Posts Tagged ‘service’

5 Things I Learned Flying a Desk

November 22, 2011 9 comments

Leadership staffMy first real job as an Army Aviator was as a junior staff officer in an Attack Helicopter Battalion. Instead of helicopters and soldiers I was given projects and paperwork. Instead of employing combat power, I was employing PowerPoint.

My turn in the cockpit would come—and it would go—but the lessons I learned in that first staff job have stuck with me to this day. Here are 5 things I learned early on:

1. The BLUF Principle. BLUF stands for “Bottom Line Up Front.” Every communication (e.g. memo, report, message, etc.) should start with what’s most important. Forget the structure they taught you in English class, get to the point, then—once you have their attention—share the pertinent background, analysis, and exposition.

2. Execution trumps planning. A poor plan executed brilliantly is always better than a brilliant plan executed poorly. As a planner, don’t go for a brilliant plan. Instead, set people up for brilliant execution. Often that means creating a simple, elegant plan that’s easy to understand, easy to communicate and easy to believe in.

3. Leaders are everywhere. Your best leaders aren’t necessarily the ones getting the most out of people on the front line. They may be the ones in the back room helping part-timers understand how the mundane and seemingly inconsequential tasks they perform everyday help ensure the success of the entire organization.

4. Don’t sit on information. The longer you take to process and pass on information—any information—the less time everyone down the line has to think, plan and act. Information is the fuel of informed decisions, do everything you can to maximize the time decision makers have with critical data.

5. Those bastards at Squad HQ. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at in an organization, the folks at the next higher level will seem like incompetent idiots who only exist to make your job—and life—miserable. Get over it. Assume positive intent and give them the benefit of the doubt. Make time with them face to face on a regular basis to have open and honest discussions.

What did you learn from working on a staff?

The Servant Dictator

September 26, 2011 8 comments
servant leader


600 years before the Roman Empire ruled from the moors of Britain to the sands of Egypt, it’s predecessor, the Roman Republic, was almost destroyed. In 458 B.C. The neighboring Aequians attacked Rome—and the army sent to defend the fledgling city-state quickly found itself surrounded.

The city panicked. The Senate decided to appoint a strong leader with absolute power—a dictator—for a 6-month term. They chose Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus—a disgraced, bankrupted ex-politician who was forced to work his own farm west of the city.

Cincinnatus accepted the dictatorship and sprang into action. In a single day he raised, outfitted, and organized an army consisting of every able-bodied man in the city. He marched the army out of the city, rescued the besieged Romans, and defeated the Aequians at the Battle of Mons Algidus. Then, after returning to Rome in triumph, he did the most unexpected thing.

He resigned as dictator and returned to his farm.

Think of all Cincinnatus could have done with absolute power. Exacting revenge on his opponents in the Senate. Advancing this political agendas and causes. Regaining his social and economic status. But Cincinnatus saw his position as a service, not an opportunity.

All too often Servant Leadership is associated with being meek, democratic, or soft. Cincinnatus, the Servant Dictator, the reluctant—but ruthless—warrior, shatters all such notions. Servant Leadership is deeper than a style or approach—it’s a belief, a different way of looking at the whole concept of authority.

What does “servant leadership” mean to you?

5 Temptations Every Leader Faces

August 18, 2011 3 comments

leader selfLeading is treacherous work.

Like Odysseus sailing past the sirens we are constantly lured toward rocks and ruin by charming melodies that seem as harmless as they are desirable. They start small and innocent, but if not resisted, can destroy a leader.

Odds are you won’t face all of these temptations at once. Depending on your personality and preferences, you may easily avoid some, while others will continually harass you.

There are at least five temptations every leader faces:

1. Respect from others. Being respected isn’t a bad thing, but a desire to be respected that ferments into a need to be respected can have devastating results. That need for others to see you and regard you in a certain way, may cause you to attempt to become something or someone you aren’t. Combat this temptation with authenticity. Be yourself—nothing more, certainly nothing less.

2. Praise from others. Again, nothing wrong with being recognized for your accomplishments. It’s only when the desire for recognition starts driving your actions that trouble seeps in. It may start with not correcting an exaggerated report of your contribution, but it soon morphs into hoarding and taking credit from others. Fight this temptation with generosity—give away as much credit as you can whenever you get the chance.

3. Success at any cost. The ability to deliver results is a common expectation among leaders. However, it’s not the only measure of excellence. How you achieve those results is important. When the accomplishment of our mission supersedes the principles and values we stand for, then we lose our identity and purpose. Resist this temptation by clinging to honesty. When you fail, don’t just move the goal posts; assess reality and adjust as necessary.

4. Power over others. Every leader has—and uses—power over others. And that’s fine. Alarms should go off only when you start to see yourself actively trying to lord power over others just for the sake of having it. At that point your motives have become selfish and you’ve lost sight of why leaders exist. Battle against this temptation by cultivating a service attitude.

5. Target fixation. Focus is your best friend when it comes to successful execution. However when your focus is so narrow that you lose sight of the big picture, things starts to fall apart. Whether you’re neglecting one market for another, ignoring individual needs to accomplish a mission, or letting your family down while you concentrate on your career, it’s never sustainable. Avoid this temptation by maintaining perspective on your life and work. Schedule times to step back and take a holistic view.

Awareness of temptation is half the battle. If you sense one of these temptations is sucking you in, fight back—cling to who you are, be generous, tell the truth, seek to serve, and keep an eye on the big picture. These disciplines will help you navigate the potential pitfalls that every leader will face.

What other temptations are common to all leaders? What’s the best way to fight them?

Achieving Escape Velocity

August 2, 2011 5 comments


grav·i·ty (ˈgravitē) n. The natural force that attracts a body toward the center of any physical body having mass.

Years ago, while traveling in Australia, a SCUBA trip I had planned fell through, so on a whim I found a skydiving school and asked if I could skydive that day.

The bloke across the counter picked up a ball-point pen, held it 18 inches over the sign-in sheet, and let go. As soon as the pen hit the paper he looked up.

“Yup,” he said, “Gravity’s working today.”

The earth’s gravitational pull is so ubiquitous that we hardly even notice it. We don’t think twice about the force that keeps us planted where we are, prevents the air we’re breathing from floating away, and even slings the moon around every month.

So what’s this have to do with leadership?

The earth isn’t the only thing that pulls on you. There are many things that tug on you and those you’re leading. Here are a few things that have a subtle and powerful gravity all their own:

  • The Status Quo. You’ve felt this force before. Whenever you attempt even the slightest change, you are immediately met with a resistance—a gentle tug drawing you back to the way things used to be, the things you know, the way it’s always been before.
  • The Ordinary. Ordinary is easy. It’s where people are nice and performance is fine. Most people mull around here, where their best hope is for a brush with something more. Some emerge for a moment, only to be pulled back down. It’s tough to maintain the extraordinary.
  • Your Self. The gravity of your self is the most faint and ferocious of all. At best, it appears as your need to protect and justify yourself or to be respected. At worst it can collapse into a black hole of addiction that brings everyone around you down as well.

In order to slip the clutches of the earth’s gravity, rockets must reach what’s called escape velocity—the speed at which a projectile will no longer fall back to earth or settle into a closed orbit. Escape velocity is the speed of freedom.

People don’t stumble into outer space. In the same way, people don’t accidentally escape the gravity of the status quo, the ordinary, or themselves. It takes planning, purpose, and courage to break free from the way things have always been, to achieve something truly extraordinary, or to lose yourself in service to others.

That’s where you come in. Your job as a leader is to help people achieve their escape velocity.

What’s pulling you down? How will you achieve escape velocity?

How to Drive Clarity as a Leader

June 22, 2011 4 comments

leadership clearClarity is a leader’s best friend.

Think about how fun and rewarding it is to serve a leader who’s providing clarity. Think about how miserable and frustrating it is on a team that lacks it.

All the marks of an exceptional leader—authenticity, initiative, trust, courage, insight—stem from clarity.

Being clear with yourself about your purpose and core values enables you to answer tough questions, make quick decisions and act with confidence. Being clear with others engenders trust and guards against misunderstanding, thus reducing friction and frustration.

As a leader, I strive for clarity in three main areas:

• Clear Thinking. When I get bogged down by unnecessary distractions, my team suffers. I need to keep focused on what’s important in the moment—our purpose, our people, the problem at hand. Exercising, eating right and getting enough rest all help me think clearly.

• Clear Communication. Poor communication can negate great leadership. It’s that simple. I could have the best vision, best solution, best intent, best plan—but if I can’t communicate it clearly, none of it matters. Understand your receiver and deliver a message on their terms, not yours. Aways get a back brief.

• Clear Conscience. Transparency and authenticity go hand in hand. The more clear and open you are with other people about your thoughts, feelings and ideas, the more believable and trustworthy you become in their eyes. And the easier it is to sleep at night. We waste so much energy maintaining our personas and facades.

As leaders we deal with ambiguity every day, but where you can, strive for as much clarity as you can with the resources you have. It’ll make life easier for you and those you lead will love you for it.

Where else do you think clarity is important?

The 5 Qualities of Elite Teams

May 6, 2011 4 comments

Leadership TeamsThe world has been captivated this week as details emerge about the US raid to “kill or capture” Osama bin Laden. Of particular interest is the Navy SEAL team that silently slipped across the Pakistani Border, overcame unexpected challenges—including a downed helicopter, completed their mission, and all returned home safely.

In addition to our gratitude, I think they’ve once again earned the moniker “elite” team.

I’ve been on a lot of teams in my life—everything from pick-up basketball teams to air combat teams. Not all of them have been what I’d call elite. When I look back at the best teams I’ve been on—whether in sports, Boy Scouts, military, business, even my marriage—I see five things they all share in common:

1. Deep Trust. The individuals in a team must trust one another. I’ve written about this here. The extent to which they trust each other is the extent to which they will contribute: 100% trust yields 100% effort. 50% trust yields 50% effort. It’s that simple.

2. High Standards. I’m talking about the quality of team members as much as performance. Demonstrating that you have high standards—not just saying you have high standards—not only breeds excellence in execution, but stokes healthy pride while differentiating your team from the rest of the pack.

3. Strong Commitment. Whether running a sports camp for refugees in the Gaza Strip or developing contingency war plans for potential hostilities on the Korean peninsula, the commitment of the individuals involved made all the difference on those teams. And here’s a secret: Commitment is contagious.

4. Worthwhile Purpose. Each of the teams that came to mind were struggling for something of significance. They were inspired and energized by the high stakes environment they were a part of. They knew they were making a difference.

5. Shared Suffering. Last but not least, whether it was designed or not, the elite teams I’ve been a part of have each endured hardship together. Sometimes it’s a disappointment or defeat. Other times it’s struggling with limited resources or with not being understood or appreciated. Whatever it is, it bonded us together even tighter.

Each of these qualities serves to forge a team identity—an identity that feeds, even as it is fed by, the individual members. From my experience, as you increase the intensity of any of these qualities you increase the quality of your team.

Which quality does your team need help with today? What’s missing from this list?

Can You Teach Social Media Skills?

April 18, 2011 8 comments

Tweeting Leadership“Can it be taught?” 

She asked me point-blank. She’s swimming upstream, trying to get her leaders to properly engage in social media—to capitalize on the potential. I hear this a lot. Some leaders won’t even consider it. Others stumble in awkwardly trying to peddle their wares and services from day one. The question was honest.

“Can you teach someone social media skills?”

“Yes,” I said, “however…” The caveat:

There are two types of rookie social media fumblers: The ones who have trouble connecting with others in any context and those who just aren’t used to this new environment.

For those who generally can’t connect with others, they need to grow their social muscles. First, they must see the need—they must understand why connecting with others is beneficial—both for themselves and for the people around them. Then they need to review (or learn) the basics. You know, the kindergarten stuff:

1. Treat others as you want to be treated.

2. Listen before you speak.

3. Don’t try to be something you’re not.

4. Smile.

5. Tell the truth.

6. Share what you have.

7. Help others out.

The second group, those who are just uncomfortable in new media, need to use the social muscles they already have. I freely admit that social media isn’t for everyone. However, before one can honestly make that decision, I think one should understand what social media really is.

Social media is simply another context for humans to connect with one another. Fundamentally, it’s no different from having a pen pal, calling your mother, or meeting someone for lunch. All the basics—including those listed above—still apply. My advice to social media novices:

1. Go hang out. Listen. Listen some more. Learn the language, the culture, the customs.

2. Don’t even think of selling anything.

3. Help. Give away something valuable—not the whole farm, mind you—but something worthwhile.

4. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy others. Build real relationships with people.

5. Be smart. Don’t give away sensitive or secure information.

6. Find a mentor or twelve. Find someone to follow and emulate.

7. Learn the tools and develop a strategy.

Bottom line, social media skills are just social skills. Whether it’s tweeting or public speaking, anyone can learn to connect if they believe in the benefits and are willing to do the work.

What advice would you give to those just diving into social media?