Why We Lead with Gratitude…and How

“A person who feels appreciated will always do more than is expected.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything that keeps me inspired and committed to do what I do more than receiving a small, personal note from someone on my team. Even the humblest appreciation note that reveals the impact I have been able to have on someone else stirs strong emotion and joy.

Through such events, I have recognized the power of gratitude. It has become a part of my leadership philosophy, a mechanism for organizational change, and a favorite leader development activity.

“Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves and spend without fear of bankruptcy.”

―Fred De Witt Van Amburgh

Continue reading → Why We Lead with Gratitude…and How

Defining Our Leadership Philosophy

In recently starting a new academic year at West Point, NY, I engaged in the important process of initial counseling with my Cadet staff. Over those 25 conversations in getting to know the Cadets better, setting duty expectations between us, and clarifying their developmental goals, I was surprised by a common thread among a majority of them – many wanted to figure out their leadership philosophy. I asked the Cadets their perceptions on a leadership philosophy and what exactly they are looking to create. I quickly found that the comments centered on wanting to first learn what a leadership philosophy is; “I know it’s important and I want to find out how to make my own.”

This is common in the Army and I’m sure other professions experience something similar. For the Army, when young officers prepare to assume command of a company, the process of creating their leadership philosophy is often identified as a mandatory step before formally assuming that role. I think others can relate to having a new brigade commander or some similar role assume command to then immediately publish their leadership philosophy memorandum to all subordinate leaders.

What I’ve found over the years is that everyone, at least within the Army, finds this concept of a leadership philosophy as super important, but are not overly clear on what it actually is, what it should look like, or how we publish or implement it.

So, to help provide some clarity, I offer a model for a leadership philosophy. It’s offered as a model (not the model) as a means to help us better conceptualize and implement this “big shiny object” of leadership that we place a lot of emphasis on, but may not quite know what exactly to do with. I hope we are able to find some ways to best adapt and apply something within this piece to improve our leader effectiveness. Continue reading → Defining Our Leadership Philosophy

Activating the Levers of Organizational Change

Activating the Levers of Organizational Change_3x5 Leadership

Leading change is extremely hard. It challenges the organization’s status quo, interrupts peoples’ assumptions and comfort zones, and creates an often uneasy unknown or unconfirmed future for the organization. Thus, obstacles and resistance to change are often consistent and come from many sources up, down, across, and even external to the organization. Leading change can easily feel overwhelming and unsuccessful at so many points through the process.

But leading change is inherent and essential to leadership. I think back to Jim Mattis’s comments in his book, Call Sign Chaos, claiming that a “leader must be willing to change and make change.” Leaders must get results for their organization and stakeholders absolutely, but I truly believe that alone is insufficient. Leaders must also make the organization and others better; organizational change is critical to effective leadership. Continue reading → Activating the Levers of Organizational Change

My Hard Lesson Learned in Leading Through Crisis

My Hard Lesson Learned in Leading Through Crisis_3x5 Leadership

Leading through crisis has certainly been the hot topic on leadership over the last five months since COVID hit the US. There is no shortage of new work addressing the challenges of and need to lead through crisis well; a simple internet search can offer hundreds of perspectives and ideas. It is an important topic to discuss, though. A crisis can be defined as a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point. A crisis can threaten the wellbeing of our people and mere existence of our organizations; crisis requires effective leadership.

While recognizing the importance of leading well through crisis, I initially chose not to write on the topic. I felt I had no relevant or fresh perspectives to offer on it. But then a friend asked if I would share some personal thoughts on the topic for his blog (below and here). While I was happy to share and humbled by the consideration, I did not feel passionate or qualified on the topic. To be honest, I ended up writing about what I call my “leadership philosophy”: how I intend to authentically lead regardless of circumstances or environment. I think I subconsciously did that to send the message that leaders need to remain authentic to themselves and committed to the organization as they were before the crisis; we don’t merely alter our leadership in response to a crisis. Continue reading → My Hard Lesson Learned in Leading Through Crisis

Thoughts on Leader Self-Development: Do Better

Thoughts on Leader Self-Development-Do Better_3x5 Leadership

I did not take ownership of my professional development and deliberately commit toward self-development until almost four years into my military career. But even when I did start with habits like developmental reading, choices such as my book selection and approach were not intentional; my efforts were scattered and random. And it was still years after starting until I discovered personal book favorites that had major impacts on my life and leadership. I have spent years since then repeatedly saying, “I wish I read (or knew about) this years ago before I was a platoon leader or company commander.”

I share this to disclose something I have come to eventually realize: that our self-development efforts can be frustrating sometimes. My efforts over the years are littered with feelings of personal regret and disappointment for not knowing or doing the things I learn through self-development earlier. After I gain new knowledge or ideas on how to lead better through my self-development habits, I quickly default to thinking, “I wish I knew this years ago!” and “this would have made me a better platoon leader or commander.”

But I recently found this quote by Maya Angelou – an American poet, singer, and civil rights activist – and it immediately adjusted my perspective and personal worries on my self-development: Continue reading → Thoughts on Leader Self-Development: Do Better

The Feedback Primer Part 5: Making the Abstract Tangible – 3 Example Feedback Loops for Your Consideration

The Feedback Primer Series_3x5 Leadership_Primary Graphic

After spending much of this Feedback Primer saturated in abstract concepts about feedback, I want to offer some tangible ideas to consider moving forward. My hope is that by sharing three examples of organizational feedback loops, we can see how all the concepts introduced in this Primer so far integrate to materialize quality developmental feedback for ourselves as leaders, and for our people. More importantly, I hope sharing these examples inspires and equips leaders to create their own. Adopting these examples is certainly feasible, but I challenge you, as leaders, to think how you can adapt them to best fit your team’s specific needs, contexts, and restrictions.

As you read through the examples, pay attention to the diversity of the feedback loop dynamics (from part 4) and how leaders can practice the nuances of giving and receiving feedback well within them (offered in part 2). Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 5: Making the Abstract Tangible – 3 Example Feedback Loops for Your Consideration

Feedback: An Acquired Taste

Feedback is an Acquired Taste_3x5 Leadership

By Bethany Nunnery, USMA Cadet

Our expressions of ‘an acquired taste’ are usually associated with complex food and drinks. However, diving deeper into the definition of an acquired taste, we find that it can incorporate many other things. A simple online definition search reports that an acquired taste is an appreciation for something unlikely to be enjoyed by a person who has not had substantial exposure to it. Feedback, I would argue, is an example of an acquired taste. Feedback is often unappreciated by many, especially when it is constructive, but with increased exposure to high quality feedback we can eventually begin to enjoy the value feedback brings. In this post, we explore why constructive feedback is so difficult, why it’s important, and how we increase our genuine appreciation for it. Continue reading → Feedback: An Acquired Taste

The Emotional Side of Leadership: Why You Need to Care About Emotional Intelligence & What to do About It

Emotional Intelligence_3x5 Leadership

Recently, I listened to a seasoned Command Sergeant Major, who was new to his senior enlisted leader billet, lecture a room of Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs; predominantly Sergeant First Classes with 11-17 years in the Army) on his leadership philosophy. His #1 point: emotional intelligence is paramount. While I could not agree more, I could tell the impact of his words were a bit lost on the audience because many NCOs in the room did not know what he meant by “emotional intelligence.” I think numerous formal and informal leaders can relate; this is a complex and often confusing concept. It’s important we clarify emotional intelligence for leaders. It drastically amplifies our leadership impact on our people.

What is “Emotional Intelligence” and Why Do I Need to Care About It?

Emotional intelligence (also referred to EQ – emotional quotient) has two sides to consider. First, it is our capacity to be aware of, control, and express our own emotions appropriately. Second, it our ability to handle relationships with others well; this involves those “squishy” topics like empathy.

Simply, EQ is what enables us to best leverage or control our emotions in our thinking, decision-making, and how we interact with others as leaders. We can probably look at our past experiences as leaders and recall a particular moment when we should have better regulated our emotions and, conversely, times when injecting a bit of our emotion into a situation positively contributed to the outcome or impact. Continue reading → The Emotional Side of Leadership: Why You Need to Care About Emotional Intelligence & What to do About It

Keeping Our Leadership Tank Full

Keeping Our Leadership Tank Full_3x5 Leadership

I think many of us spend a lot of personal time thinking on, learning more about, and talking with others about leadership. As a personal example, in a year, I may read several dozen or so books, listen to numerous podcasts, and consume hundreds of different articles aimed at informing how I can lead, influence, and develop other people better.

But, why? What does all this give me? Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is a long list of behaviors and attitudes that I need to start, improve, refine, and stop doing. Realizing this can be very overwhelming and humbling though; identifying all of the things I need to fix to lead and develop others better is hard. But I think there is a less tangible, but more important, benefit to this continued personal commitment to self-development: it keeps my leadership tank full. Continue reading → Keeping Our Leadership Tank Full

An Organization that Reflects Together, Learns Together

Organizational Reflection_3x5 Leadership

To succeed in today’s complex, technology-saturated operating environments, organizations must become agile and adaptive. To remain so, organizations need to commit to being learning ones.

Just as reflection is an essential part of our individual leader development, learning organizations require a formal approach to “organizational reflection” to continue to learn, adapt, and succeed. I consider organizational reflection as a process that calls select groups of members to spend critical time away from their routine work to think on and capture important insights on organizational issues at many different levels in order to interpret experiences and organizational structures, clarify lessons learned, and think on the essential ways such lessons must be applied in the future.

Moreover, just as personal reflection requires us to deliberately allocate time and focused attention to thinking, so too must organizational reflection. Leaders must ensure time and space is dedicated to this collective level of learning to help make sense of our organization’s experiences and decisions, clarify what we’ve learned, and determine how and why we must apply this in the future toward improved effectiveness. Continue reading → An Organization that Reflects Together, Learns Together