It turns out, we are all not perfect and we do make mistakes, and here is one of my more glaring leadership mistakes. It has to do with planning and quitting on my team while deployed to Al Asad Iraq. Here is the back story.
As the Navy and USMC moved out of Al Asad in Western Iraq, the US Army moved in. The west, an open desert with a few cities, had been tamed. The towns of Hit, Ramadi, and towns along the Jordanian and Syrian borders had been quite for some time. So the Department of Defense, tasked a mixed task force, one company of UH60 Blackhawk and one company of AH-64 Apaches, to conduct security and transportation operations in the area. The task of leading this thrown together band of misfits went to an Apache Major. The authority and command and control structure was weird. He would "lead" us in all day to day operations, but our Blackhawk Battalion Commander, stationed some 120 miles away, would still be the final say and approval for missions.
Time came for annual gunnery qualifications. An army regulatory requirement yearly, but definitely different when stationed in theater versus at home. At home, there was a dedicated range and targets, varying terrain to qualify the gunners from stationary, on the go and in flight. In Iraq, this was a check the block. A big flat desert with an old bombed out Iraqi tank to shoot at, not nearly the same. But alas, regulations are regulations and we would conduct our qualifications.
Here in the lied the difference, what a Blackhawk unit does, throwing some small arms machine gun rounds down range from your door gunners is vastly different than what an Apache does, armed with missiles, rockets, and 30mm machine gun. Here your pilots are conducting the major part of their mission, become effective weapons of destruction. With Blackhawks on the other hand, our crew chiefs manning small caliber machine guns was made for self-defense. Now don't get me wrong, I love a well-organized and effective gunnery range for the crew dogs. They can be a difference maker and be a great last resort in support of infantry on the ground. However, again, these "ranges" in Iraq were far from effective and well planned.
I was tasked with the planning and coordination and to give the brief to the Apache Major. It was pretty simple. We would start at a hover, call for the engagement, conduct movement forward at a certain heading then circle back and conduct the pass by. After one door gunner was "qualified" (we really had no way of confirming other than our instructor crew chiefs saying, "the looked effective on the target," we would repeat the same for the other crew chief. All seemed simple, or so I thought.
I pretty much gave this brief to the Major and expected little push back, because he really gave us much and trusted us since he was not very familiar with lift operations. Boy was I wrong, I struck a chord with the hole chest bumping, machismo gunnery thing with a man whose whole mission was to blow things up. He wanted a powerpoint presentation, range fans, engagement start and stop lines, etc, etc. Man, we were shooting at an old tank in the middle of the desert, in a war zone, with nothing around. I tried to reason with him, but he wasn't having it.
I decided I would show him the hard way, if he didn't want common sense to prevail, all our crew chiefs would become unqualified and be grounded, therefore, we wouldn't be able to fly and conduct our mission. All Western Iraq air lift support would cease to exist.
My boss, who was stuck at another base because of bad weather, finally returned and asked about the progress. He had already known about the progress it turns out from talking to the Major, but he wanted my story. After listening to me vent, he recommended I get the crew chief instructor more involved and let him help plan. So as I sat down and talked with the instructor, he was more than happy at the opportunity to show his abilities. Here, I was taking for granted the work I felt was extra and not empowering someone else the opportunity to grow his career. Boy did I feel like an idiot.
Needless to say, the instructor put together a detailed plan that went above and beyond the briefing requirements. The Major was satisfied, the instructor had proven himself, and the team could go out and execute the gunnery and ensure we could conduct combat missions in the future. Pretty simple. My boss was a great leader, he handled the situation above perfectly by listening and recommending. And afterwards, he was honest, he said, "You hit resistance and quit, which could have cost the team." He was right again!
The moral to this leadership failure story is:
1- Listen and guide, like my boss did for me
2- Don't ever quit, continue to find ways to get your pitch effectively across
3- Empower, you don't have to do everything yourself
4- And plan, always have a plan for everything, it may seem simple operationally, but it could have a strategic impact!
My first tip in my leadership series comes from both personal and instructed experiences. The best part is that it is something simple, and in today's society of email and social media, it goes much further. Taking a few extra minutes and a few extra bucks may just show how much you care and value your employees, and in return, they are more likely to go that extra mile.
This idea was first floated by me while getting my Master's in Educational Administration from SUNY Albany. Our guest speaker, who was a school principle, shared a story about when he wrote some letters home to the parents of some of his teachers. Yes, 30, 40, and 50 some year olds, with parents ranging from the ages of 60-80. He shared the value that each son or daughter (the teachers) brought to the organization and the children they instructed. Even at the age of 80, parents still would go show friends and family and brag about the good their child was doing. Of course, this information circled back to the child. Imagine, you are 50 years old and your 80-year-old mother calls to tell you congratulations for being a good teacher and that they are so proud of you...powerful! Now, this teacher is motivated for being recognized for the great work they have done, and they are smitten about the relationship and conversation they had with their parent.
I decided to take a similar approach while deployed to Iraq. I pulled the next of kin information and hand wrote a short letter home to the love one of each of the 39 people I helped lead in our unit. See, often while deployed, you do not share what you really do and you usually do not brag. "Oh, you know, just another day, nothing major." So I shared the greatness that each individual did for the organization. And yes, it circled back around. Some thought I was doing it for punishment, haha, but most were happy that I shared the information. When we returned from deployment, I even got some thank yous from the parents and spouses for sharing such wonderful information. Everyone was proud of their spouse, son or daughter for serving and they bragged about it!
Finally, you can tie this all into business if you want to talk dollars and cents. How, just ask Chewy. I moved to small town and didn't have the dog food options I wanted anymore, so I began purchasing from Chewy. It basically was a necessity. However, as the first Christmas rolled around, my wife and I received a handwritten letter from Chewy. Now it claimed to be from the founders, which I believe to be unlikely, but someone took the time to write it. It thanked us for using them and asked to continue to provide feedback before wishing us happy holidays. That one or so minute it took to hand write that card, just ensured customer loyalty.
So this is my tip to consider. Do something for your employees. Do not just send an email, as we are numb to those, but show you care with a handwritten letter to them or their families. This will show you care, you know what they have done for the organization and that you know who they are and their family outside of work. If you invest in the time in doing this, I can guarantee it will go a long way!
I have been getting feedback for a success story in the corporate world. Could this be that we are cynical? Or maybe there isn't many success stories out there because there are not many good leaders? Well, I dug and found some good news, positive leadership stories. This first one hits close to home, literally. I will look at Chobani (headquartered in New Berlin in upstate New York, not far from my birthplace of Albany. I mean the CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya attended SUNY Albany, the same school I received my master's from. So, it is only natural I start here.
Some would say he is an anti-CEO, perhaps even a socialist. Perhaps he just cares and believes to reward those who deserve it. Perhaps it is his background as a farmer and immigrant from Turkey that connects him with his employees, his community, etc.
Let’s look at some of his contributions to start.
1- Paid off student lunch debt on numerous occasions. Do a quick google search and find two payments off the bat, at over $100,000. Nothing to a CEO or a $1.5B business, but a lot to two school communities and the individuals in debt. It is an amount that does not make headlines but makes a difference and shows he cares...his whole intent.
2- Gave 10% of company stock to employees before going public (average of $150,000 per person- based on tenure). Imagine a $150K bonus for being a committed employee, sure beats any Christmas bonus. Giving back to the people that helped build a $1.5B organization out of once feta cheese farmer. It is taking care of his people for what they have done and inspiring them to not only continue that drive, but to do even better.
3- Has donated over $2M in support of refugees around the world. Call this his soft spot for being an immigrant. But it also shows his personality and caring for people. He takes a stance on his passion and that is key, his passion. He has emotional intelligence and connects with others in and out of his organization as a human-being who puts his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us.
4- He is flipping the script on what a CEO and big business stands for...and this is the people and communities they are located. He says, "It’s time to admit that the playbook that guided business and CEOs for the last 50 years is broken. Spreadsheets are lazy. They don’t tell you about people, they don’t tell you about communities. But unfortunately, this is how too many business decisions are made today.” Call it old fashioned, but he is playing less off analytics and more off gut feeling. Is it really a gut feeling when you are interacting and engage with your people who are telling you want you need to know?
In a recent interview, he stated the four major principles that guide him:
1- Express gratitude to your employees. “It’s your employees you take care of first, not profits." It’s their work -- not just yours, CEO, and not just your capital, investors -- that makes your company successful. Support the people on the frontline, they and the customer handle and therefore contribute most to your product success. Look no further than sports, who gets the big pay days in football? The quarterback (14 of the top 15 salaries), and why? He touches the ball pretty much every play on offense. He controls the product on the field.
2- Be involved in the community. Corporations come into communities asking, “what can you do for me?”, demanding tax credits and other incentives, he pointed out. But it’s the other way around: communities are the ones doing businesses a favor by welcoming them in, and businesses should give back. “Go search for communities you can be a part of, ask for permission, open the walls and succeed together.” You can spin this into a business positive. Go to where the talent is, acknowledge that community has the skill and talent you need and support it. This works better than waiting and waiting and waiting for talent to come to you. Look at Chobani, offices in rural farm land. Why? That is where the source of the product is and the talent of people who understand that source and how to maximize it.
3. Act responsibly. “Businesses, as citizens, must take a side." Companies cannot be neutral on the big issues of the day. For Chobani that issue is immigration. Refugees and immigrants are now 30% of Chobani’s workforce, he said. “Business, not government, is in the best place to make a change in the world." Taking a stance on your values, your plans, and your goals means something. Again, spin this into a positive. Business A, waivers from plan to plan, quarter to quarter, day to day, fire to fire. Soon, there is no direction, no guidance, no leadership, just a group of people reacting. Business B, sticks to the business plan, the goals and values they have established for a reason, often sailing through turmoil, having strategies to change course if necessary, but holding true as long as possible. The captain gives direction to the shipmates and all work together to keep the ship sailing on course. Now that sounds much more like leadership and going with the new trend.
4. Be Accountable -- to the right people. “The CEO reports to the consumer, not the board." For the first few years, the customer service number of yogurt cups was his own personal phone number. Doing right by customers, by employees and by communities will grow the business and allow it to do right by shareholders -- as a consequence, not as a primary goal. “This is the difference between return on investment and return on kindness, profit and true wealth.” Take care of your people and the rest will shake it out. Also, connected with point A, the consumer touches your product next to the most, so they should be your next focus. And this is all tied around a holistic approach of wealth and what it means to be wealthy.
What does Hamdi sound like to you? A smart person, good leader, good businessperson? Anti-CEO or Servant Leader? Let me know what you think.
"There are four words that, when said, will bring out the best in your team, your employees, and your family. They are: I believe in you." -Coach K
Whether it is building a team, establishing trust, motivating, holding individuals accountable, or whatever the reason, these four words are powerful for any situation. You can easily relate this to business via Jim Collins and "Good to Great." These are your people and your team, employ them with belief and trust. You hired them for a reason, so believe and trust in them.
So why believe in Mike Krzyzewski anyway? Most winningest NCAA basketball coach of all-time 1132 wins and 344 loses, 5 NCAA championships, 5 Olympic Gold Medals, 3 Naismith Coach of the year awards, college basketball hall of fame inductee, and 5 year Army Officer. The man's credentials speak for themself as a winner and a leader.
People make mistakes, but in order to improve, this is a necessity. But in order to make mistakes, employees must have an opportunity. In order to have an opportunity leaders must believe them and understand they will make mistakes...all of this is in order to get better, to improve and develop the individual, to improve the team, to win! And that doesn't matter what industry you are in, the more time you spend developing individuals, the better chance you have at accomplishing your business mission and key performance indicators.
"I believe in you" instills confidence and confidence ensures that individuals or teams will: get things done, will monitor their progress, will ensure they do the right thing, become more aggressive and fearless, will follow through and will think and plan long term. Think about this as your team...now think about the alternative out of your team: hesitance to get things done or not getting them done at all, not worried about accomplishing key performance indicators or progressing, do what is easy, never following up on tasks and leaving them at the will of others and only working the here and now. Which group sounds better? You can instill confidence by saying and truly willing to believe in your employees.
My challenge to you leaders, one time a day, step away when you feel like you need to make the decision. Start with letting your employees making the decision, but then follow up with the words, "I believe in you!"
Listening, perhaps more important than ever in today's society. Lets be honest, how many of you post something on social media and then not read the comments or even worse, look for specific responses to either argue with or confirm your own opinion?
"When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But when you listen, you may learn something new." -Dalai Lama
It seems with all this technology to help us communicate, we are getting worse at it. We are not listening to others opinions to learn, think differently, assess the situation, but rather, only as means to confirm what we think we already know. It is not only social media, it is your personal relationships, it is your boss, it is the random checkout person, IT IS YOU! It is certainly me, especially when I feel crunched for time with what seems to be a never ending task list. To be better leaders, spouses, subordinates, human-beings, we must stop and listen, forget all the other things going on in life, and focus on that person in front of you. You may learn something, you may change the way you think. Prime example, rewind 10 years. I would have laughed at you if told me to do you yoga. I would have laughed at you if you suggested I eat Paleo or Keto. But I opened my eyes and gave them a try and became on convert. I took my wife several tries, but she was relentless and I finally LISTENED!
So if you strive to be a better boss, a better leader, a better follower, start listening. Dale Carnegie wrote basically a whole book about it, which is ageless. Here are his principles summarized with my comments
Okay, okay, so I do that and I am now a good person, so what? What does that have to do with leadership? First of all, go back to my post on empathy. Had I not listened, I couldn't have been empathetic. Second, I am a servant leader, and in order to serve those you lead, you need to listen to them. Employ their ideas, take care of them (goes back to my Bill Belichick leadership post), value opinions to generate the best outcomes, the list goes on. Any Stanley says it best, "Leaders who don't listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say." Now you have only one track thinking, which even if you are machine running on lean six sigma principles, there are still wrongs and errors, but chances are, without other people's opinions, you are going to be wrong a lot more often. Furthermore, you will begin to corrode other leadership principles such as: Trust, work ethic, motivation, drive, responsiveness, etc. By not listening, you will create your own cancer.
So I am going to leave this post shorter than most...because rather than continue to share my thoughts, I am going to go out and listen to others!
The following is my analysis of the article posted here... https://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/13/bill-belichick-leadership-rules.html.
So why this article? Why sports? Why Bill Belichick? The man is a proven winner obviously. He has taken personalities and managed to get them to buy into the system, stay out of the lime light and effectively become a team player. So why not? As for sports, two reasons, I love sports! Two, sports can cover the grey area of the business world and the military world. It is a for profit business, money is exchanged and there are strategies for running organizations. On the field however, it is Xs vs Os, just like the military. In the military is Blue vs Red, but it is the same war-gaming concept. Therefore, I feel sports is a nice transition to bridge the communication gap. Specifically in Bill's case, who grew up around sports and the military. He watched tape at Annapolis when his father was an assistant coach. You can still see his connection today, as he builds condition and teamwork amongst the Patriots by conducting training with the US Navy Seals.
I pick Belichick because he is humble and hungry. He states he knows "little" about leadership. Guess he keeps getting lucky with all those Ws and Super Bowls! This article sums up the following five principles:
1- There is only one sign in the Patriots locker room, "Every battle is won before it is fought." -Sun Tzu. There is that business to military comparison again. So what does that mean. Plan, plan, plan, prepare, prepare, and prepare and the battle fought is easier. Even in the corporate world, when you can control and dictate things (let's say raw material for example, you are not left reacting to your enemy, or in this case, an external supplier potentially). The ability to analyze and see things before they happen in order to control your own destiny. Bill leaves a window for the ability to adjust on the fly. However, to do this, you must be an effectively organized team in sync.
So here I am picturing a UH60 Blackhawk Air Assault Battalion, conducting an air assault, when the main avenue or route becomes compromised. A code word is announced, and the flight of 20 helicopters seamlessly maneuvers to the alternate route to maintain the element of surprise and maintain control of the battle. This ability to adjust was not an exact part of the plan, but the battalion used another plan to implement a portion. Likewise, it was executed because the team started by practicing individual skills, before conduct training as a flight of two, then four, then 8, and so on. But before this, they conducted a 10 mile run together, slept in the field and suffered together, supported each other through families, etc.
Perhaps more easily said, build your team with mentality to ruthlessly plan and prepare with ability to quickly adapt if that plan fails.
2- Bill defines dependables as those that are confident and consistent. Maybe they are not as flashy, maybe they don't bring in the big sales. But when things get down to the nitty-gritty , they plain old get things done. Avoiding those peaks and valleys will help your team stay more cohesive and allow each person to build that trust that is necessary for adapting on the fly.
3- Requires you to step up and take charge. In the story about Belichick telling the mouthy player to shut it and listen, what he is refer to here is accountability. He was holding his player accountable to pay attention in the meeting. He could have not said a thing and perhaps the player would have missed a play call, or a block, because he did not pay attention. Bill and that player would have been just as accountable then as they were during the meeting, he just chose to nip it in the butt earlier.
To military personnel, this really becomes second nature. With a rank structure organization, if there is more than one person standing around, the highest rank has to step up and take charge. Couple that with the fact that in the business of national defense, accountability or lack there of, could cost lives. The ability to be the boss is something you will get with most prior military personnel.
4- I don't need to go much further than this (you can see my previous blog on empathy). Even big stars need to have a work-life balance, and no matter how much you want to sell it to yourself, they intertwine and are inseparable. Therefore, Bill believes in helping his players sort out personal issues, so they can be 100 percent focused on the team, the game, and the mission.
Though I will not say that this is common to all military personnel, most of us get this, especially those of us who have deployed. When deployed, life moves on without you back home and sometimes things happen. You want to see someone effected, visit those deployed! They have no control whatsoever, but have to live the consequences and find a way through the situation. Good leaders recognize that and take them out of the fight to take a knee, again, because an unfocused team member could cost the lives of people if a mistake is made.
5- In a day of analytics, it sounds crazy right. Don't get big headed over your accomplishments sure, but maybe don't take every piece of data to heart. The past is the past, rather spending time analyzing it, focus more on the present and the future. Prepare for the sale you have now, the parts you need to make for your customer now. Then you can circle back to #1 and begin building that team to get be better in the future through planning and preparation.
You can see that, although used in sports, these principles resonate in both the military and the business world, so they certainly are lessons that all leaders can follow, I mean wouldn't you want to be the best and have your team considered the greatest of all time? I know I would!!!