Sunday, August 10, 2008
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
This morning I learned a very valuable lesson in pace-setting. Physical Training (PT) is a staple of military life. This morning the commander of one of my subordinate elements invited me to participate in PT with his unit. That’s one of those invitations that a commander really can’t easily refuse. Since the session was based around a formation run of about 3.5 - 4 miles (you know, the ones where someone is singing “Jodies” and the unit repeats the lines) I used my status as a “guest” to run in different places of the formation and be seen by the personnel. At one point I sprinted up to the front and ran next to the commander – the one who works directly for me. Very soon I realized that we had picked up the pace significantly. I had inadvertently become the pacesetter. In my mind I was just trying to be with my subordinate and let him know that I was enjoying the invitation, but as I got to his pace, he wanted to make sure that he wasn’t running slower than I was, so he sped up a bit. Simultaneously, I wanted to ensure that I didn’t fall behind his pace, so I sped up, too. Pretty soon we had accelerated significantly - much to the chagrin of the personnel behind us.
I realized very quickly that my presence at the head of the formation had immediately resulted in a change of pace – and the pace was faster. Even though I was the senior person there, I was an invited guest of my subordinate, and I did not want to overshadow his position. It was a very poignant lesson on how the senior person out front sets the pace for an organization, and may inadvertently cause subordinates to toss aside plans that had been well-thought-out. Sometimes, good leaders need to make radical changes in order to get subordinates out of inefficient or dangerous ruts. However, things like that need to be done deliberately and with great forethought. Getting out in front and making great changes, or implementing the “bright idea of the week,” can put an organization into terminal confusion. I once had a commander who was a great man to work for, but had a different “bright, big idea” every week. In August of 2000, after he came to my office and elaborated on his latest brainchild, I finally said, “Sir, I’m still working on your great ideas from April. Can we slow down on the changes for a while?”
- Leaders, good and bad, set the pace for their organizations, whether they realize it or not. A good leader will regularly seek feedback as to the effect his/her pace is having on the organization, and then evaluate whether that effect is beneficial and how to maintain or alter the pace as necessary to meet the goals of the organization.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Command – leadership – and, in fact, all of life is about PEOPLE! We become so caught up in, and enamored by systems and processes that we forget that PEOPLE are the spice of life – the sources of the greatest joys (and the greatest sorrows) of our lives. Systems, programs and processes are supposed to help us care for people and help them succeed. Unfortunately, getting a system to work becomes so daunting a task that we achieve nominal success with the “thing” at the expense of the people for which the “thing” is supposed to exist in the first place. Accountability of equipment is a big deal in the military. Some units have in trust millions of dollars-worth of taxpayer-funded equipment. We need to ensure that it remains where it’s supposed to be, is used as it was intended and is maintained properly. Why is all that important? So that our people can use that equipment to ensure that the bad guys die, surrender, or otherwise decide that fighting us doesn’t make them good risks for the Term Life Insurance advertised on satellite TV last night.
- It’s amazing how most people respond when someone higher up the chain of command demonstrates true care & concern. How is that done? It spelled T-I-M-E. Taking 30 seconds to look an individual in the eye and really listen can change a life.
- People outside of established standards are not horrible losers – they’re just outside of the standards. It’s in their interest, and the interest of the organization for them to get back into standard.
- Give people your honest opinion – backed up with actions that demonstrate that you truly care. If you have proven that you care, your opinion, even a critical one, will be received with sobriety.
More to follow - Dirk
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Now that I’ve been in the saddle for three weeks I’ve gotten over most of the saddle sores, but it is still a challenge. I’m still “learning the ropes,” but I think my level of competence is increasing steadily – at least I hope so! The mountains of paperwork associated with being “the boss” are staggering. There are so many documents that require my signature by policy that I’ve found myself having to either come in early or stay late in order to have unhindered time at my desk in order to wade through it all. I have determined, though, that I’m not going to be glued to my computer screen or chained to my desk any more than necessary. If I’m stuck behind my desk I can’t interact with the people who make our organization successful. They need to know what I intend and what I think is appropriate (or not).
I’ve change my office a little bit from my predecessor, and I’ve cleaned it up quite a bit. Note to self: When leaving a location for someone else to fall in on, clean it up and make it look as presentable as possible. It’s simply bad form to leave an office looking like a mess. In that vein, I’ve determined to always have my desk look neat and tidy. I remember a ship’s captain once saying, “A clean ship does everything else right.” I would phrase that a bit differently, because appearances can be whitewashed with nothing of substance beneath the attractive exterior (sound like some female celebrities you know?). I would say, “A well-organized outfit will demonstrate its effective organization in outward appearances.”
I am going to get rid of the flat “executive” desk, though. I’m having a stand-up desk built so that I can move around more easily and not have the desk as a physical obstacle to people who come to see me. My stand-up desk will face the wall. Have you noticed that once you are sitting down the law of inertia takes over? Getting up takes physical and mental effort. If I’m already standing up (or sitting on a bar stool from which I have to come down) moving around the office, or into the hallway or adjacent offices becomes a lot easier. It also makes me sneaky! My assistants around me won’t hear my chair squeaking when I get up. It will make me more mobile, and thus, more accessible. I can’t wait until it’s ready!
Journal point of the week so far:
- Good leadership is often inconvenient for the one exercising it – thus it is exceedingly rare in our self-absorbed culture. (I use the qualifier “good” because I believe that there is no such thing as a “leadership vacuum.” “Leadership” always happens – and it is usually bad.)
More later - Dirk
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Well, I’ve been the “boss” for just over a full week now. I find the feeling is much different than I expected. Being in charge of such a large organization is much more natural than I had expected. It helps tremendously that I have a good, no, great group of immediate subordinates who know their jobs, are committed to the success of the organization and believe that the only way that others are going to be loyal to them is if they demonstrate loyalty as well.
I’ve implemented some changes, but mostly I’ve been trying to adjust attitudes and thought processes. In places where I’ve found situations and practices that are out of line with my priorities or our organization’s core values I have taken a direct action that I hope gets the point across without any misinterpretation of my intent, but trying very hard to do so without blaming or making the changes appear to be personal affronts. I know that some feathers will get ruffled, but that is the nature of change – human beings get very used to their ruts. Having to carve new paths is uncomfortable. I understand that. But if we don’t have constant improvement we’ll be going backwards.
At the moment I am facing my first issue with a subordinate who has apparently been caught in a serious compromise of professional integrity. This individual is in a position where he has significant influence over a very important part of the organization – so much so that if I cannot trust his integrity, I’ll have to sack him. Since this is the first such situation I’ve had to deal with, and the circumstances will unfortunately be flying through the rumor mill very soon, how I deal with this will set a tone for the remainder of my tenure. I hope there are mitigating circumstances that I will learn about later, but at this moment, given what I do know, I don’t think that’s possible. My immediate subordinates and assistants hold their integrity high enough that they won’t sugar-coat anything – so I’ll get to the bottom of this soon.
- Right & truth fear no investigation.
- Individual gain at the cost of organizational integrity is a “lose-lose” situation.
- The boss needs to appear organized & in control at all times. If I look rushed & hurried when I’m walking around the building I give the appearance of disorder and that my demeanor is being dictated by circumstances. Every organization is a direct reflection of its leadership. If the boss is in control everyone else will be, too. The converse is also true.
- Give people your full attention when you give them attention at all. Don’t go half-way. I’ve found several times when someone wants to talk to me & I’m in the middle of something else, I’ve said, “Give me a moment so I can give you my full attention.” I get to a good stopping point and then pay attention.
- When given the choice between paying attention to inanimate objects, such as paperwork and email or people, always choose people.
Friday, June 20, 2008
I’m taking this blog in a completely different direction. This blog will now focus on leadership in all its aspects. I expect it to be log and primer regarding leadership as I assume the helm of a mid-sized organization for a finite period of time – about two years.
Today was my first full day “in the saddle.” It is surprising what it is like to be the man in charge of such a large organization – the authority and responsibility are tremendous. I began the day by giving my staff a fire-hose rendition of what is important to me. In a word, PEOPLE! It is my goal for all the people in our organization to be RIDICULOUSLY SUCCESSFUL in what they do, both professionally and personally. I want to get everyone excited about making everyone else successful.
Leadership always happens – and it isn’t always good. Everyone’s primary leadership audience is themselves. We must each lead ourselves well in order to lead others well. In fact, when others see us leading ourselves well, they will naturally follow our lead, or, if they are in authority, will give us greater responsibility for leading others. How we lead ourselves and others is completely wrapped up in our individual identities. Why we do what we do is completely based on who we think we are or want to be.
Right now I’m still in a whirlwind of getting settled. The first big thing I want to do is change the environment of my office so that people around me see a visual difference in what is going on. The previous chief is an excellent leader and ran the organization very, very well. Now he’s going on to bigger & better things. I’m just different, and I want to demonstrate that not so much by changing what other people do, but by changing what the chief does, and letting that filter down slowly.
More later. This shall be an exiting ride. - Dirk