4 Questions to Make Your Organization and People Better_3x5 Leadership

A number of weeks ago, I asked readers for feedback about the blog through an online survey. I greatly appreciate your time and for sharing your honest thoughts. The #1 piece of feedback centered on practical application, how to materialize the ideas shared through each blog post. Many claimed they appreciated the amount of application found in the posts; others voiced a desire for even more. Message received; this post is strictly application and I will continue to maintain appropriate doses of practical application as I continue to write. Again, thanks for the feedback!

In the US Army, there is an unpopular, but necessary unit duty called Staff Duty. For those not familiar, this 24-hour shift encompasses non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and junior officers serving as the unit commander’s representative for any issue that arises during their tour of duty. This duty is shared by the junior and mid-level leaders within the organization, where most NCOs and officers complete a staff duty tour once every month to quarter. Responsibilities include receiving and escorting VIPs, receiving and managing notices to Soldiers from external agencies (such as the Red Cross), inspecting the unit areas for good order and discipline, managing any emergency that occurs that day (such as barracks maintenance emergencies), and anything else the commander deems necessary. Other military services have a similar duty, such as the Navy’s officer on watch. At the United States Military Academy (USMA), my current assignment, cadet sophomores fulfill this duty for each cadet company, known as the Cadet in Charge of Quarters (CCQ).

Often, this duty is viewed as a check-the-block event, where you conduct your duties, try and stay awake and engaged during your shift, and count the hours until your replacement arrives. However, I’ve come to realize that there is a lot of potential to incorporate leader development into staff duty-like shift assignments. Especially as a current Tactical Officer of USMA cadets, where I get limited touchpoints with cadets each day, I wanted to incorporate some form of leader development into this typically monotonous task.

My approach to implementing leader development into my CCQ has been to assign a short writing assignment; this can be easily applied to Army staff duty, Navy officer on watch, or any sort of organizational representative shift work you have, such as at a fire or police station.

During a cadet’s CCQ shift, I require them to type out answers to the following four questions and email them to me before their shift is over. I do not specify response length or any other guidance beyond just sharing their honest, personal thoughts. The four questions I ask USMA cadets on CCQ are:

  1. As a Cadet at “the world’s preeminent leader development institution,” what is the biggest personal leadership lesson that you have learned recently (last month or this semester)? Why is it important and how are you incorporating it into your personal leader behavior?
  2. Read or view one thing about leadership; this can be a blog post, an online article, a podcast, journal, book, video, etc. Share what you viewed, what you learned from it, and how you can apply it in the future as a cadet and/or Army officer. If you need recommendations for sources, some blog options include:
  3. What do you think is the single best thing about our company? What does it look like in Cadets’ attitude or behavior within the company? Why is it the best part?
  4. What is the one thing that our company needs to improve the most? Why do we need to improve this? Provide a recommended improvement plan to get better at this (don’t be afraid to assign responsibilities to certain positions, etc.).

These four questions offer a number of benefits for your organization and people. First, you get bottom-up feedback on your organization, which is often hard to get; it’s a way to help keep a pulse on what’s going on in your organization. Since it is done behind a computer screen, rather than face-to-face, you tend to get more honest and well-thought-out responses. Second, by asking what they’re learning, it forces your people to conduct some deliberate reflection, which may not be a natural habit for them yet. Making them write out their thoughts encourages them to clarify and complete the ideas so they can best articulate it on paper. Finally, this encourages your people to learn something new about leadership; no matter the scope of the lesson learned or what they read, it gets them engaged in learning something about leadership.

These writing assignments have become very special to me. It is a personal daily highlight to read what my cadets share and learn. I make sure to personally respond to each email with a few thoughts: I thank them for sharing their thoughts, I comment and expand on at least one thing they wrote about, and I end by telling them I am proud of them and am grateful for having them on “the team.” I found that responding, and especially responding with these three topics, is just as important as the writing assignment itself. It lets the cadet know I read and care about what they shared and that they are adding value to our organization. Lastly, if a cadet shares positive feedback about other cadets or the chain of command in their feedback responses, I’ll forward the email to those particular people mentioned to let them know that others notice their efforts and that they are having a tangible impact on our organization.

These questions can easily be adapted to your own organizational context with some simple re-wording, but this is an easy leader development tool to apply within your own organization; it takes no added resources and little added demands on your time. Though you may get some initial eye-rolling about a mandatory writing assignment from your people, you’ll be amazed the impacts that this can have on your organization and people. After a summer of this so far, many cadets have come back saying that they really enjoyed it and look forward to taking this practice to their future organizations.

Though I reference USMA and the Army in this post, the above content represents my personal thoughts only and does not reflect that of the United States Military Academy or the US Army.

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