As a young Cadet at West Point, like many of my fellow classmates, I dreamed of one day becoming a Special Forces team leader, leading my detachment through the trials of unconventional warfare. During two separate summers, I even attempted both the Combat Diver Course and Special Forces Selection.
Imagine so valuing the importance of developing people’s capabilities that you design a culture…[which] sweeps every member of the organization into an ongoing developmental journey in the course of working every day.
I like to imagine our organizational leader development processes like building a garden. We can envision what we want our garden to look like and what we want to get out of it – certain vegetables, plants, and/or flowers. We then build the actual garden in the selected location with high-quality resources. Finally, we plant our desired plants. However, we know that gardening does not stop once the plants are planted; that is only the beginning. Gardens require consistent attention – watering, pruning, re-fertilizing, etc. – all done and re-done season after season. Moreover, different plants have different needs like varied levels of water, sunlight, pruning, and types of fertilizer.
Our leader development approach is very similar. We can create the most robust, highest quality development process with impactful activities, but much like a garden, our developmental approach must receive consistent attention and “pruning.” Leaders must routinely and continuously reinforce a culture of development after we have initiated our processes and activities. Continue reading → Building & Reinforcing a Culture of Development
I have two whiteboards in my office; a 4×3 ft. one for big subjects and a 2×1.5 ft. “lap-sized” board for smaller scale ones. I’m using one of those whiteboards, if not both, every single day. I use them while counseling my Cadets, for teaching moments to help them make sense of new ways of thinking, and of course, to post the weekly #whiteboardwednesday quote. In fact, I just used my lap-board to draw out the first diagram below for one of my Cadets learning how to create developmental experiences for his subordinate.
I share this to communicate a key leader-developer lesson I’ve learned over the last year: every interaction I have with one of my Cadets is a “developmental communication” opportunity. I view every conversation I have with them, at an individual or collective level, through a developmental lens where I can teach, coach, mentor, or counsel. This applies to discussions in my office, passing a Cadet in the barracks hallway, during room inspections, training, meetings, a formal leader development session, or even running into them outside of the barracks on the way to/from class. Leaders can apply this same lens to their own people and organizational context. Continue reading → On-the-Job Development: Leaders as Teachers & Coaches
Most of what I write, and what others write on similar platforms, focuses on the encouraging and inspirational side of leadership such as motivation, building trust, and developing the next generation of leaders. It’s fun to write and read about these topics because they make us, our people, and our organizations better. They’re also easy to write about. What’s challenging to write about and get people discussing are the less-stimulating sides to leadership such as holding others accountable and enforcing standards. I can already feel the dread overcome me as I write those words…
Critical characteristics for any field to be considered a true profession include high individual and collective responsibility and mutual accountability. In the military, this includes standards like professional appearance and wear of uniforms, physical fitness requirements, maintaining positive control of all assigned Soldiers and equipment, and routine certification in your assigned tasks by your higher headquarters. So, how do we do that well, where we can hold each other accountable while inspiring them to want to inherently be and do better? I believe we can all recall times where someone, such as a boss, unnecessarily tore us down for not maintaining a certain standard; maybe they even targeted us personally, rather than just our undesired behavior. I challenge the assumption held by many that holding others accountable to the standards requires strict and harsh reactions. How can we enact mutual accountability while continuing to build a stronger, more effective, and cohesive team? In his book (which I highly recommend), The Culture Code, Dan Coyle asserts that, “one misconception about highly successful [team] cultures is that they are happy, lighthearted places. This is mostly not the case. They are energized and engaged, but at their core their members are oriented less around achieving happiness than around solving hard problems together. This task involves many moments of high-candor feedback, uncomfortable truth-telling, when they confront the gap between where the group is, and where it ought to be.”Continue reading → Discipline Through Accountability and Enforcing Standards
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. Continue reading → 4 Questions to Make Your Organization and People Better
I met with a friend recently who just finished reading Radical Inclusion, by GEN (Ret.) Martin Dempsey and Ori Brafman. During our conversation, he anxiously claimed, “there is so much from that book that I want to start doing, I don’t even know where to start.”
I think we have all been there in some capacity. I felt the same way when I finished David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around! Personally, with all of the books, blogs, journals, and podcasts I routinely engage in, it is easy for me to get overwhelmed with the new ideas for leadership improvement and organizational development. I often feel compelled to do it all now, though I know it won’t be effective or sustainable. Even all of the 3×5 Leadership blog posts, when considered collectively, can easily send a message of “do all of this now!”
So, I want to offer a simple model of personal leader development and a strategy to focus on the most important improvements to develop as a leader. The model, below, is broken down into four steps that I recommend you follow, where each step encourages you to write out a statement or a list. You’ll end with an identified leader behavior to improve on, the purpose of it, an actionable strategy, and timeline to work in it. Continue reading → What Is Your Leadership “One Big Thing?”
George C. Marshall is well known in leadership and military history circles for his service as Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and as one of the key architects of the Allied war effort in World War II. While his reputation is largely dominated by his later accomplishments, early actions were no less notable. Following duties in the Philippines, Marshall was assigned to the Allied Expeditionary Force in France during World War I, where he served with distinction in the 1st Infantry Division.
In the fall of 1920 Major Marshall, wrote to Brigadier General (Retired) John Mallory to document a previous conversation on “the advice I would give a young officer going to war, based on my observation of what had constituted the success of the outstanding figures in the American Expeditionary Forces.” (1-176 letter) Mallory was a competent professional of his own right, receiving two Silver Stars in the Philippines, and still found Marshall’s points compelling.
Writing about time can make a person a bit of an existentialist. The act of tallying and cataloging (not to mention publishing) life’s activities into discreet portions inspires a notion that there is freedom and control over those activities: “I choose to get seven hours of sleep every night and make it so.” “I leave work at 5:30 everyday.” “I get up at 4am to read. And I never miss a morning because I’m hungover from the St. Patrick’s Day party…” This averaging process grants more credit than most of us deserve.
Generally, I am not as disciplined as I want to be, nor as focused, nor as productive. I have plenty of projects and ideas out there, many in Evernote and Moleskine, just waiting to be brought forth. And I always seem to be fighting for time to accomplish them. Perhaps, though, the enemy is not a lack of time, but a lack of focus. Even when I do allot the requisite time to accomplish the next important thing, the unceasing rush of shiny objects sabotages my intent. Continue reading → [168 Series] “Remember How Much Nothing We Used to Do?”
“There is no greater harm than that of time wasted.” – Michelangelo
There are 168 hours in a week. Seven days, 24 hours per day, with most of those hours spent awake. I average roughly six hours of sleep each night, leaving me 126 hours each week to use as I see fit. How do you make the best use of that time? Do you make the best use of that time? Those are the two questions that gnaw at me the most, the two questions that drive me forward each day, and the two questions that linger at the end of each day.
The answer to those questions can be found in how I organize for the day, the week, the month, and even the year ahead. I tend to be very goal oriented, with a task focus that borders on an obsessive-compulsive disorder: always looking for that next project, that next initiative, that next article, that next opportunity to create something unique. I thrive off checklists, both as a way of organizing and prioritizing those “nexts” and as a method to build and sustain momentum once I get started.
In my experiences, I have found a leader’s personal desire to learn at an individual level impacts organizational learning and culture by helping them become a catalyst for change. Formal education and external training programs expose leaders to new ideas and concepts that can be applied to the organization. For an organizational culture to be sustainable, leaders have to embrace learning at organizational level and a personal level. If leaders aren’t learning, they aren’t leading. Continue reading → [168 Series] If You’re Not Learning, You’re Not Leading