Leadership is Learning
I have been in leadership positions for the majority of my professional life. Last spring, I concluded a 32-year career with the U.S. Federal Government and made my way into the private sector. The team I joined in the private sector is comprised of industry peers, so I’m not in a current leadership position, but always retain the Marine’s attitude of leading from where I stand. I’ve had several months now to look back on a long career of leadership successes and failures. I’m watching and learning in a new environment as I see young leaders around me and senior leaders make the same types of mistakes that I’ve made over the years. Having an opportunity to really conduct a self-assessment requires downtime like what I’ve been experiencing. It helps to broaden the lens and focus in on missteps in the past. Here are the first in a series of leadership imperatives for those willing to step into the fray.
Leadership Reminders for the Seasoned Professional (Part I):
Strategy and Vision statements are as important as ever. Leaders need to express their vision vocally and in written form to their teams. People need a compass. Teams need a true north. Here’s the trick; you don’t get to simply hold up in a room and deliver these gems from the mountain top just once. Strategy and Vision (especially) need to be vocalized frequently. This repetition provides the constant reaffirmation that teams need to understand where their effort and productivity are headed. Reinforce these concepts constantly and be the champion in every opportunity presented. I have failed at this in many past experiences and now from the distance I can absolutely see its importance.
Senior leaders need to delegate. Ostensibly you have already proven yourself, so you don't need the pat on the back you needed as a young professional. Getting a major project across the finish line or achieving a notable success will be shared amongst the team, but your speed, agility, bandwidth and ability to cover serious ground all lie in your ability to delegate major portions of the project or effort across the talent within your team. You cannot move fast if your intent is to shoulder all major projects so that you received the nod for the ultimate accomplishment. In fact, true leadership and joy comes from seeing others stand up at the end knowing their ideas and effort are a major part of the victory.
Communication is vital to momentum. If you are not consistently communicating or “checking in” on your teams they are bound to veer off course. I used to think that short notes infrequently to your teams or during important moments were critical. Nothing has changed as I look back on this practice. In fact, I would say, especially in today's global/remote environment that the occasional note from leadership is as important to the day-to-day as anything. The technical nature of todays workforce makes this easy. Tools like Zoom, Skype or WebEx make it easy to conduct period meetings with your team. Additionally, during particularly difficult times this communication can help to settle discontent and fears of the uncertainty of the future.
You’ve gotta break some eggs to make an omelet. I know, a tired expression, but you have to implement, try and assess to see what works and what doesn’t. If you constantly whiteboard the subject without putting boots on the ground you will never know the validity of ideas. I have actually become a fan of the phrase often used in Silicon Valley which states "Move Fast and Break Things." When teams are allowed to try and fail getting to the promised land tends to happen much faster.
Leadership is an exercise in collisions. I’m just wrapping my head around this for sure. Uncertainty is the parent of many negative outcomes. When people are uncertain, they become stagnant and idle in their pursuits. Leaders have to find a way to frequently and consistently engage their teams, peers and superiors. It's much harder to participate in the day-to-day of the teams we lead or to get tunnel vision only paying attention to whats in your wheelhouse or portfolio when your peers are carrying similar loads up the hill. You have to engage in more than just the outcomes and important moments. Sometimes, sometimes you will need to show some interest in how the sausage is made. This was a lesson learned in the USMC, but have gotten lazy about over the years. Troops don't expect leadership to fill the sandbags, but you better check in on them while they're doing it. The same goes for the folks on your right and left.
Boy, I wish I could have gotten it right every time, but that is not reality. I have failed frequently and enjoyed some success. It's only through experience, failure, success and observations that you get to learn and grow. I will be ready the next time I’m up at bat, to learn and grow; hopefully succeed if the stars align.
MK Palmore is a seasoned Leader and Security veteran and is available for speaking events. You can engage his strategic advisory services and follow his ongoing blogs at www.mkpalmore.io