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

They Must Become Greater, I Must Become Less: On Leadership & Humility

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“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

─── C. S. Lewis

Whenever the topic of leadership and humility comes up, this is the quote I immediately turn to. And while this idea can certainly stir some inspiring emotion in us when we talk about it, it is also easy to do just that…merely talk about it. Our lives are undoubtedly checkered with plenty of experiences involving selfish, self-centered, and arrogant leaders.

To be transformational, to be leaders of character, and to develop other leaders, we must be humble leaders. This does not mean being weak or timid. It’s exactly like C. S. Lewis states above – how can I think less about myself as the formal leader and more about my people in every situation I can. This type of thinking and style is proving more necessary in 21st century leadership. We need to lead through teams of teams, where we likely don’t have all the information and we are likely not the most skilled person in the group in many different ways. We must create engaged teams where we can solicit diversity of thought and ideas up, down, and across the team.

This is best enabled by humble leaders. Continue reading → They Must Become Greater, I Must Become Less: On Leadership & Humility

Engaging Generation Z: A Military Perspective

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

By Patrick Hinton

Know Your Audience

Retaining soldiers is a perennial problem for military forces the world over. It is a central topic in the British Army in the face of a difficult recruitment environment.  Much stock is given to the fluid nature of employment in the modern world, with a focus on younger generations. This has necessitated a discourse on how best to retain troops who look for more than a steady wage and job security. My interest in the topic was spiked by a 2018 War on the Rocks article by KC Reid which is worth a read if you have a spare ten minutes. Reid makes the point that approaches to leadership must take into account the different age demographics which make up the military.

Much has been made of the different approach to work and life of millennials, and more importantly, Generation Z, which organisations are having to coming to terms with. Broadly, Gen Z encapsulates those under 25 years of age which captures the vast number of junior soldiers and officers serving today. The more fluid conception of career and authority identified in younger people is particularly important for the military, which is necessarily hierarchical. Moreover, it has a career management structure generally based on a 15-20 year term, rather than the 3-5 year periods favoured by a younger demographic. As such, all organisations including the military must work hard to provide engaging employment. This demographic sees no problem is leaving an organisation which is not meeting their expectations. Continue reading → Engaging Generation Z: A Military Perspective

We Need to Talk About Our Peoples’ Engagement at Work

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Would you confidently state that your people are highly and consistently engaged at work? I think many of us would naturally respond with yes, myself included, but we unfortunately see too many data points that prove otherwise.

Within my military experience, I’ve found that the #1 identifier on how engaged Soldiers are with their work and training at any given time is counting the number of cell phones currently out distracting them from training, work, and the unit’s mission. This is a universal problem though; we can walk into any large business within any industry and see similar disengagement challenges. During my recent holiday travels, I was fascinated to see the extent of employee disengagement that permeated across multiple airports.

The bottom line is that many of our people are not actively engaged in their work or committed to our team or organization. In Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace report, only 15% of employees worldwide are engage in their jobs.

That’s a problem. And it’s a leadership challenge. Continue reading → We Need to Talk About Our Peoples’ Engagement at Work

Are Our Loyalties Misaligned? We Must Define Our Levels of Loyalty.

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We don’t talk about loyalty very much and what it means within our teams. Thus, many leaders and our teammates are unclear about what loyalty truly means and what it should look like in our organizations. But this value is vital as it is part of the essential bedrock that mutual trust is built upon. Our teams will not get very far in results or development without loyalty to one another and to the organization. There’s an issue if we are unclear about such an important organizational dynamic and value.

The U.S. Army establishes loyalty as one of its seven core Army Values; this is how the Army defines it.

Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit and other Soldiers. Bearing true faith and allegiance is a matter of believing in and devoting yourself to something or someone. A loyal Soldier is one who supports the leadership and stands up for fellow Soldiers. By wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army you are expressing your loyalty. And by doing your share, you show your loyalty to your unit.

It is interesting how this definition offers several things and people that Army Soldiers must be loyal to: The Constitution, the Army as a profession and organization, the subordinate unit(s) we are members of, and our fellow Soldiers. What happens if our loyalty to one of those conflicts with our loyalty to another? I believe we can find ourselves in situations where our loyalties battle against one another, forcing us to choose loyalty to one thing/group over another or an individual versus our unit.

This is why it is important to define our levels of loyalties – being clear on what and who we are loyal to, and which loyalties take precedence over others. Continue reading → Are Our Loyalties Misaligned? We Must Define Our Levels of Loyalty.

Shared Leadership Series: Developing and Diagnosing Your Team

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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

Shared Leadership Series: Important Team Dynamics for Leaders’ Attention

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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

Shared Leadership Series: Targeting Three Essential Team Culture Artifacts to Form an Effective Team

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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

Shared Leadership Series: Developing Effective 21st Century Teams

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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.

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 tasks. GEN (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal argues this in two of his popular books, Teams of Teams and Leaders: Myth and Reality. It is also critical for military units to successfully operate under the U.S. Army’s Mission Command philosophy. A shared, team approach to leadership is essential today for a few reasons: Continue reading → Shared Leadership Series: Developing Effective 21st Century Teams

Leadership and the Need for Perpetual Optimism

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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