Earlier this fall, I attended a GEN (Ret.) Martin Dempsey lecture to West Point Cadets on leadership and building a meaningful life. His first visual to support the lecture was this simple line from novelist, Samuel Beckett, with a black and white photo of a WWI Doughboy assaulting from a trench. Dempsey’s argument: you, as a leader, must be the period between those two thoughts. You must lead and inspire your Soldiers from a place where they think they cannot go on toward a resolute “I will go on” – in life, our professional missions, and in our own continued growth and development. I’ve thought on this point often since that lecture. Not only must leaders model resiliency themselves, but also develop it in others. Further, I continue to reflect on the fact that in a lecture on “building a meaningful life,” Dempsey’s first point addressed the importance of personal and collective resiliency. Continue reading → I Will Go On: Leadership and Resilience
“Embrace the inspectors!” may sound like part of a naïve motivational speech from a commander preparing his/her unit for an upcoming inspection from higher headquarters staff. However, CAPT (R) L. David Marquet and the Sailors of the USS SANTA FE submarine welcomed inspections during his command with remarkable results, as elaborated in his book Turn the Ship Around!. This kind of embracement is not common among US military units. Eyes roll and breaths sigh as leaders discuss command inspection visits. Command inspections tend to surface deficiencies and fill up red boxes on extensive PowerPoint brief slides to a commander’s supervisor. Some commanders are determined to never fail an inspection and keep their units “green” during status updates. Either mindset is focused on remaining in compliance with Army regulations. Hence, the Organizational Inspection Program (OIP) could easily be renamed the Organizational Compliance Program by those units with the wrong attitude toward inspectors. But the inspection implementation offers an opportunity for remarkable results and growth at any level. Leaders can instead consider the OIP a unit’s Organizational Improvement Program and seek ways to instill continuous improvement within a unit – a mechanism to be an enduringly learning organization. Continue reading → Reimagining Your Organizational “Improvement” Program
This is the 4th and final part of the Shared Leadership Series.
Patrick Lencioni states in his book, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, that teamwork comes down to courage and persistence. Both are required to enact the things explored in this series as we build and lead effective teams; doing so is incredibly hard, often emotional, and always takes a lot of time. But teamwork remains one of the most sustainable competitive advantages that have been largely untapped in organizations. Lencioni asserts that “as difficult as teamwork is to measure and achieve, its power cannot be denied. When people come together and set aside their individual needs for the good of the whole, they can accomplish what might have looked impossible on paper.”
Through this series, we’ve addressed several important aspects of team development and performance ranging from being clear on a team’s outcomes, to psychological safety, and team cohesion and use of power. If you have not checked out the previous parts of this Shared Leadership Series, I encourage you to start with part 1 here.
Now, I want to end the series by packaging the different topics of shared leadership and team effectiveness into a singular, coherent model to help us better analyze and implement these ideas within our own teams. The GRPI Model of team development, originally offered by Richard Beckhard in 1972, is a great way to mentally organize important aspects of our teams’ development and performance. Continue reading → Shared Leadership Series: Developing and Diagnosing Your Team
If we require a sense of “shared leadership” among a team of people to be effective leaders in the 21st century, as argued in part 1 of this series, it is necessary to develop and grow our team for improved performance, member satisfaction, and to ultimately ensure team viability. In line with Peter Drucker’s famed quote that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” the first aspect that leaders must target is the team’s culture. In the previous part (part 2) of this series, we addressed three critical team culture artifacts that leaders must emphasize for team development: psychological safety, high learning orientation, and perceptions of organizational justice.
Complete team success relies on three essential outcomes: team performance, member satisfaction, and team viability. All three rely on effective and efficient interactions between team members as they accomplish their mission and day-to-day tasks. Formally, this is referred to team dynamics. As we can see in our own lives, different personalities and ways of doing business among members can impact the team’s ability to accomplish its mission and tasks; gossip and drama are often clear signs of the damaging effects of poor team dynamics. It’s important to improve a team’s dynamics and the processes it uses to do work. I believe leaders should focus on three important aspects of their team’s dynamics: team cohesion; the use and balance of power, authority, and influence; and ensuring that team and individual member purpose, shared values, and goals are clear and consistently communicated. Continue reading → Shared Leadership Series: Important Team Dynamics for Leaders’ Attention
Established in part 1 of this Shared Leadership Series, effective 21st century leadership requires a “shared leadership” approach, where leaders leverage and operate within teams (and teams of teams) to accomplish a mission and associated tasks. The increased complexities of demands placed on leaders and our operating environments today make it infeasible to lead teams and organizations as a singular leader at the top.
In order to build successful “shared leadership” attitudes and competencies across our teams, leaders must target and build three critical tangible aspects (known as artifacts) of our teams’ cultures: building trust through psychological safety, establishing a high learning-orientation, and achieving clarity in team decision-making and “organizational justice.” These alone do not create a complete model for team development, but these three attitudes and competencies are essential foundations to make the team perform successfully, ensure member satisfaction within the team, and to better enable enduring team viability. Continue reading → Shared Leadership Series: Targeting Three Essential Team Culture Artifacts to Form an Effective Team
The study of leadership over the last two centuries has focused on one central figure to explain success, failure, or change within organizations and society: the individual leader at the top. It started with the Great Man Theory, a 19th-century idea that asserted great men (heroes) had decisive historical impacts due to their natural attributes; think Napoleon, Rousseau, and Martin Luther. Our early assessment of leadership argued that to be an effective leader, one must possess a select set of traits.
The issue with this model, and what more recent research reveals, is that the individual leader at the top is only one of four necessary and important factors in this multi-directional social influence process we call leadership. Leadership involves a leader, those being led, the specific situation, and a particular task that must be accomplished. The leader is absolutely important. Leaders influence others by providing purpose, direction and motivation; they have the responsibility to accomplish the task and they implement change necessary to do so, but the leader is only one factor and not sufficient when considered alone. As other factors change, such as those being led or the environment they act in, the leader may have to adjust style and approach. This is the challenge with our society’s romance of past leaders. At the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, for example, the campus is decorated with over a half-dozen statues of famed graduates and stakeholders in establishing the Academy. The mere existence of these stone figures inherently communicates to current cadets, “be like this man and you will be a great leader too.” Unfortunately, it does not account for the drastically changing leadership factors of those being led, the very different situations leaders face today, and ever-evolving and more complex tasks we face today.
3×5 Leadership Note: Tony shared these thoughts with a local community of leaders that he has been working with last week. With his permission, we are sharing an adapted version of his reflections here. When Tony Burgess speaks or writes, I pay attention. I think we can all benefit from his reflection.
“We all do better at work if we regularly have the experience that what we do matters, that it is valuable, and that our presence makes a difference to others … hearing that our work is valued by others can confirm for us that we matter as a person. It connects us to other people. This is no small matter in organizations where the pace and intensity of work can lead a person to feel isolated. This sense that we signify may be one of our deepest hungers. One way we experience that what we are doing at work is valuable is by hearing regularly from others how they value what we do.” (p. 92)
Last year, I assumed a role as a Tactical Officer (TAC) of a West Point Cadet company, where my primary duties include teaching, advising, and coaching the Cadet chain of command as they practice leading and following within a military-style organizational structure. Less than two months into this role, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with how our company was performing. My frustration grew from the gap between my perception of our company’s current level of seemingly average performance and the high amount of potential I saw throughout the entire company and the nearly 120 Cadets in it.
Unfortunately, I let my frustration materialize into my leadership more than I thought and, though unintentional, it started to negatively affect my working relationships with my Cadets. Cadets became colder and more formal in our interactions, they began including me less in their challenges and decision-making, and became less interested in seeking my advice or thoughts. Continue reading → Leadership and the Need for Perpetual Optimism
Recently I was fortunate enough to guide nine cadet companies in developing goals for their organization at the United States Military Academy (USMA), where I currently work. After observing two semesters of failed attempts at mission and vision inculcation, I opted to change the script on how cadets create priorities for their organization to lead deliberately purposeful organizations rather than a group of people who happen to live and work near each other. Working alongside the incoming cadet commanders and first sergeants, flanked with a seasoned TAC NCO (Tactical Non-Commissioned Officer acting as a company First Sergeant) and former USMA cadet leadership, I watched as these future leaders transformed their lofty concepts into tangible steps to improve their formations by leveraging the art and science of creating purpose, direction, and motivation. I found the exercise incredibly impactful as a tool that I believe should be in a leader’s kit bag for future use within any level of an organization and in any industry. Continue reading → Goals In Lieu of Vision: A Practical Exercise in Developing a Purposeful Organization
Empowering your subordinates is at the heart of the military’s Mission Command ethos of leadership. Recently having been appointed to a coalition staff, my experience working alongside different specialities, services, civilians, and other nations has exposed me to some of the best practices across a wide cohort. Even when the language, terminology, culture, and ethos differ, empowerment has been the greatest tool to devolving decision-making and multiplying efficiency within the staff environment, but these can easily apply in tactical-level units like regimental duty command appointments, and even to many non-military industries. I have framed these as the 4 Cs of Empowerment: Continue reading → The 4 Cs of Empowerment