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

Leading Via Social Justice

By Chaveso Cook

Both individuals and organizations around the nation – and the world – are stepping into conversations and actions regarding race, social justice, systematic oppression, and equity. Whereas this is undoubtedly a good thing, the inevitably uncomfortable conversations ensuing came from even more disconcerting events. The recent violence that has gripped the nation is not new and it is not a series of isolated events. Many have come to realize that instead of solely being not racist, we must do as author Ibram X. Kendi suggests and become actively anti-racist. Beyond that, we surely must condemn and actively fight against racism, injustice, inequality, intolerance, prejudice, entitlement, and abuse of power as well. But beyond consuming articles and documentaries or reading books like “White Fragility” or “The New Jim Crow,” how does one do so?

In moments like this we must offer a counter question – “Are you a leader?” Leaders have a responsibility to improve the lives of those around them and make their organizations better. Connecting with, including, and developing people who may not look like you will push diversity into places of opportunity and higher levels of leadership, fostering the momentum for much needed, equitable, systematic change. Continue reading → Leading Via Social Justice

Thoughts on Leader Self-Development: Do Better

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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 6: Conclusion – Now Get Out There and Get Started!

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Feedback within the realm of leadership is a challenging topic. There are so many subjective dynamics to delivering it well, integrating it across our teams, and using it to improve our leadership and performance. Yet, despite its complexities, feedback is critical for our leader growth and team performance. Through this Feedback Primer, I aimed to provide everything I have learned and experienced on feedback in a commonsense way to help you and your people. Over this Primer, we have looked at: Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 6: Conclusion – Now Get Out There and Get Started!

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

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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

The Feedback Primer Part 4: Innovating Feedback Across Your Team

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Through our openness to and desire for feedback from others as a leader (addressed in part 3), we have hopefully begun to inspire others to do the same. Following this, it is time we expand these efforts to a collective level. We, the leaders, must create feedback loops for our people and team. We must own and innovate mechanisms to allow feedback to permeate throughout the team; we are not merely victims of our organizational circumstances and should not wait for “them at corporate” or “higher” to create these systems for us. Such feedback loops within the team do require some creativity, leader time investment, and commitment – but it is possible with resources that are universally available. We can start this now. Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 4: Innovating Feedback Across Your Team

The Feedback Primer Part 3: On Leaders Creating Their Own Feedback Loops

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Brené Brown, one of my favorite authors, uses Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 speech as the foundation for the title and structure of her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. She asserts that this quote perfectly encapsulates her research into why we find being vulnerable such a hard thing to do.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

So, what does this have to do with feedback? Well, I think everything. Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 3: On Leaders Creating Their Own Feedback Loops

The Feedback Primer Part 2: Being Mindful in Sharing Our “Truth in Love”

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One of the most common feedback comments I’ve received in my career, primarily during discussions about my evaluation or during routine feedback sessions with a boss, has been “keep doing what you’re doing.” While the knowledge that there were no glaring issues in my organization’s or my performance was reassuring, that comment provided no actual feedback. It didn’t educate me on the specifics of things going well or what could still be improved. Hearing this repeatedly over my career has shown me that not only is merely giving feedback hard, but giving relevant and high-quality feedback is even harder! Leaders need to be mindful about sharing their feedback – their “truth in love” – ensuring that it is timely, relevant, high-quality, and well-delivered.

This requires a few things. First, leaders need to ‘get in the arena’ and begin practicing. Like a muscle, to be developed, giving feedback needs to be repeatedly stressed. Research from Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman revealed that no one likes to give negative feedback, but everyone wants to hear it. Essentially, they found that only 1 out of every 2 people are willing to give positive feedback, which is mind-blowing, and only 1 out of 3 are willing to give negative feedback. However, 2 of every 3 people actively desire positive feedback and 5 of every 6 people desire negative feedback. Essentially, we all say we want to be told the hard truth, but are unwilling to share it with others.

So, leaders need to get in the arena of feedback, role-modeling and inspiring their people to do the same, which we discuss in part 3. We need to get in the arena to start practicing and being able and willing to give others feedback (and to receive it from them). But through our practice, and with some education, we need to work on improving the quality, relevance, and delivery of our feedback to ensure it lands well with our people. I hope this part of The Feedback Primer can provide some of that critical education. Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 2: Being Mindful in Sharing Our “Truth in Love”

The Feedback Primer Part 1: Let’s Start with Why

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It all comes back to feedback.

This simple truth is the capstone of what I’ve learned while being in my own “leadership arena” over the last two years. You’re not feeling satisfied or engaged at work? It likely stems from a lack of feedback on your work revealing the impacts of your efforts. Surprised and disappointed by your recent annual evaluation marks? This is a novel feeling because your supervisors failed to provide relevant, consistent, and constructive feedback over time. Is our team not meeting performance metrics or is just plain mediocre? It’s likely because we have not integrated accountability and feedback in our routine ways of doing business on the team.

Recently, I had a Cadet that I mentor share with me his dissatisfaction with the unclear methods of distributing evaluation marks (referencing organizational justice) across his company, the lack of supervisor engagement with subordinates, and the overall lack of feedback occurring across the chain of command. He truly didn’t even care about his subpar evaluation score. Simply, he stated, “Sir, I just want more feedback.”

I think we can all relate. Looking back on my own 10-year Army career so far, I can count the number of times I felt that I have received quality and relevant constructive feedback on one hand. Clearly, that is not sufficient for sustained leader growth and improvement.

Bottom line: we as humans and as leaders suck at feedback. We suck at giving others feedback and we suck at receiving feedback from others. We need to get better in actually doing it (the act of routinely giving and receiving feedback) and at doing it well (ensuring our feedback is high-quality). Improvement requires education, commitment, and repetition. I hope this primer provides you the education necessary to equip and inspire you to “get in the feedback arena” with your people, commit, and begin the important life-long journey of mastering feedback to improve your own leadership effectiveness as well as your peoples’ and team’s performance. Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 1: Let’s Start with Why

Feedback: An Acquired Taste

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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