Don’t Underestimate the Power of Bad Leadership Experiences

Toxic, counterproductive, ineffective. These are all synonyms for less-than-ideal leadership examples. But bottom line is, we essentially view these as bad leadership.

We have all had experiences with bad bosses and senior leaders. We wonder how they made it into that position all while putting our head down to muscle through the challenge of leading under and working for them. For many of us, we can identify such experiences multiple times over our careers.

I am no exception. I vividly recall a season early in my career where I felt surrounded by poor leadership examples – my boss was a nice person, but not a proficient and recognized leader within the organization; I did not receive clear guidance, development, or support. As a younger professional and leader at the time, I was less mature and thus was angry and disenfranchised. Continue reading → Don’t Underestimate the Power of Bad Leadership Experiences

Leaders Communicate Perspective

“Leaders communicate perspective. We show Soldiers that who we are, what we do, and why we do it are important… Soldiers who understand why and how their efforts fit into the big picture, perform better. Informed Soldiers are effective Soldiers.”

BG David Hodne

This simple quote from a previous boss and current mentor of mine has become one of the most profound leadership lessons I have learned in my now 10-years of practicing leadership. Though clear and concise, this quote can actually be unpacked to become one of the most complex and important leadership skills that I’ve tried to study and practice. We need to talk about leadership and communicating perspective.

One of my personally favorite definitions of leadership, and one I feel is the most complete, is from the U.S. Army. It states that leaders influence others by providing three things: purpose, direction, and motivation. Perspective is a critical way to provide the purpose. Leaders must create and communicate that perspective for their people.   Continue reading → Leaders Communicate Perspective

Avoiding Burnout: 9 Things to Build “Leader Resilience”

Outside of three weeks of paternity leave with my family, I have not taken any vacation or leave time since before the COVID pandemic began in March. And though paternity leave was an amazing time for my family and I, it certainly wasn’t a restful time. Bottom line is…I’m tired. Yes, I’m passionate about and love what I do, but it’s been a long year with little to no respite. I believe many are in a similar boat as me – we are at or near professional burnout.

It takes a lot to bring engaged leadership, optimism and energy, and deliberate development to our people and organizations. Burnt-out leaders can’t do that effectively. And while it is important to take necessary time for vacation and rest as leaders, we may not always be able to do that on our own timelines. As much as possible, we need to be resilient leaders able to keep showing up every day and bring the purpose, direction, and motivation that our people are entitled to.

So, we need to talk about ways to avoid burning-out and being resilient leaders able to sustain our personal and collective organizational responsibilities. It’s easy to talk about the idea of being resilient leaders, but hard to enact it day in and day out.

To help contribute this is important conversation of leadership, resiliency, and burnout – I offer nine practical things that help me show up every day and to maintain a full “leadership cup”…because we can’t pour into others from an empty cup. I expect that by sprinkling these small habits or actions over our schedule each week and month, we are able to remain being the leaders we desire to be and that our people deserve for the long haul. Continue reading → Avoiding Burnout: 9 Things to Build “Leader Resilience”

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