There Is A Science to Motivation

Motivation Post

Several months ago, I created and shared the above photo on my blog social media platforms. It was shared enough to be viewed by over 20,000 people (big numbers for my humble blog!) and received varying feedback. Since sharing that photo, one particular comment has resonated with me. A very well-intentioned gentleman stated: “Mumbo Jumbo! Don’t waste time on learning ‘motivational theories.’ Spend time learning who your people are.” This comment has stuck with me because I believe that’s exactly the point to my photo and the purpose in understanding researched motivational theories.

Like all things in leadership, there is an art and a science to subordinate motivation in an organizational setting. For this post, I define motivation as the psychological processes that arouse and direct voluntary goal-oriented behavior. Subordinate performance is a function of ability, motivation, and environment.

Motivation is highly individual and requires leaders to know their people. Certain motivational techniques may be unique to only one of your subordinates, where a different motivational focus and style applies better to another. By better understanding your people on an individual level, you can more effectively invest into them to both achieve their personal professional goals AND improve their contribution (performance) to organizational goals. This is why knowing the science of motivation is important. Continue reading → There Is A Science to Motivation

Leadership Communication: “Here is the Most Important Place for Me to Be”

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Inherent to leadership is communication. Whether it is an organizational vision, leader priorities and areas of emphasis, or showing genuine interest and concern for your people – all leaders have much to communicate in order to be effective.

Communication is both verbal and nonverbal. It is also formal and informal. As a leader, you communicate by speaking in formal meetings, talking to someone one-on-one in passing, and even when / where you choose to be present or not. Leader presence is one of the most critical methods of communication to your people and organization. When and where you choose to be at any moment as a leader sends a message. Moreover, how you act in those times sends the most salient message of all. Continue reading → Leadership Communication: “Here is the Most Important Place for Me to Be”

Achieving Honesty: Improving Subordinate Leader Assessments & Feedback

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Prior to commanding a company, I never gave much thought to evaluations. I am not generally concerned with my own evaluations; I firmly believe that if you take care of your Soldiers and your mission, your evaluation takes care of itself. As a staff officer and platoon leader, I was also never in a position where I was rating or senior rating Soldiers that I didn’t interact with on a daily and professionally intimate basis. Upon assuming command, my pool of subordinates that I rated or senior rated drastically increased. In my 18 months of company command, I rated/senior rated three First Sergeants, three XOs, three Operations Sergeants, nine platoon leaders, nine platoon sergeants, and over a dozen squad leaders. As much as I wanted to and tried, as a company commander, it was not feasible to work with all of these individuals personally, like I could as a platoon leader.

So, how did this impact my Soldiers, NCOs, and Officers?  More broadly, how do leaders ensure they do subordinates justice when it comes time for evaluation reports? This is a conundrum for every commander, from company and beyond. Continue reading → Achieving Honesty: Improving Subordinate Leader Assessments & Feedback

Company Command Series Part VIII: Closeout Formations

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This blog post is a continuation of the multi-part Company Command Series covering key aspects of my command experience that I feel other commanders (current and future) can benefit from. This post discusses how to improve your company closeout formations and weekend safety briefs. 

To any military service member, just the mention of a weekend safety brief and closeout formation can stir reactions of dread and loathing. I can think of few things that are less inspiring or effective in the military than a long brief where leaders regurgitate the same speech every Friday listing every “don’t” for the weekend. I argue that these closeout formations with the excessive safety briefs are no longer for the Soldiers, but “check-the-block” requirements to cover leaders when the weekend Serious Incident Report (SIR) event occurs, such as a DUI. These methods are ineffective and waste Soldiers’ and leaders’ time. Weekend closeout formations, like many other events, should be valuable and planned-out events that contribute to your company’s culture.

Early in my command, I read two blog posts (From the Green Notebook and The Military Leader) regarding this topic of improving unit closeout formations and safety briefs. They served as the catalyst to end my company’s current safety brief ways and update them with new focuses and methods. I cannot take credit for conceiving these ideas; I encourage readers to check out those posts for further ideas and inspiration.

Continue reading → Company Command Series Part VIII: Closeout Formations

What Army Soldiers Can Learn From Navy Sailors

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We are halfway through the Company Command Series and are taking a quick intermission this week from the series. We continue discussing company command next week with policy letters.

Army-Navy football; working with peers or bosses during joint service time as a field grade officer; popular Hollywood films like The Hunt for Red October, Master and Commander, and Top Gun. I can think of few other times the Navy really ever comes to my mind as an Army officer and leader. Especially for junior officers or enlisted Soldiers, we don’t tend to consider our Navy brothers and sisters in arms during our daily professional routines or even throughout most of our careers. It should be expected though; when was the last time any of us (outside of SOF) participated in a training or real-world mission with Navy personnel? Our branches serve two different purposes for our nation: an army brigade combat team of 4,000 Soldiers generally operates at the low tactical level of war during land operations, where a 135-man Navy submarine exists to achieve strategic level influence ensuring the freedom of the high seas. As the Department of Defense appears to be steering more towards ‘jointness’ or a joint team, the mission of the Army and the Navy illustrate the inevitable challenges that lie ahead.  The Army’s relationship with the Air Force, for example, illustrates how easy this transition may be with joint basing; however, the Navy has been less than motivated to share its property with anyone else.  I don’t need to concern myself with the Navy except the one day a year that we beat the hell out of Navy, right? Not quite.   Continue reading → What Army Soldiers Can Learn From Navy Sailors

Coaching – An Essential Leadership Tool

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By Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Thomas Bowen

Coaching your followers, whether they be US Army Soldiers, West Point cadets, or civilians, is an ideal way to cultivate their involvement in solving their own challenges, engage them relationally, and exercise your leadership.

Although the term “coaching” could connote athletic drilling by your football or softball coach, here we mean it to be impromptu, one-to-one interactions between a leader and his or her led. Alternatively, “coaching” could conjure up visions of a long-term mentor-protégé relationship; in this context, we will confine the term to mean preemptive, informal, in-the-moment interaction between a leader and a subordinate. A coaching interaction can take place on the side of a Stryker infantry vehicle, on the parade field, or in the aisle of a warehouse. As a leader, you take advantage of a coaching moment when you see a follower struggling, or potentially struggling, with a task. Out of pride or embarrassment your follower may not approach you with his or her problem, whereupon you approach that person to avoid a potentially disastrous situation. Continue reading → Coaching – An Essential Leadership Tool

A Christmas Reflection on Servant Leadership

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This year, I have the good fortune of celebrating Christmas with my family at my sister’s house in Bremerton, WA. She is a Navy Lieutenant (O-3) assigned to an aircraft carrier at Naval Base Kitsap. On this Christmas day, we joined her on her carrier to receive a full tour and eat lunch on her ship’s mess deck; it was the best military meal I’ve ever received in my seven-year career. We met many of her Sailors, peers, and superior officers. Characterizing the experience as impressive is an understatement.

Beyond the incredible machinery and systems on that massive vessel, one of the most impressive aspects of my visit was being served Christmas dinner by the ship’s Captain (O-6), his wife and children, and the Command Master Chief (CMC, the ship’s senior enlisted leader). I was humbled to see these leaders not only taking time to spend the holiday with their Sailors, but also include their families. Furthermore, I’ve read multiple accounts today of battalion command teams replacing their Soldiers on duty, company command teams delivering stockings to barracks, and multiple echelons of leaders checking on their formations this holiday. Continue reading → A Christmas Reflection on Servant Leadership

Leadership By Wandering Around

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I was first introduced to the term, “leadership by wandering around (LBWA),” in one of my Engineering Management Masters courses. Being such a natural concept to me, the idea that being present and interacting with your Troops had to be defined in black-and-white astonished me. However, three years after being introduced to this term, I’ve learned that it is in fact NOT a natural concept to many leaders. Continue reading → Leadership By Wandering Around