind after nearly two decades since this battle occurred was the way the Sergeant of the Guard skillfully directed the fires of the fighting positions while under direct fire. What still amazes me however is that had he not announced on the radio he had been injured, no one listening would have any idea he was wounded. He continued to direct the battle and move from position to position like he was doing a little fitness training in his hometown.

I have heard people say that leadership is the most important thing on the battlefield. The leadership provided by the Sergeant of the Guard on that June morning directly resulted in the enemy lose of their eyes directing the mortars being used against us. Because they lost the ability to control their fires, the others fighters gave up the fight. The SOG’s cool reaction under fire, and while wounded, set an example of how good leaders instill confidence, provide guidance, and create trust under pressure.

This Field Artilleryman spent a year serving as a Military Police Soldier and helped train thousands of local police.

Most leaders in the most work places will never face such a life and death situation. However, many react like minor things are life and death events and engage in seagull management. The term comes from The One-Minute Manager. Ken Blanchard shares the story of a manager flying over his workers. When she catches someone doing something wrong, she swoops in, flaps her wings, makes lots of noise, and on the way out dumps on the people as they sort out the confusion.

When an employer hires a veteran, they gain an employee that knows what crises look like. Most know what an appropriate response is to given situations. Too often, employers look at a veteran’s employment history and sees they served in one of the combat arms, infantry (queen of battle), field artillery (King of Battle), armor, or carvery and has no idea what their real skills are.

National Guard member working a COVID Vaccination Site.

The military makes leaders of young people. A 20 or 21-year-old Soldier might be responsible for the very lives of four or five other people, like the Sergeant on the roof during the mortar attack. Even if that Soldier makes a text book correct decision, the Soldiers he leads might still die. How many life and death decisions do leaders in your organization have to make on a regular basis? I suspect in most cases, the answer is few. Yet the very people who are qualified to recognize and make those decisions are placed at the bottom of hiring lists because they do not appear to have skills.

If you are an employer that values leaders who can work independently, create a positive work environment, motivate people with a variety of skills, and accomplish things, you need to look at that veteran a second time. Lots of people now feel free to walk up to a person in uniform and thank them for their service. What are you really thankful for? If you are grateful they provided leadership in tough circumstances, offer them a job or connect them with someone who can.

Veterans have demonstrated the capability to learn new things under pressure. They know how to work in teams. They understand you do not have to like the other person in your foxhole, but you need to know how to work with them so you both survive. Veterans value loyalty, duty, honor, and service. They know what hard work is because for them, and eight-hour day is only the first part of the work day; many have worked 20 or 30-hour days

Veterans worked a variety of jobs in the military. Often, what they are tasked to do is not aligned with what they are trained to do but they figure out how to complete the mission.

As a job interviewer, you may not understand all the jargon veterans use. Ask them to clarify what they mean. Even the most junior leader in the military creates mission orders for their team based on what their boss needs. Veterans learn to understand the intent of the mission, which in the business world is a job or project. They develop plans to accomplish their part of the project. They communicate their plan with their bosses and their team. Veterans learn to coordinate their actions with the teams operating to their left, right, and rear, basically, all around them.

Veterans may not know how to operate your Black Hole Client Management System, but they know how to gather information. They may not be able to operate your particular milling machine, but they learn to operate lots of different military equipment. They may not know your particular protocol to deal with a crisis, but they know how to quickly make decisions based on the available information, their understanding of the intention of the project, the guiding principles of the organization, and then how to execute in a calm, disciplined way. Every organization needs people who can make decisions under pressure, inspire others to be more than they are, and complete important work with little supervision. Those are normal days in the military, and that is why veterans make good hires. Do not just thank a vet this Veterans Day; hire one.

References

Blanchard, K, & Johnson, S (1983). The one-minute manager. Berkley Books. London, UK.

Marshall A. (2019). Baqubah: Bones and blood. Baqubah Press. Barrington, NH

Willink, J, & Babin, L. (2015). Extreme ownership. St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY.

Top photos by author

Bottom photos from New Hampshire National Guard

Learn More

https://hireaveteran.com/

These are a small number of organizations looking to help employers find and hire Veterans. Selecting these sites for sharing here is intended only to raise awareness for employers and Veterans of some ways they can connect. Their selection is not an endorsement.

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

The Power of Example for Leaders

Sir Peel meet Lord Wellington
Sir Robert Peel knew the importance of police setting positive examples in their communities. Leaders are judged by their example, just like police are judged by their communities
-Painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter; retrieved from Wikicommons.

Police work is a career field that relies on apprenticeship in order for new people to learn skills and become highly qualified. In the last few years, our nation saw several examples of bad things that happen when police departments choose the wrong people to lead new officers. What we rarely see are the great examples of leaders who understand their role in the communities they serve. These corporals and sergeants do more than lecture to new officers about the importance of respect and community oriented responses to situations. Rather, these police leaders show their trainees how to interact with the public in a positive way that fosters cooperation instead of resistance. Police departments with quality leaders create trust in their communities based on mutual respect. These leaders walk the talk that Sir Robert Peel introduced in the 1800s. In these departments, officers do the right things because they see the rewards of treating people with respect, listening to people’s concerns, and their actions align with what they say they value.

Setting an example is a powerful tool that establishes trust with others. Your actions broadcast to how you expect your followers to behave. When your actions align with your personal and organizational guiding principals, you begin to create a culture of character that speaks louder than anything you, or your organization says. People judge us not but what we say is important; they judge us by what we show them is important through our actions. As a leader, your example should be your sharpest tool.

There are several ways leaders can sharpen their tool of positive example. Start by remembering the power of your example. As a leader, people emulate your behavior, which becomes the organization’s culture. If you treat others with honor and respect regardless of job, title, or position, those who follow you will act respectfully as well. When you keep your work space neat and tidy, it tells others your value order over disorder. Others will notice those times you step up to lend a hand with the dirty work demonstrating servant leadership. Your example builds a stage from which you project the values and guiding principals others come to know are important. When your behavior is aligned with organizational principals, you speak with authority when you both recognize the good work of those who follow you as well as those times you make corrections.

Man sharpens tool like leaders sharpen their abilities.
When leaders model expected behaviors, they sharpen trust with their followers, peers, their leaders, and others outside their organization
-photo by CD-X from PXHere.com

Another way to sharpen your example is to listen to what others say about your behavior. Others will talk about your behavior. Their comments let you know if you are engaged in behavior that sets a good example. Behavior that is out of line will be the subject of jabs in meetings, or sarcastic remarks over lunch. When you implore others to complete job performance evaluations on time and your direct reports’ evaluations are all over due, you might hear things like, “About that, when will my eval be completed?”, or “You mean like the way you finish evaluations?”. These comments may be said in a way that sounds funny. The real message is you need to set the example and complete the evaluations for your followers on time. They notice when you do not.

Your boss and peers are other vehicles for information about your behavior. They may comment your behavior seems off track. Even when you are a highly competent leader with good character, you will have days that are hard. In those times, your boss will likely cut you some slack. Your peers may express concern. As you continue to allow those difficulties to effect your behavior, you will find your peers express disdain and your boss becomes frustrated. Listen for those little clues for those you trust to change what is becoming unacceptable behavior back to actions aligned with the organization’s values.

Learning is another way to sharpen your tool of example. Whether it is a professional development event hosted by your employer, or a book you read and apply, when others see you learning, they know it is important for them to continue learning as well. By applying what you learn, you become a stronger leader and a better person. You reinforce the importance of learning by taking time to chat with those who recently attended a training event or other development task. Approach the conversation as a learner rather than a boss checking up on whether the person attended the seminars or spend the day on the beach. Doing this shows others you understand anyone can learn something from everyone. As a result, your power to influence others increases.

Setting an example is the single biggest thing you can do to develop character and demonstrate competence. Setting a good example shows others you know what you are asking them to do can be done. Good examples provide leaders power to influence others because they treat people with respect, ask questions that acknowledge their skills, and demonstrate the leader is willing to engage in the painful and enjoyable activities every organization has. These behaviors create trust with those who follow and lead you. You know if your example is aligned with organizational guiding principles by listening to others. Whether it is a direct report, a peer, or your boss, each provides clues about your behavioral alignment. Sometimes the feedback is direct and sarcastic. Other times, the feedback is received from another’s observations about the team’s performing. Learning provides you opportunities to demonstrate to others the importance of learning, and also provides tools to help you better evaluate your leadership actions. Learning also provides you the opportunity to acquire new skills to become a better leader. Model the behaviors you expect of others, and soon you will find they follow the example you set. Your example becomes the basis for trust with others.

Row of beach huts aligned like leader behaviors are aligned with organizational principals
A leader’s example must be aligned with the values of the organization
-Photo from PXHere

References

Grinston, M. (Ed. 2020). TC 7-22.7 The noncommissioned officer guide. Department of the Army. Washington, DC.

UW Police (2021), The Peelian principles University of Washington. Seattle, WA. http://police.uw.edu/faqs/the-peelian-principles/ Retrieved 10/27/21

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr. Contact author for permission to reuse text.

The Secret to Success In Leadership and Life; Persistence

Engaging in the right actions, completed the right way, consistently begins a cycle to achieve success.
-Photo from PxHere

Doing anything for 60 years is hard. At a 60 year wedding anniversary party, the husband was asked what the secret was to staying married for so long. His response, “Don’t get divorced!” Simple right? Simply work persistently on your marriage for 720 months and you too will stay married for 60 years. The principal of persistence is the secret for staying married for 60 years, succeeding in life, and leading others well.

While the principal of persistence implies success through repeated efforts, it is important to understand that persistence along does not guarantee success. In order for your persistent efforts to achieve success in some area of life, you have to execute correct behaviors, in the proper fashion, completed in the right order, on a consistent basis. Doing the right things at the wrong time, or without consistency, reduces the effectiveness of your behavior.

The Correct Behaviors

There are several acceptable ways to build a roof for one’s home. Many modern homes rely on trusses to hold the sheathing. Back in the day, builders used hand hewn beams to create the rafters. Prairie dwellers used thatching instead of traditional shingles. All work well to their purpose in their location, so long as you completed the right tasks.

Applying trusses requires different steps and skills than if a carpenter is applying a rafter structure. Trusses come preassembled, ready to lift to the tops of the walls to be secured appropriately. There are steps building crews take to secure the trusses to the walls and to the other trusses. Failing to complete any step of the installation correct means the roof is not completely sound. It may survive a normal rainstorm and carry the load of a winter’s worth of snow, but the first big wind that blows, the residents may find they are exposed to the elements.

Consistent behavior that is out of line with required behavior is not persistence. Persistence repeats appropriate behavior.
-Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

Along the same lines, a thatched roof may work well to keep the rain off your head on a tropical island. If you build the same home in a cold climate that receives snow, however, you may need to learn to build an igloo! The grass that shed rain lacks the strength to hold solid precipitation.

You can persistently build homes in Canada with perfectly executed thatched roofs, but it is unlikely you will sell many. Correct behavior means not only executing what you know to the best of your ability, but also that the action is appropriate for the circumstances. It is a twofold test to determine correct behavior.

The Proper Fashion

The nation cringed every time the news played clips from the arrest of George Floyd. Two rookie and one veteran police officer struggled to arrest him because they did not understand the proper way to restrain and escort a resistant person. In the case of rookies, one expects them to learn from those with experience and according to one clip, one of the officers questioned the tactic but lacked another solution because of his lack of experience. There are effective techniques to control resistant people. Other police officers around the nation encounter resistant people and for the most part, those resisters are successfully placed in police cars, brought to police stations, and live to tell their side of the story. While most people will not find themselves in situations where the proper or improper actions result in the death of another, when someone fails to execute a behavior in the correct way, there eventually are negative consequences. You may persistently execute that behavior and experience some success, but failure is a more likely outcome.

An example is of the pilot who flew antique WWI airplanes. The particular plane he flew required someone to spin the propeller two times before attempting to start the engine. This procedure had something to do with moving oil or something like that, which prevented the pistons from seizing during operation. This pilot admitted he rarely completed this step and never had a problem except once. As he tells the tale, shortly after take off, the engine seized, causing the propellers to stop turning. He was able to turn around and land safely. He says he never skips the step now. The moral is that persistently following the wrong way to do things eventually results in failure. You may succeed in the short term, but the odds grow against you with time. Do the right things the right way long enough, and you are more likely to succeed.

The Correct Order

Sometimes the order one completes tasks is of little consequence. I was observing a class on preparing a radio for use in the field. The instructor told the students to insert the battery and then turn over the radio and attach the antenna. The point was that before you attach the antenna, the user has easier access to the battery. The instructor was teaching a class of people learning to become instructors. One student assembled the radio by first attaching the antenna and then placing the radio on its side and sliding in the battery. Following this method was typically slower and made it more difficult to align the pins in the battery compartment with the slots in the battery, which could damage the pins and render the radio inoperative.

The instructor trainer failed the student and explained he failed to complete the steps in the correct order. The student replied, “Doesn’t matter; it works!” The instructor trainer explained the reasons for assembling the radio as instructed and directed the student to complete the task again. Again, he did with the antenna first. Eventually the student was removed and spoken to by the headmaster of the training program. The student passed but received poor comments on his evaluation.

While the student’s point about the radio operating by assembling it his way was true, it was not the correct order. The order directed by the instructor reduced the risk of damaging the radio. Just because there are no consequences for failing to follow the order of directions in one iteration does not mean there are never consequences. If the student instructor taught all his people to assemble the radio the way he did it, the likelihood of damaged radios increases. The cost for repairing the radios increases, reducing funds available for other activities. Most importantly, the radio is not available for the operations conducted by the organization. Even if a replacement was immediately available, that may not always be the case.

Taking shortcuts may seem like it saves time in the short run. In the end however, the cost can be great. One may not break a radio pin, but what if an employee fails to follow a procedure and as a result people are injured or killed?

Consistent Action

Consistency is synonymous with persistence. However, they are not exactly the same. Consistency is the principal regular adherence to a course (derived from dictionary.com and merriam-webster.com). Persistence is consistency without stopping until you reach the objective. It is possible to be persistent without being consistent. Your results will take longer to achieve. Depending on how inconsistent your persistence is, you may find achievement not possible.

You do not run a marathon without some practice. However, you do not finish a marathon with making consistent, persistent steps for 26.2 miles!
-Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

Consistent action goes a long way to improving attainment and speed of results. It is better to do a little bit on a regular basis than trying to complete a long list of tasks a single time (See Ten Minute Rule). Acting consistently allows you to determine how to adjust actions. You can beat your head against a brick wall for years hoping to break through it. If you bang your head against that wall five times every day, you will realize sooner that there is probably a better way to break down that wall and waiting until Saturday and banging your head for an hour without evaluating your results.

Persistence is an important principle of success. It implies you do not stop until you achieve your goal. However, repeating unsuccessful habits do little to move you forward. As you travel down the path toward your goal, it is important to do the things that work, effectively, in an order that builds on previous successes, consistently. That means you stop periodically to evaluate that you are doing the right things effectively in the right order on a regular basis. Persistence is more than never quitting. It means you evaluate to avoid making the same mistakes and hoping for a different outcome. Persistence requires periodically stopping to apply the lessons you learn so, you do the right things more effectively. If you are persistent and do not occasionally stop to evaluate your progress, you may find you ended up someplace you did not want to go. Take a breath, look around to see where you are, then adjust so, you stay on the path as you persistently move forward!

Small Adjustments, Like Compound Interest, Equal Big Change

Looking before leaping ensures you have a good understanding what lies under the surface. This understanding allows you to make small adjustments to meet conditions and improve success.
-Photo by Lucas Allmann on Pexels.com

As a young man, I was approached by an insurance salesman about the miracle of compound interest. The theory is sound. With a little discipline, a little luck, the right investment vehicle, and the right advisor, saving a little on a regular basis with the compound interest added over a period of time, one ends up with a good-sized bankroll. In an earlier post, I introduced the concept of the ten-minute rule; taking ten minutes each day to dedicate to an activity that will make tremendous improvements in your life. The discipline required to dedicate to ten minutes every day is the same as that for saving. Six Sigma and Total Quality Improvement both tout the importance of making small changes to make products and services better. Do you remember the old adage, “Look before you leap”? Small steps may be a better, safer way to descend from or climb up a mountain.

Change is coming. We all know it. Change is at the very heart of leadership. Without change, there would be no need for leaders. Too often organizations make broad, sweeping changes. We all know that a new broom sweeps clean but how many new brooms can an organization afford to buy, use, store, and maintain? Sometimes sweeping changes are necessary like when a wildfire burns down your whole town, your biggest customer goes bankrupt, or your CFO suddenly resigns to move to his new home in the Caribbean purchased without authorization from your company’s funds. Those kinds of changes are rapid and wide-spread. The stimulus for those kinds of changes are difficult to predict. Good leaders should look to the future in order to make predictions and decisions about the future. With a vision toward the future, leaders develop plans to implement changes preparing for the future. People adapt to smaller changes easier. Smaller changes allow leaders to observe responses before fully committing to bigger changes. Small changes are the little peeks before the big leap.

When implemented well, little changes result in big differences that are not often understood at the time of the change. Small, successive changes help leaders understand if their theory is valid. It is easier to take a few steps down a path to see what lies ahead than to blindly start off only to learn you are going the wrong way. Incremental changes allow us to do just that.

Small decisions frequently make the difference between success and failure. The decision by Stark to attack surprised the British defenders near Bennington, VT. Few recognized the importance of this small engagement at the time it occurred. It became the turning point in the American Revolution.
-Engraving of a painting by Alonzo Chappel – http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?808641, Public Domain,

An example of small decisions that lead to big results is the battle that occurred outside Bennington, VT in August 1777. The British were attempting to cut off the New England Colonies from the rest of the rebels. Armies were to march north from New York City and south from Canada. The General in NYC thought he had an opportunity to fix and destroy George Washington’s main army after the isolation plan started. He started moving his army to close with Washington without consulting the army from Canada. British and Colonial forces clashed at Saratoga, NY.

Facing dwindling supplies and seeking a way around the Continentals, the British commander sent a small party towards Bennington. The commander knew the rebels established a base of stores there. Additionally, this course presented a possible route around the opposing forces. Word reached the militia commanders John Stark and Ethan Allen. Both independently sent small detachments to Bennington. Stark found the British forces on a hill west of Bennington and defeated them. After a rapid march from New Hampshire, a soggy night, and a muddy, bloody battle, his men were spent. Instead of pursuing the beaten British, Stark reassembled his men to return to New Hampshire.

About that time, Col Seth Warner showed up with his regiment of Green Mountain Boys. After exchanging information with Stark, they decided to pursue the enemy. Instead of finding a bunch of stragglers, the Green Mountain Boys encountered fresh British troops sent to reinforce those sent to Bennington. Warner had the element of surprise and defeated those reinforcements. This small skirmish was later recognized as the turning point of the Revolutionary War. The war moved south, but the Brits never were able to pin down the Americans to obtain a decisive blow.

Understanding levels of complexity helps leaders make incremental changes that allow them to determine if those changes affect the problem in the desired fashion.
-Cynefin Model from Clear Impact Consulting Group.

If we relook at Cynefin Model of understanding problems, we find that simple problems are the only kind that call for the application of best practices. The others call for examination and exploration in order to determine what practices to apply. Complected, Complex, and Chaotic problems require leaders to analyze situations, probe for causes, or take novel action to gain a sense of the problem. In each case, taking small steps allow leaders to determine if they are moving in the right direction or if they have yet to establish a good understanding of the problem and require a different solution. Even when it seems everything is falling apart, small incremental changes allow leaders to test solutions, looking before they commit fully to a course of action. Yes, the time may be short and leaders may only be able to test one or two possible solutions, but they can determine if those actions will work, or if they need to continue to identify better answers.

The world can be a big, scary place, even with today’s advanced technology. Not all problems and change are easy to anticipate and respond. Leaders who understand the principal of compound interest know that series of small actions help determine if something will work or if they need to look for other solutions before committing to a particular course to deal with change. Small steps taken at the beginning of the problem-solving cycle gives leaders opportunities to look on the other side of the wall before jumping over the wall. As a result, s/he knows whether there is a little ledge or a huge drop off on the other side. Change is ever present. It is the key reason organizations need leaders. Most change is incremental, therefore, so should the leader’s response to change also be incremental. Learning these skills helps leaders make better decisions when rapid change occurs. Do not knuckle under the pressure to make a big decision up front. Find ways to make a series of little decisions when confronting a problem. Doing so puts the power of incremental change to work for you and your organization.

References

Clear Impact Consulting Group (2018). Complexity theory: The cynefin model. Clear Impact Consulting Group. Edmonton, AB.

Friends of the Bennington Battle Monument (N.D.) The battle of Bennington: the turning point of the American revolution. The Battle of Bennington Monument, https://benningtonbattlemonument.com/battle.html. Retrieved 25 August 2021

National Park Service (2018). Burgoyne’s campaign: June-October 1777. Fort Stanwix National Monument. https://www.nps.gov/fost/learn/historyculture/1777-campaign.htm. Retrieved 26 August 2021

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Three Ways to Mine Great Ideas

Good ideas are like gemstones. If you have one or two, things seem pretty good. Often leaders need to follow the miner’s lead and dig up good ideas from those they lead.
-Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

We recently finished the annual report for the nonprofit I operate. I say we because it is always a team effort. There were several changes I wanted to make in the annual report to communicate better who we are, what we do, and how well we perform. I wanted to show data in ways that communicated important fact quickly and show off the accomplishments of our team. There is no need for leaders if everyone does their own work, so I leaned on others to make this report the best we ever issued. When I sat down with my team, I pointed out the things I disliked in our older reports, most of which I created. I showed them some ideas from other annual reports I liked and challenged them to find ways to integrate those ideas to tell our FY 2021 story. George Washington said, “When a leader cannot generate important ideas himself, he must look elsewhere.” In order for us to develop a better annual report, I as a leader, had to rely on others for ideas to tell our story better. Here are three ways you can inspire your people to generate good ideas.

Tell them Why

Simon Sinek said it best, start with why. Tell others why the project is important. How does it support the work you do to relieve other people’s pain. Who benefits from the project, not just the intended audience, but your vendors, other teams in the organization, and even the team members. If the goal of the project is to change something, explain why changing is important. Taking time to explain why you are asking for the ideas of others creates a culture of learning. You demonstrate the value of ideas regardless of their origin. You show them you care and respect them enough to listen to their ideas, which reinforces your organization’s principals surrounding integrity, trust, loyalty, and respect.

Ask Great Questions

One great way to inspire people is asking questions. For example, in our annual report project, I showed earlier examples of how we presented data. Originally it was straight out facts: $50,000.00 spent, 29 clients served, 1,200 hours worked, etc. Our next step was better, pie charts, but it was still weak. I asked the team how we could present the data, so people could grasp the important points quickly and understand the importance of those facts. Of course, I also asked if the information we were presenting was really important to our stakeholders? What information could we present that might tell the story better than the key indicators we previously selected? Where would we find that information? If we could not present some of these things this year because the information was not easily obtainable, what changes in the coming year do we need to make to our data collection? How would we accomplish those changes?

Asking good questions to start conversations is important. Listening to answers and demonstrating your listening by asking appropriate follow up questions shows respect and encourages participants to offer more ideas. One of my favorite responses to other people’s ideas is, “Tell me more about that?”

Allow Time to Create

Unlike data entry or parts production, creative endeavors do not fit neatly into time constraints. This blog is a great example. I try to publish around the 15th and 30th of each month. Sometimes the way I try to explain a concept, or my understanding of a leadership theory, is not fully formed. Often the act of writing helps me understand better. It enables me to make connections necessary to implement those ideas in my actual leadership practice. As a result, you may notice I revisit certain ideas again with a different understanding compared to when I first published a post.

Sometimes one has to lie on one’s back to create great ideas or enduring works of beauty. Ensure those you lead have time to develop creative ideas. Doing so encourages hard work & inspires them to stay.
-Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36772

You may have a deadline when you ask others for ideas, but ensure you provide them enough time to think and create. There are times you see someone sitting in their cubical or office listening to music or staring at a screen and it is easy to assume they are doing nothing. Sometimes that is true. More often, the gears inside that person’s head are turning, processing information, making connections necessary to develop a complete idea, and a way to explain that idea to others.

A great example of the hidden creative process appears on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni spent the better part of his life between 1508 and 1512 on his back. It would have been easy for the Pope to pass through and notice those periods when he did not have a brush in hand applying paint to the ceiling. However, one cannot argue with the results. Michelangelo’s work still amazes visitors 510 years later. Compare that to how long the paint job lasts on your living room ceiling. Creativity takes time. Not all of us are Renaissance painters. Most of our organizations cannot dedicate four years to the development of a product or service. However, recognize that the creative process does take some time. Ensure you allow enough time for it to happen.

Leaders provide purpose though their vision. They provide motivation and direction by creating plans to make their vision reality. Good leaders recognize they must use the good ideas others have to ensure their vision becomes a reality. No matter how good a leader is, s/he does not have all the good ideas. Developing creativity in others ensures there is a pool of talented thinkers with a proven ability to execute when an organization needs good ideas. Looking back to my example of the Annual Report story, as is often the case when I challenge others, my team rose to the challenge and created a great Annual Report. The ideas they put together to communicate key data amazed me. Your people will amaze you if you allow them the time and flexibility to create new ideas for improving processes, creating new products and services, or telling the world your organization’s story. Not all of us have Michelangelo working for them. If you did, under your leadership would he be able to create another masterpiece or be relegated to living with the status quo? Allow your people to reflect, create, and execute. You will be amazed at what they can do!

References and Additional Reading

Gardner, H. (2000). Gardner’s art through the ages. Vol II. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, CA

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why. Penguin Books. New York, NY

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr. Contact for permission to reuse text.

SOAR above the Problem, Don’t SWOT It

Like many other leaders and students of leadership, I learned and use the SWOT model to help analyze during change. For those who have never heard of SWOT, it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You can read more about it in my December 2018 post https://saintcyrtraining.com/2018/12/27/strategic-planning-for-2019/. The Model is great to help organizations identify things that are wrong. However, the SOAR model helps leaders and organizations identify what is right. Using SOAR allows leaders to understand things that do not need fixing and should be preserved.

SOAR model can be used instead of or as a complement to SWOT as you and your organization plan future changes.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

SOAR is the model that helps leaders identify Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results (Moore, C. 2021). The model builds upon the idea of leading from strength discussed in the book Strengths Based Leadership by Rath and Conchie. As a result, leaders find themselves focusing on the important things to keep. It is equally important to know what works in order to keep it as it is to know what is broken in order to fix or replace it.

The SOAR model is based on a method called appreciative inquiry. Appreciative inquiry revolves around a series of questions pertaining to a particular topic such as organizational governance, or product and service line.  Examples sound like, “What is something that excites you about this widget?”, or “How does our current structure encourage creativity?” The purpose is to identify those things to save and bring forward as change happens.

Aspects of appreciative inquiry are described as a series of Ds depending on the source. Positive Psychology describes them as discovery, dream, design, and delivery (Moore, 2021). Forbes uses five Ds; define, discover, dream, discover, and deploy(Spavell,2021). 

Like SWOT, SOAR begins by examining strengths. In this model however you ask a series of questions that reveal strengths. Two examples of strength finding questions appear above. This process provides different points of view on those things that are strong. Those strengths allow us to lead from those points.

Opportunities is also a common point between SOAR and SWOT. How and what questions help leaders identify opportunities such as, “What does the future look like given current trends?”, and “How can we use our strengths to meet our clients’ future needs?” Opportunities give those in the SOAR model to see the future and develop possibilities.

Aspirations allow inquiries about things we as individuals, leaders, and organizations hope to be at our best. This step requires imagination. The conversation may begin with a prompt like, “In three years, our group is operating like a well oiled machine. Employees are excited to come to work. Peace and harmony reign. How did we achieve these ideals?” Of course, the answers to these type of prompts offer possible solutions to move from the good work you now do to great work you could be doing!

Results are important. Ken Blanchard said in his book The Secret, he proposes that both relationships and results are important. You may not always need others to achieve things, but you do if you are a leader. Ask other things like when they felt their talents were best used or what ways help you work better.

The SOAR model based on the appreciative inquiry process is different. Use opened ended questions to encourage others to respond with narrative answers. Create space for people to answer the questions by remaining silent(Miller etal, 2004). I have a professional coach who warned me at our first meeting that after she asked a question, she would not speak again until after I answered her question. She said it took a long time to get used to silence but learned important insights are born in silence. Crafting quality appreciative inquiry questions may seem difficult. Fortunately, there is help in the form of books and websites that offer examples. 

Appreciative inquiry is frequently used in groups. I found it a helpful tool in one-on-one situations. When I am trying to collect feedback about my performance as a leader from my boss, peers, or employees, using appreciative questions prompts people to provide better information. Remember that if you are asking questions, you need to accept the answers. Record them so you can later reflect on them and make changes as necessary, and of course identify things to keep with you. When you ask questions of others in an appreciative way, it inspires confidence in them as change happens.

Problems and change are difficult. As a leader, you can SWOT them or SOAR over them. Both models have advantages. When used together, there is an even greater potential for break through successes. Identify your strengths, find your opportunities. Dream of your aspirations, achieve results. When you use the appreciative inquiry process in the SOAR model, you find the good stuff to keep with you as you make changes. Don’t SWOT your problems; SOAR above them!

References 

Miller, C, Aguilar C, Maslowski, L. McDaniel, D. and Mantel, M. ((2004) The nonprofits’ guide to the power of appreciative inquiry. Community Development Institute. Denver, CO.

Moore, C. (6/5/2021). What is appreciative inquiry? A brief history & real life examples. PositivePsycology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/appreciative-inquiry/ retrieved 6/16/21

Sparvell, M. (1/25/2021). Appreciative inquiry: Getting more of the good stuff. Forbes.com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2021/01/25/appreciative-inquiry-getting-more-of-the-good-stuff/?sh=19f8d9856fd9 retrieved 7/16/21

The Art of Planning

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Note: June has been crazy. As I attempted to post my end of month blog, I experienced some technical issues. This is a repost from 2014 on planning. Even though the content is from 2014, planning remains an important leadership function. The content is just as relevant today as then. Enjoy.

“Plans are nothing; Planning is everything.” Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Planning is one of the fundamental functional areas of management. Leaders at all levels plan. Depending on the event and their level in the organization determines how they plan, but the planning process should remain the same. Whether you want to develop a new vision for your organization, or you are putting together a small meeting for your staff, planning is the process that identifies the needs for what is desired in the future, the resources necessary to accomplish the task, actions requiring completion, controls and guide posts to watch for along the way and a statement of success. One of the reasons planning is valued more than the finished plan is understanding that no battle plan ever survives past first enemy contact, but in the planning process, key leaders have opportunities to evaluate different courses of actions, allowing them to change course as the situation evolves. This topic deserves more than the few hundred words dedicated here, however my intent is to provide readers a general direction for their own planning processes.
The first step in any plan in to identify the objectives. Plans are only required if there is difference between the current situation and what you expect in the future. The purpose of the plan is to change the future. At the strategic level, leaders develop mission statements, share their vision and establish guiding principles. At the operational level, leaders develop work processes, gather resources, train workers and establish goals and task steps.
Once the object is identified, develop alternative actions. Often this is done during brainstorming sessions, although other idea generating activities also work. Ideas do not have to appear practical or traditional. The important action at this stage is developing ideas. You may find that some of what originally appear to be flaky ideas in the beginning, when paired with other ideas, may work the best.
Now that you have several alternatives, take time to evaluate them, whether alone or in a group. Identify their efficiency, alignment with organizational guiding principles, likelihood of success and other factors selected by the group’s leaders. During this stage, you should start to develop the measure for success. As alternatives are eliminated, the better ideas become evident. The completion of this step should involve a completed written plan. The plan does not have to answer all questions, but should provide enough information for those charged with implementing to understand the intent. Remember the old saying, “An imperfect plan delivered on time trumps the perfect plan delivered a day late.”
Action is the next step in the planning process. A complete plan is not required to begin action. The great thing about mission and vision statements are they provide everyone an idea about which direction they should be traveling, even if they lose the directions to the final destination. Once the decision has been made to move towards a certain goal, action can begin. Starting movement is the hardest part of any change. Starting movement is the only way the plan will succeed.
Once things begin to move, it is important to monitor progress. The plan should include specific check points where staff gather to report progress. Like any journey, if you don’t take the time to check your compass and read the road signs, you may find you took a left when you should have turned right in Albuquerque. These controls may include checks on spending, use of resources, percent of quality improvement, number of units sold or any other metric that measures progress.
A final and critical step in the planning process is obtaining commitment from stakeholders. Too many projects fail for lack of this important support. Ensure the key leaders understand the resources requiring commitment for success. Obtain contracts from customers if necessary. Lock in resources from suppliers early.
A finished plan may not be fancy. It may not be complete. What matters is the process used to arrive at the plan. Follow these steps and you increase your plan’s success. Start by determining the objective. Identify alternatives to reach the objective. Evaluate the alternatives, selecting the one most in line with organizational values and vision. Begin action as soon as there is commitment. Obtain commitment from key stakeholders. Check your progress regularly and plan those check-ups. As your project rolls along, you may find success lies off the road you selected to reach your destination, but through your planning process you identified detours and side trips. In the end, you will find your planning helped you make small adjustments along the way and reach your destination.

Photo by author

Caring Leaders

Funny thing about leaders…even when they lack a title, they still influence others to become better people and improve their organizations. These leader care about their people so they will achieve the organizations mission. As a result, their followers remain their followers months and years after their formal relationship ends. The best leaders often find themselves providing purpose, direction and motivation to former followers. Many of those followers exceed the leader’s success. Plenty of people smarter than me have filled books discussing how these bonds form and stay strong over many years. This blog will hardly scratch the surface. Instead, I simply seek to encourage readers to evaluate their own leader-follower relationships to find ways to become better leaders.

Take time to read books about leadership. Studying other leaders help you become a better leader.
-Photo by Author

Strong leaders know making an organization successful requires them to hire, develop, and retain high quality people who are dedicated, knowledgeable, skilled, and motivated. They communicate the organizational goals. They provide an inspiring vision for the future that turns employees into fans. In turn, those they lead independently use their skills and abilities to accomplish great things that move the organization in the direction of success.

Once one goal or a set of goals are accomplished, the leader points to the next hilltop. The journey begins again. The workers are ready to proceed because their leader publicly acknowledged their great work and sacrifices to achieve their current successes.

The leader creates opportunities to become familiar with employees, their families, dreams, hopes, and needs. S/he teaches and mentors others to align their personal values with the guiding principles of the organization. As a result, employees feel an increasing sense of success and fulfillment as the organization achieves success. These feeling create a deeper dedication to the leader, the organization, and the mission.

Washington is an example of a leader others followed long after he surrendered his official titles to lead others.
-Painting by John Trumbull – Public Domain

As a leader, you have to develops your own personal style to learn about those who follow you. Learn to communicate how their desires and abilities intertwine with those of the organization. Some leaders throw parties for their employees on their birthdays. Others use group training activities. Some dedicate a few moments each day to speak to their people and ask about important personal and professional issues. In every case, the interaction between the leader and follower is personalized in some way. The follower believes the leader personally cares for them and their situation. If faked the facade quickly tumbles causing major problems for the organization. However, even the most socially awkward leader appears caring just  by going through the motions.

History is filled with examples of leaders who remain engaged with those they led long after their business relationship ended. George Washington certainly sets that example. After the War for Independence, he returned to his simple life only to find those he led in battle and their families still needed him to lead the new nation. Omar Bradley was well liked and selected to run the Veteran’s Administration in part because so many veterans trusted him. Both of these men achieved the difficult tasks assigned them. However, each showed concern for Soldiers individually and collectively. They gained the reputation doing what was necessary to accomplish the mission by being sensitive to the needs of those who would be tasked to actually do the work. They gained life long followers.

Take time to meet with your people so you understand what motivates them, what skills they have, and issues in their lives that may interfere with their work. It shows you care, which makes them care about the job.
– by unknown from pxhere.com CC0

Great leaders have two important concerns. Success of their people and success of their organization. They understand that unless the aspirations of employees are tied to the vision of the organization, neither will be truly successful. Leaders inspire their employees to succeed by learning their dreams, concerns, and desires. Strong leaders find ways to create a culture that cares for people, so those people care enough to make the organization successful. Quality leaders do this by creating a vision of a future that does not exist but appears to those s/he leads.  S/he creates a culture learning, persistence, and innovation by sharing inspiring stories about the successes of teams and individuals.  They align people’s values with those of the organization. Great leaders extend their influence long after formal relationships end because they genuinely care for the people they lead. As a result, those people are more successful and work hard to make their organization successful. Care about your people, and they will care enough to accomplish your mission.


© 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Memorial Day 2021

Twenty-one paces north. Halt for 21 seconds. Right face and freeze for 21 seconds. Right face. Change shoulder arms wait 21 seconds. March south 21 paces and repeat. This is the life of a Tomb Guard, one of the most elite small units in the United States Army. Every day, around the clock, in any weather they stand guard over the bodies of three unknown Soldiers honoring their sacrifice.

SGT Younger selected the remains placed at the Tomb.
Photo from Explore: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Arlington National Cemetery.

Most Americans are familiar with the 20th century Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. There are videos on YouTube of Sentries confronting visitors for acting disrespectfully. There are tales of their dedication to the point of not abandoning their post in the greatest extremes of weather. The view of Washington, DC is one of the best in the area. Few however know there is a second Tomb of Unknown Soldiers.

Less less than half a mile north is the less famous Tomb of the Civil War Unknown Soldiers. This monument was placed over the remains of 2,111 Soldiers found and gathered from the Civil War battles around the Washington, DC area. About 100 yards from the front step of Arlington House, and in Mrs. Lee’s rose garden, this large grave was clearly intended to shame Robert E Lee and his family. The government of the Unite States, at the direction of President Lincoln, acquired the title to the estate after Mrs Lee failed to pay taxes assessed on the property during the Civil War (Hanna, 2001).

By 1864, both sides lost many sons to the fighting. The War Department was tasked with gathering the fallen and ensuring they received proper burials. Even before the United States received the deed to the property, they began burying Soldiers from both sides of the conflict on these grounds. The War Department attempted to return remains of the dead to their families when possible. Before long existing cemeteries were full. Those who could not be identified were gathered in a single location. It is estimated that about one half of those who died fighting in the Civil War could not be identified (Hanna, 2001).

The tomb was described as a pit 25 feet deep and round, it was divided into chambers as it was filled (Hanna, 2001). It is is the first memorial to unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. Even though burials in the tomb ended sooner, the monument was not dedicated until September 1866. It was topped with cannon and inscribed,

Tomb of the Civil War Unknown Soldiers.
Photo by Elizabeth Fraser (2017) from the same source above.

Beneath this stone

Repose the bones of two thousand one hundred and eleven unknown soldiers

Gathered after the War

From the fields of Bull Run, and the route to the Rappahanock, their remains could not be identified. But their names and deaths are recorded in the archives of their country, and its grateful citizens

Honor them as of their noble army of martyrs. May they rest in peace.

SEPTEMBER. A. D. 1866 (US Army, ND).

James A. Garfield, then an Ohio Congressman – later President, officiated the first national Memorial Day service at this site in 1868. He denied he had the words to adequately convey the meaning of the deaths of those laid in the Tomb. He noted that in the days before the war, “Peace, liberty, and personal security were blessings as common and universal as sunshine and showers and fruitful seasons.” Of those laid to rest he said,

And now consider this silent assembly of the dead.

What other spot so fitting for their last resting place as this under the shadow of the Capitol saved by their valor? Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love! (Garfield, 1868)

Arlington National Cemetery also became home to Unknowns from the War of 1812 and the Spanish American War. Those Unknowns from 1812 were originally buried at the Washington Navy Yard. More casualties were identified during the Spanish American War, but not all. They were also buried at ANC (Arlington National Cemetery (2020).

The Unknown is brought to the Tomb.
Photo: Library of Congress

People discuss things for which they are willing to die. For many, it is just talk. For those who serve and guard our Nation’s liberty, it is more than talk. On Memorial Day, we remember those who defended liberty with their very lives. For them, defending freedom, justice, and liberty were more than words. They willing risk their lives on every mission, in training or in combat. For those buried in the Tombs of the Unknowns, not only did they give their lives, they surrendered everything, even their identity. That is why the Sentry walks those 21 steps north and south everyday around the clock. Those Soldiers do it to honor those with nothing left to give. When you gather this Memorial Day with family and friends over burgers and beer, remember the Soldier guarding those known but to God. Remember those Unknown who died so you may enjoy the blessings of “Peace, liberty, and personal security”.

References

Arlington National Cemetery (2020). Explore the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Arlington National Cemetery History Education Series, Arlington, VA.

Garfield, J. (1886). Decoration day address. What so Proudly We Hail. 2013. Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://www.whatsoproudlywehail.org/curriculum/the-american-calendar/decoration-day-address-1868 5/25/21.

Hanna, J (2001) Arlington house: The Robert E. Lee memorial. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Parks Service, Washington, DC.

Mougel, N (2011) translated by Gratz, J, World War I casualties Reperes

Public Affairs Office (2021), Resource guide/Tomb of the Unknown Soldier centennial commemoration, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA

U.S. Army (ND). Arlington National Cemetery. Office of Army Cemeteries, Department of the Army, Washington, DC. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/ Retrieved 5/24/2021

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

The Discipline of Leadership

Setting a disciplined example establishes your leadership credentials. People who follow you know you share the burden and rewards.
Photo by Fabian Wiktor on Pexels.com

Leaders talk about the importance of maintaining discipline. As we have seen during the coronavirus pandemic, not all leaders discipline themselves. Reporters had field days with several well known political leaders who failed to follow the safety rules. They lost respect from many when they violated travel restrictions while the rest of us were barricaded in our homes. People watch their leaders. When they say they are going to do something, they better do it. When they tell others they need to do something, the leader better set the example. Setting an example by doing what you tell others to do is the fastest, most effective way one develops character and builds trust.

Setting the example creates humility.

Setting the sample means you understand other’s limitations.

Setting the example means sometimes making a mistake and learning from it.

Setting the example means celebrating another’s success the way you want others to celebrate your successes.

Setting the example means you know you are still learning and so is everyone else.

When you do the things you ask of others as a leader, you bring yourself down to their level. As a result, you can better see the world the way they do. I am not stating that I expect leaders to dig ditches, answer the switchboard, wash cars, or execute data entry all day everyday. I am saying that sometimes it is a good idea to grab a broom and sweep up the floor at the entry to your office suite, answer you own phone when you are able, and let one of your people show you how to process an order for a customer. Doing these things reminds you that those who follow you are special people with unique skills and talent. There may be parts of the organization no one knows better than you. Never forget there are people who know more about important parts of the organization than you will every be capable of knowing. They contribute as much to your success as your own actions. When you remember those who follow you are impressive people, it is easier to be humble.

When you begin doing and understanding the work of others in your organization, you learn both the strengths and limitations of the people, processes, and equipment. Knowing the edge of those limits helps you as a leader create realistic expectations. Turning back to the pandemic, government at all levels ramped up slowly to establish testing sites. As vaccinations became available, many found the challenges for putting shots in arms were not the same as sticking swabs in noses. Sites were scheduled to operate at maximum capacity then ran into problems about a month later as people needed second shots while others were trying to schedule their first. Some places adapted quickly by adding people, locations, and clinic hours. Others dragged their feet. Leaders must understand the limitations of their people, processes, and equipment in order to avoid similar mistakes.

IMG_2010
People make mistakes. Letting those who follow you know you are not perfect and learn from your mistakes means they do not need to hide their mistakes. Open mistakes allow everyone to learn.
Photo by author

Speaking of mistakes, as you wonder around setting an example you will make mistakes. None of us are perfect. Those who are less well-trained, new in positions, or inattentive will make more mistakes. Those with more training and experience make fewer mistakes. Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. However, in order to learn a lesson, you first must acknowledge a mistake was made. We all worked for that leader with the zero defect mentality. Were mistakes made under those leaders? Absolutely! Sadly, it is likely the same mistakes were probably made frequently and covered up. Understand there is a difference between a mistake and deliberate misbehavior. We all recognize the difference between someone knocking the table inadvertently resulting in hot coffee spilling into your lap compared to the person who turns over the hot coffee directly onto your lap. Learning to deal with mistakes so others learn and become better performers is a true test of a leader. When others know honest mistakes result in retraining and forgiveness, people will be forth coming with mistakes so they can become better. You can share those mistakes across the organization after anonymizing the details so others learn too.

Celebrating success is an important leadership ritual. When you share the spotlight, others work harder because they know they will be recognized. Those in leadership positions who never shine the spotlight on others soon find they are working alone, or are often training new people because their good workers keep leaving. Patton once made a comment like, “Soldiers will do incredible things for a little piece of colored ribbon to affix to their uniform.” When celebrating success, make it about the contributions of the team, not you. Make sure the rewards for excellent behavior match the level of contribution. I am sure many readers remember (or not) receiving “Participation Trophies” during their early years of team sports. The problem with recognizing everyone is that you recognize no one. Some people think that doing the bare minimum means they should receive awesome amounts of recognition while others that go above and beyond blush at being recognized. Both people contributed differently. Both should be recognized according to their contribution.

When you continue to learn, others value continuous learning too. If your followers say things about you like, “She forgot more about that than both of us will ever know.”, and yet they still see you learning more, you send the message that learning is important in your organization. I met a person at a training one time that had a really bad attitude about being there. We had lunch together and I asked him why so blue. He told me that obviously he was going to get fired soon because his boss did not trust him regarding the topic of the training. I learned that in his organization, they only sent incompetent people to training to justify firing them. I suspect the organization had lots of leadership problems. People should know when you send them to learn new things it is not punishment but rather a reward for using what they already knew.

Your actions serve as a beacon for others to follow. Your example is the light others use to illuminate their path.
Photo by Casia Charlie on Pexels.com

Disciplined leadership means setting a good example. As you walk the talk, you demonstrate and state your expectations of those you lead. When you do fail to live the expectations you set, you lose respect in the same way political leaders do when they travel during a pandemic. When you live your values, you become known as someone who walks the talk, understands and respects reasonable limitations, expects mistakes and the learning that goes with mistakes ,and establish your exception people are continuous learners. You stay humble because you understand as a leader your success results from the work others do on your behalf. You make better decisions and when you make a mistake, people follow your lead and forgive you too. Do not be like too many of our political leaders. If you establish a rule, follow it too. If it is good enough for those who follow you, it is good enough for you. Your disciplined example is a beacon of character in a world of dark, sneaky secrets. Use your beacon as a guiding light for others to follow.


  • Brooks, D. (2015). The road to character. Random House, New York, NY
  • Covey, S. (1989). 7 Habits of highly effective people, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Sharpening the Saw; Building Leadership Resilience

Building resilience helps leaders lead effectively regardless of the challenges they face and builds a network they can rely on when they need to bend and ear.
Photo by the author.

The field exercise was drawing to a close. I had lost lots of sleep keeping up with the demands of my new position. I was dragging and making mistakes. Mid-morning my boss pulls me aside and asks, “What is going on with you today?” In a gruff voice, he began listing all the mistakes I made so far.

“I am beat and having a bad morning,” I replied. He stared at me, arms crossed, brow furrowed. He was not happy.

“You’re a senior leader now! You can’t have bad days. Even in training, when you have a bad day; people could die!” He was right. We launched bullets a dozen or more miles down range. A small error made the difference between hitting the target or the projectile landing outside the impact area potentially killing or injuring others.

The boss directed me to go back to my area, clean up, eat, catch a nap and then meet him at the command post in an hour. We met at the command post and he spend the next hour telling all the little tricks that allowed him to succeed as a senior leader. He showed the systems he used to keep track of people and property. He told me about the importance of catching cat naps. He shared that when he had my job, checking the perimeter was about more than checking on security; it provided him daily exercise. He opened a green notebook revealing daily entries he said were his reflections on his past performance and adherence to values so he could identify and learn from his mistakes. I learned a lot that morning. Leaders cannot have bad days.

As we wrapped up the hour, he shared a story his father told him. His father was a logger back in the days before skidders and chainsaws. His father started every morning sharpening his saw. That meant to start cutting on time, he had to wake up a bit earlier. There were some men in the crew who would not sharpen their saws daily. They ended up worker later into the day to cut their quota of wood. Because his father sharpened his saw everyday, he was able to cut trees faster than the men who would not. He would finish before them and have time to attend to other matters which allowed him to crawl into the sack a little earlier. He received plenty of sleep each night even though he woke early. He was able to slow down a little bit just because he sharpened his saw.

There is an old maxim that it is lonely at the top. Leaders often shield their followers from certain unpleasantries in order to maintain high morale. It is not that they hide bad things from them. It is more that the Good Idea Fairy stopped by corporate headquarters, sprinkled some Good Idea Dust on the CEO, then left the building. The CEO had a GREAT idea that really was not so great. Other senior leaders stopped the Good Idea before any damage was done. Yet they cannot share their hard-earned victory news with their followers because it will cause more problems by doing so. There are plenty of other battles leaders fight to protect their followers that only they know about. As with any warrior, failing to recognize the stress that accumulates in these battles creates problems. Leaders need to learn how to create and develop resilience by maximizing their whole person fitness.

Let us start with the concept of whole person fitness. We all know about the importance of physical fitness. People measure their physical fitness by watching what they eat and monitoring and engaging in physical activities. Whole person fitness however can be defined in four dimensions, physical, emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual. Leaders need to be healthy in all four areas to sustain the resilience required to lead others.

Physical Fitness

I am NOT an exercise or nutrition expert. If you are having health issues, consult your primary care provider. You should also consult with an appropriate professional before engaging in any major changes in your diet or exercise. The examples discussed here are only intended to propose possible answers to apply the basic principles introduced here.

Diet and exercise are the two foundational actions regarding physical fitness. It is important to eat well and exercise often for a given amount of time. There are untold numbers of books regarding both topics. Many require extreme actions. I suggest that diets and exercise programs that encourage extreme changes in behavior such as eating 52 pounds of raw beef daily or running a marathon every morning and evening probably will cause more harm than good and simply will not work for most people. There are some general rules that have demonstrated success for many people. In the nutrition realm, eating more fresh vegetables and lean meats instead of fats, starches, and processed foods.

Learning to deal with adversity helps leaders lead more effectively. Facing danger, adversity, and discomfort help create the emotional fitness required for leaders to remain positive and optimistic.
Photo by mohamed hassan form PxHere cco

Likewise in exercise, walk more; sit less. Many studies show most people require 150 to 200 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Consider a variety of activities that strengthen your muscles, increase your endurance and aerobic fitness, and flexibility. An example of an easy yet effect exercise regimen might look like 15-20 minutes of walking at a fast pace (fast for you), 5-10 minutes of stretching, and about 10 minutes of some sort of strength exercises each day. That works out to about 30 minutes. Do that six times each week and you have 150 minutes.

Emotional Fitness

Emotional Fitness is demonstrated by the ability to deal with problems in a positive, optimistic fashion. You demonstrate self-control in the face of adversity. Your stamina allows you to think well and make good decisions which creates quality character.

Emotional fitness relies on having a steady mind and spirit. Both factors are other facets of fitness. Sleeping, exercising, and reflecting on the greater good all help achieve a level of emotional fitness. Both facets allow you to effectively evaluate your performance. You identify successes and failures which allow you to devise methods to improve. With greater emotional fitness comes the calmness envied by others seen in good leaders during a crisis.

Interpersonal Fitness

Interpersonal fitness is sometimes called emotional intelligence or emotional quotient, EQ. EQ is the measure of how well a person can gauge and respond to the feelings and needs of others. In order to be influential as a leader, you need to understand other people and their emotions. This provides you power to select the right tools of influence to provide appropriate motivation, direction, and purpose.

People follow leaders they like and respect. I know many leaders, including myself, that have said silly things like, “I don’t care if they like me so long as the do what I tell them.” That kind of supervision is not leadership. You can supervise that way for a time but even in the military, people abandon those types. Military members eventually reach the end of their contract and just like in the rest of the world, if they do not like their bosses, they leave the job. Building relationships with others helps you become a better leader and reduces the loneliness at the top.

Spiritual Fitness

One can be a regular church goer and still have poor spiritual fitness. Spiritual fitness involves much more than attending regular religious services. There are plenty of people who never attend services yet experience a rich spiritual life.

Spiritual fitness is all about understanding the things you value. Take time to examine the roots of those values. Learn why those values are important to you. Figure out what areas you claim to value yet act against that value. An important part of spirituality is understanding there is more to the world, more to life than just you. Those who are spiritually fit know with every action they take and every word they speak makes a difference in the worlds of others. They choose to make a positive difference.

Sharpen your saw every day. Exercise. Eat healthy, Reflect and learn. Build strong relationships with others. Do good in the world.
– Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay /cco

A few years after that bad day in the field, I was leading Soldiers in combat. We did have bad days. By then, I started using some of the ways to control those days better. My bad days were those that despite my best efforts to accomplish any number of missions we were given without injuring my Soldiers or the civilians we encountered, people did get hurt and did die. We were expected by both our military and our enemy to perform at high levels everyday and we did. There were days I had time enough to only sharpen a few teeth on the saw. However I pulled out the file any time there was an opportunity to sharpen even one tooth on days like that. As a result, we succeed, not because of any one thing I did. No we succeeded because those who followed me accepted our unified purpose, accepted my directions, and remained motivated.

Keeping your saw sharp as a leader can mean the difference between success and failure. With a sharp saw you have the ability to work faster and accomplish more with less effort. There may be days that taking time to exercise, eat well, consider your values and actions, or build your relationships seems like a waste of time. Those are the days that those activities are the most important. Develop strategies to accomplish each of these important tasks regularly and your will find you are a more effective leader.


References

Covey, S. (2004) 7 habits of highly effective people.Simon & Schuster. New York, NY.

Love, S. (July 14, 2009) Comprehensive soldier fitness. U.S. Army. Washington DC. Retrieved from https://www.usar.army.mil/CSF/

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(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr