I have been a leader all my life: Eagle Scout, state champion newspaper carrier, student body officer, club and social group officer, homeowner association president. Even when attending the 1960 Boy Scout International Jamboree at Colorado Springs, CO I was elected the Senior Patrol Leader of the Hawaii contingent.
Leadership was my fate as much as felt obligation when with a group or organization that lacked leadership. If no one stepped forward or the current leadership was ineffective, I would step into the breach. Although usually rewarding, leadership was a lot of work and frustration, principally from dealing with people, their idiosyncrasies’’, their diverse opinions and many times divergent desires.
I knew nothing of leadership, per se, simply watching others who were successful, seeking and accepting advice from others and intuitively leading. Overall, I have been a successful and respected leader.
Now, as a young senior, I have been conducting seminars on managing change and consultant skills, both forms of leadership. The seminars and I have been well-received and I feel good in that I am passing on knowledge and skills to others in order to make them successful as leaders. It is a good feeling and a corollary of “giving back,” although those that directly helped me are now few.
I decided to put it down on paper. I began to write.
The first of two leadership books, Art of Aggression: Leadership Skills from a Year of War begins to describe my early life journey as a leader, in particular my combat experience as an infantry lieutenant platoon leader and as a captain rifle company commander. One can’t get more “nitty gritty” than leading and caring for soldiers who, by choice or chance are facing an armed enemy. Poor leadership would, not could, get people killed and injured.
I found that in relating my combat experience that there were many lessons I learned in the process. These lessons not only held true during my Army career, but when I went in to corporate consulting those same leadership lessons had direct value to me in my work, but also to the managers and leaders with whom I worked.
The follow-on book to Art of Aggression will take in my corporate consulting experiences, my work with many leaders in not-for-profit, Fortune 1000, governments at state, local and federal levels and social action movements. I found that any organization, even those in benevolent pursuits, were in a “war” of sorts, competing for funding, recognition, good people and opportunities to “do their thing.”
My hope is that through books, articles that my efforts to help others, to better enable leaders to lead their organizations and causes to success and to “pay back” will be fruitful.
Amongst the many lessons brought forth in The Art Of Aggression are three related to managing and developing subordinates, especially subordinate leaders. The net of these is that micro managing, and micro managers do more damage than good in organizations.
- If you are shooting, you probably are not leading.
- Understand the skills and depth of experience of your subordinates, and then get out of their way.
- Listen and be appreciative for any help you are offered. If you don’t, you will be left to figure things out on your own.
Let’s look at all three of these lessons one at a time.
If you are shooting, you probably are not leading.
In combat, leaders are, certainly, armed as like their soldiers. Everyone carries a “basic load” of stuff. But their role is not to be shooters, but to lead and direct. Their real weapon is the radio, so that you can bring in support. The leaders are there to give direction and guidance and to insure control so that the troops are doing what they should. I rarely ever fired my weapon in combat, because it wasn’t my job, it was theirs. And I was pretty busy and distracted dealing with the entire unit, versus my individual situation.
So this lesson is one of knowing your place and your role as a leader. It is not your job to pull the switches or move the materiel, rather, your job is to insure that the organizations management understand where the organization is going and what it is trying to accomplish and to use your positional power to resource and support those efforts. Micro-managing leaders regularly interfere with the effective operation of the organization, undercut subordinate leaders and managers and lose the respect of the workers.
Understand the skills and depth of experience of your subordinates, and then get out of their way.
The worse sin that any leader can commit is to micro-manage their subordinate leaders. It does not matter if you are a general officer, a lieutenant, a senior NCO or an acting sergeant. This is the most critical part of leadership, especially in the less disciplined environments of the non-military workplace.
There is rank in civilian life: the sergeants of your organizations being the front line supervisors, the foremen and other lower management positions, and some non-management positions that are primarily focused on the “doing” tasks: production, quality control, logistics, warehousing, and other downstream functions, usually away from the administrative headquarters. Your sergeants are “on the line”, having risen to their positions from entry level jobs, mostly in their particular skill areas. As such, they know the business from that level. They know how to get things done, particularly what you want done for the organization.
If you do micromanage, your subordinate leaders will simply do as you say and you will be truly on your own. Most likely you will drive yourself crazy being so busy doing everyone’s job for them and you, in turn, will most likely not be making the best decisions without their input.
You cannot develop leadership without allowing leaders to lead and consequently to learn from their successes along with their mistakes. Coaching and mentoring accomplish the grooming needed to grow. So give your subordinate leaders the opportunity to fail, so that they will learn. Now I am not recommending that you give a rookie manager unsupervised control of a nuclear power plant, but use a variety of correctable situations as vehicles for learning and developing.
Good leaders respect these people along with what they do. Include them when problem-solving or trying to determine the best way to manage any particular change or problem. In my many years of consulting I have found that the answers to most of the problems vexing management are right there, on the line.
Involving them with management helps to educate them as to where the organization is going and what the organization is trying to achieve. It also helps to develop them further in their career progression, especially as the organization needs to replace or increase the number of managers and senior officers over time. Dipping into an experienced workforce is a good start, as they already know the organization and are known by their employees.
Listen and be appreciative for any help you are offered. If you don’t, you will be left to figure things out on your own.
Leaders who collaborate at all levels are far more successful than those who are intimately involved at the nuts and bolts level. Think about it: If I am doing everything for the sergeants, why do I need the sergeants? Or, if they are so ineffective in their work, perhaps they need to be replaced?
All work is worthy of respect, so show that respect through collaboration, personal contacts and giving over to them the control as to how they get the job done.
Tradition is important and teaching the beliefs and behaviors inherent therein falls squarely on the shoulders of senior leaders and managers. And when it comes to junior leaders the secondary duty of all more senior leaders is to acculturate and groom them. So be happy when you receive a little lecture that might sound like an ass-chewing. The leader might be frustrated with you, but is, in reality, helping you to be a competent professional.
No leader wants to be 100% alone, not getting any input or advice that could help them make better decisions. Most organizations have value sets, rites and rituals and codes of dress and conduct. All together, these define the culture of the organization and can be identified through observed behaviors. Ideally, the behaviors are being driven by the organization’s values.
Therefore, corporate officers, leaders and managers at all levels are entrusted as keepers of the core values which drive the culture. As such, a part of their duties is to insure that newcomers and new leaders know how to behave consistently within the values and behaviors. Reluctance to engage, on either side of this leader-employee relationship, will result in an inconsistent culture and a wide range of behaviors, which could be disruptive to production and damaging to the organization.
Regular management conferences and leadership forums are an important investment in reinforcing the culture and passing on the traditions and heritage of the organization. New employee orientations perform the same function, making the newcomers proud of the organization that they have joined while teaching them appropriate behaviors.
This is an on-going aspect of good leadership in all organizations.
Be conscious of, respect and support your subordinate leaders and managers. Direct the work that needs to be done, fix responsibilities, provide guidance and get out of the way. Allow them their work.
You won’t be around forever and the best legacy that a leader can leave is a competently run organization, the leaders of which acknowledge you with respect because you enabled them to be successful.