Growing Leadership

What we do off duty says a lot about the type of people we are.  There’s a large population at work that uses their off time to invest in family.  There’s also a good population that volunteers.  Some of our folks volunteer to support digital efforts back in the states running web sites for nonprofits.  Some are known to work behind the desk at the USO.  Others spend their times working through their local congregation to support community members in need.  We have more than a few folks who take advantage of educational opportunities during times between missions.  Other Soldiers use their down time to unwind and watch a few shows or spend time with their gaming consoles.  All of these activities have value and are part of the way we live our lives.

    In the fall the company-level sports teams strap on their cleats and head out to the field.  Soccer and football become the talk during down times.  These sports activities aren’t just a good way to build up someone’s physical fitness, they’re also a great incubator for building leaders.  These teams are made up of volunteers choosing to spend time together to accomplish a goal.  In an environment that doesn’t leverage a rank structure to achieve its goals the skillset to lead becomes significantly different than the environment at work.  Leveraging an individual’s’ inherent motivations to perform, and nest his or her efforts within a team isn’t easy.  The leadership skills for the team captain and coach require expert vision and interpersonal skills.  The people in the captain and coach roles have to quickly build trust and respect of their teammates.

    We had two young men in the bunch who decided to help coach one of the spouses teams earlier the year.  They were proficient in the sport from having played it for years.  It was their passion and they were happy to share their knowledge from playing with a willing audience.  When it came time for the tournament the competition each person wanted to contribute more to the team.  The players brought a more aggressive style of play to their game.  The volunteer coaches similarly brought a more aggressive style of coaching.  This meant they were making more decisions.  The uncertainty and rapidity of those decisions didn’t allow the players to find their rhythm on the court.  People were played out of sync and in positions that didn’t align with their experience or skillset.  This made for a less than positive outcome, but provided a much needed lesson about the difference in roles between a player and a coach.  When it’s tournament time, the players will use their natural competitive spirit to do more and contribute more to their team.  A coach with a well trained team can sometimes contribute more by doing less.  Leadership has to be disciplined to be effective.

I don’t measure these volunteer teams by the score at the end of the game.  Instead I measure the team based upon their improved cohesion and personal improvement.  Did the team create the sort of environment that encouraged the weaker players to arrive early and work on building their fundamentals?  Did the most talented players act in a way that encouraged everyone to bring more than their perceived best to the game?  At the beginning of the season did each person’s personal best improve and did the team’s best improve as well?  Did they magnify their performance throughout the season?

This string of lessons regarding disciplined leadership and motivation for personal/team improvement has parallels on and off duty.  Off duty do we contribute our best to our families, churches, and when we volunteer?  Are we magnifying our output and contributing to our off duty teams?  At work do we do the same thing?  It’s reasonably easy to spot a Soldier who focuses more on team than on self.  They’re often the one mopping or taking out the trash without being asked.  They’re also the ones who spend a few minutes a day learning something new about the Army either by committing to learning a new line of the NCO creed or flipping through the pages of one of our manuals.  When called to contribute, Soldiers with these habits contribute more to the team over time and have an easier time when placed in a leadership role than if they hadn’t prepared at all.

This month we’re working through mission preparation for upcoming exercises while working to transition to a new leader.  We’ve had starfish style leaders at several levels exercise disciplined leadership and disciplined initiative to deliver for our customers the quality of service they deserve.  While we may not be able to address their frustrations with our technology providing high latency communications, we are working to affect everything else.  One of the best techniques we learned is to talk directly to the customer early and often.  These snippets of information sharing help to shape and refine expectations.  They reduce stress of leaders at all levels.  They’re a part of what we do that doesn’t just make us good organization, but a great one.  I’ve already had some of our customers not just call, but stop by our my and say that we’ve has done more to help them develop their comms plan than anything they’ve ever experienced before.

What we do off duty says a lot about the type of people we have in our formation.  We have a population who chooses to learn lessons on and off duty that make them more effective.  We have an environment that encourages more of our Soldiers to choose to give their best and when I talk to our customers that’s one message they’re only too happy to hear.