If you were accused of being a leader would there be enough evidence to convict you?
December 2, 1988
21 years ago...
A newly minted Marine Lance Corporal stood arrow straight staring at a full-length mirror pondering a question while studying the reflection that greeted him. Written on the mirror were the words: If you were accused of being a Marine would there be enough evidence to convict you? Instinctively, he inspected himself with the same rigor his hard-nosed Drill Instructors had two months earlier - from the top of his grape to the deck, from port to starboard. What he observed pleased him. Fresh high-and-tight haircut, uniform creases razor-sharp, spit-shined combat boots, glistening. Satisfied he could stand muster for Chesty Puller
himself, the young Jarhead smartly executed a precise about-face and stepped off to join his unit.
That was me twenty-one years ago. It had an immediate and profound impact on me. At every point since, I have asked that question again and again with one minor but very distinct variation. I swap Marine with words like: leader, recruiter, boss, father, husband, brother, and son.
Recently, after some much-needed introspection, I discovered the wiliest of foes. This adversary was different. He knew my clever tricks, strategies, tactics, and ruses verbatim. He skillfully attacked me at my weakest points whilst avoiding my strengths. Alright, you know what comes next right? Well, ok then, here it comes...the...enemy...is...me
I digress. I told you that story to tell you this one: In order to pick myself up, pull on my boots, and continue to march, especially when I don't want to, I remind myself of three things: the mirror, the question, and how I felt on that day - (exceedingly confident, infinitely competent, laser focused.....bulletproof)! How do I
know if I measure up? I use the 11 Leadership Principles
. Unlike the 14 Killer Leadership Traits
that shed light on leadership indicators
, these 11 principles tell you what must be done to be an effective leader. These principles provide the foundation upon which all else is built: a name, a reputation, a career, a team, a company, relationships, a marriage, a family, a life.
Leadership is an ongoing process during which the greatest leaders relentlessly seek enlightenment, enrichment, and excellence. Today I provide you with two out of three. The third is up to you...
Be technically and tactically proficient:
Know your profession inside and out. Prove it by achieving your goals and your organization’s mission. It’s simply not enough to have knowledge. You have to be able to perform too. The intersection of knowing and doing is competence. Competence is THE cornerstone of confidence. Confidence to believe in yourself and to garner your team's belief too. That, my friends, is called faith. Faith enables leaders to ask the extraordinary of their people. Direct them to breech the gates of Hell and they’ll do it. In fact, I'd be willing to wager that your people will jockey for position to volunteer. Influence in that order of magnitude is powerful, even intoxicating. As a result, leaders must be exceedingly judicious with its use. Remember this:
Subordinates may be required to respect your authority/position/title/rank but the respect that’s given of their own free ROCKS
Oh, before I forget, there's a little secret I want to share with you too. Shhhh, come closer. (In a low whispered tone) You don’t have to be the smartest kid in class! (Now hollering out-loud!) Unbelievable right? Years ago, a salty old Gunnery Sergeant posed a question to me. He asked, “Keith! You know how you get smart?” I answered, “Well Gunny, I suppose you go to school, read books, and study.” He said, “Nope! You hang around smart people!” His point, surround yourself with the best and the brightest. People that are wicked-smahhht (think Good Will Hunting), who will challenge your ideas, ask tough questions like: why?, and push you for the answer. It’s the smartest thing YOU can do. How else can we test theories or validate our beliefs, and get better? Jack Welch said in his book Winning
, "get every brain in the game." Your people will appreciate that you value their opinion (everyone wants to be heard and appreciated), and will admire your willingness to listen. On the other side of the coin, be wary of yes-men (See Britney Spears & Michael Jackson). That is, of course, unless you want someone to stroke your ego as you’re burning-in like a meteor.
Also, it's been my observation that leaders don't have a corner the on market when it comes to the best ideas or even the right ones for that matter. They do however, possess a desire/willingness to: take charge, be challenged, motivate people to action, and be held accountable. That's a big part of what makes us leaders.
Know yourself and seek self-improvement:
Take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Figure out what you need and what you are going to do about it. The minute you think you know it all is the moment you become “post-peak”, a dinosaur, a has been. Be inquisitive. Ask questions. Encourage a learning atmosphere by rewarding discovery and professional growth. Always reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow than you are today!
Know your people and look out for their welfare:
Be knowledgeable about each team member’s capabilities and areas needing improvement. Be specific. There are millions of ways to evaluate individuals. Here are a few basics: skills, knowledge, traits, qualities, characteristics, values, behaviors, effort, attitude, and results. Always keep your team’s welfare balanced with mission accomplishment. If you don’t take care of your team’s welfare then you won’t be able to accomplish the mission. If you don’t accomplish the mission you won’t be in charge long enough to take care of their welfare. Take care of your people and they'll take care of you.
Incidentally, there seems to be some ridiculous trend toward keeping subordinates at arm’s length. CRAZY talk! In my opinion, if you're going to be side-by-side with these people sluggin' it out on the business battlefield you'd better know, at a minimum, their names and their roles. When possible, become personally acquainted with them and their families or significant others while being conscious of their privacy. I’m NOT suggesting that you trade organizational structure and decorum to become Disneyland Boss or everybody’s buddy but know this: it's deeply satisfying to people to be remembered
. Now, some managers are timid or flat out afraid to engage their folks on a personal level OR they just don’t care enough to find out. Manage them closely. It's up or out kids.
Keep your people informed:
No one likes to be kept in the dark. Tell them what the mission is and what role they will play in accomplishing it. Provided there is time, give them the “Why?” behind the decision. Clearly understand your mission and be able to articulate it. The mission consists of the 5W1H
. Rudyard Kipling put it best when he wrote, "I have six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. I call them What and Where and When. And How and Why and Who."
Take care of the 5Ws and your team can help you figure out the 1H.
Set the example:
Lead from the front. Don’t be an absentee boss or practice leadership by proxy or manage via email. Get out there and show them how its done. Set the standard for others to follow - keep yourself mentally alert, physically strong, and morally straight. As a leader you’re teaching your people how to act, behave, and eventually, lead. They will emulate you. Ensure you’re giving them the right example to follow. Never ask your team to do things you couldn't or wouldn't.
Ensure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished:
Issue your directives. Be clear about the mission. Don’t assume just because there are no questions that everyone understands. If you’re not sure that your people understand, ask them questions (back brief them). Supervise. Inspect what you expect. Trust but verify. Concern yourself with what needs doing. Put the best available tools into the hands of the right people. Marshall their time. Inspire your team to action. Don't be an empty suit jumpin' around yellin' RAH RAH with cheerleader pom-poms either....people will only laugh at you (behind your back surely) but they WILL laugh.
Train your people as a team:
Share their hardships and bask in the glow of success TOGETHER. Shared experiences generate a very keen sense of Esprit De Corps and loyalty. All will feel a genuine pride of belonging. Build a winning tradition. Cross-training helps them develop professionally and personally. They learn to be flexible, mental agile, and operationally interchangeable. As a leader, this provides you a greater degree of latitude and tremendous versatility. It also gives the team valuable insight and a deeper appreciation for each other’s role and helps them understanding the relative importance of their own work.
Make sound and timely decisions:
Don’t dither! The clock is ticking. Go ahead...be indecisive and you’ll watch your people’s confidence in you ebb away. Thoroughly evaluate the existing circumstances but don’t fall prey to paralysis by analysis. Develop courses of action with a sense of urgency. Recognize that we rarely have all the information we want before making a decision. My rule of thumb: if you have 70% of the information you want you’re good-to-go. Great leaders see the whole picture in spite of missing pieces. Experience, confidence, courage, and zeal win the day here.
Develop a sense of responsibility in your subordinates:
Challenge them. Take them out of their comfort zone. Give ‘em the mission, a general course and speed (task, conditions, and standards), and let ‘em go. Be there when they need help or guidance but don’t micromanage them. Supervise but don’t interfere otherwise they will know instinctively that they do not have your confidence. That will undercut their development and make your life even harder. Encourage risk taking. Let them know it’s ok to make mistakes, that’s how they learn. I know what some of you are thinking, “But they won’t do it the way I would.” That’s probably true, but remember there is more than one way to skin a cat. Loosen the reigns, let them take initiative. Sharing your authority doesn’t cost you a thing and will pay huge dividends later. All the tangible rewards, praise, and adulation in the world can never replace the thrill your subordinates feel when know they've gained your trust and confidence. It'll give them a feeling of pride, accomplishment, and competence.
Employ your team and people in accordance with their capabilities:
Identify what your folks can and can not do. Don’t ask your people to perform tasks for which they are clearly incapable. Do however, require them to stretch to meet goals. Look at them through two lenses: 1) individually 2) as a group. Determine the proper team configuration and alignment. Everyone has a skill, talent, or an attribute that is their crown jewel. Put them in a position to showcase it. Form dynamic duos
with complimentary skills. For example; pair a strong planner (left-brain, concrete sequential thinker) with a wild-eyed creative (right-brain abstract random). They may resist at first but over time will begin to admire what their counterpart brings to the table and, to some degree, emulate the behavior thus, creating well-rounded folks. One last thing, determining where everyone fits best is part art, part science. Science: analysis, tangible results, quantifiable facts/figures and performance - stuff that would be on their resume. Art: refer to the 14 Killer Leadership Traits
- all the stuff that makes the stuff on the resume possible.
Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions:
Great leaders continually expand their sphere of influence. Challenge yourself by volunteering to head up difficult projects. Demonstrate your value and readiness for increased responsibility by consistently getting the job done. Be assertive and candid about your aspirations and goals are. Don’t be a ticket punching ladder climber - NO ONE respects them. Aspire to be that go-to person...you know the one...up to bat when it’s bottom of the 9th, full-count, bases loaded, with two outs. Carry your weight and, if necessary, the weight of some of your people - 100% and then some.
Now, get out there people and KICK-A$$ and take names!