Take Command: Leadership Lessons from A First Responder

Rescue Helicopter At Sea

Not many of us will face hostile enemy fire in foreign lands.  We won’t lead a team to intervene in humanitarian situations, nor will we need to manage a crisis with lives literally on the line.  Still, the leadership principles from these experiences are adaptable and applicable to all of us.

Jake Wood served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, earning numerous awards for his distinguished service.  He has been named a 2012 CNN Hero.  In 2010, he co-founded Team Rubicon, a non-profit organization focused on disaster response. The organization gives military veterans a purpose as they intervene in various humanitarian situations.  His new book Take Command: Lessons in Leadership offers a unique perspective on how to lead a team through any situation. 

 

Build a High-Impact Team

How do you build a high-impact team?

I think first you have to understand the critical value of having the right team.  Oftentimes people think that process trumps people; or willpower triumphs over interpersonal dynamics.  That’s just not the case, so understanding the need to build a high-impact team is the first step.

 

“Passion trumps talent, but culture is king.” –Jake Wood

 

I write about five components of building a high-impact team in the book, but I’ll just highlight two.  First, we have a saying at Team Rubicon: Passion trumps talent, but culture is king.  When we’re looking to add team members, we aren’t looking for resumes laden with accolades.  We’re looking for things that demonstrate passion.  We try to start that weeding-out process from the get-go by having really quirky job postings.  We demand that only the most awesome candidates apply and generally warn about how underpaid and overworked any candidate who is accepted will be.  If someone reads that and applies with a resume and cover letter that screams, “Bring it on,” then we’re on the right path.  The second part of that saying though is critical: Culture is king.  Passionate and talented people abound, but are they right for your team?  We’ve had high-output, high-passion people in our organization before who were total cultural misfits.  They proved cancerous to the morale of the organization, and we had to eliminate them despite their talent.  Nothing derails morale faster than a poor culture fit.

 

“Nothing derails morale faster than a poor culture fit.” –Jake Wood

 

The second thing I’ll highlight in building high-impact teams is roles.  My football coach at the University of Wisconsin, Barry Alvarez, always talked about roles.  “Know your role!” he’d scream time and again.  What he meant was that starter or backup, star quarterback or water boy, we each had a role.  Furthermore, each role was critical to the success of the whole–the team.  Some were more high profile, others received more praise, but damn it, if we didn’t have new cleats on our shoes when we went to play in the rain, then nobody was going to succeed.  Effective leaders communicate the importance of roles throughout all levels of the organization.  When people understand and embrace their own role, they tend to take more pride in its execution and are more likely to hold others around them accountable for the execution of theirs.  That’s a win-win.

 

“Effective leaders communicate the importance of roles throughout all levels of the organization.” –Jake Wood

 

Cultivate Trust and Transparency

Trust is crucial on the battle field, as a first responder, or in business.  How do you cultivate trust?

When I talk about developing trust, whether from my time in the military or in Team Rubicon and the corporate world, I talk about three things: training, transparency and trials.  When everyone is trained to a common standard, then people feel like they can operate liberally, knowing that everyone around them is competent in the execution of the functions necessary for mutual success.  My time in the sniper teams was a great example of this.  When our team needed to call in close air or artillery support from a unit we’d never met, never worked with and often didn’t speak the same language as us, we needed to know that that unit was trained in the same protocols and to the same standard as we were.  If that wasn’t the case, we might hesitate to call in a life-saving artillery mission, or worse, we might call it in and have an artillery shell land in our foxhole.

cover.takecommandTransparency is critical because it levels the playing field.  When people feel that they have access to the same information as their leadership, they feel like they are empowered to come to the same conclusion.  Secrets naturally breed mistrust.  Naturally, some information within a corporation needs to be held in confidence, but to the extent that information can be shared, why not?

Finally, I often talk about the need for a galvanizing trial or tribulation.  The best teams come together in times of duress.  Those periods reveal what’s necessary from each member and displays each member’s respective worth.  Getting all the chips on the table allows a true assessment of one another, and that’s critical for truly coming together.  The Marine Corps attempts this in boot camp with the “Crucible” exercise, but nothing compares to the first time a unit gets in a firefight.  Doubts about who is capable of what disappear, and suddenly the team is flooded with unwavering trust for one another.

The Dangers of Always Trying To Be Right At Work

bigstock-Businesswoman-in-bright-office-49013006

In a previous post, I shared how the joy of being right can often be wrong.  Trying to be right at all costs comes at a surprisingly high price.

  • We waste time and energy.
  • We damage relationships.
  • We refuse to listen to the other side.
  • We cause others to stop sharing freely.
  • We stop listening as we develop arguments.

 

“Choose being kind over being right and you’ll be right every time.” –Richard Carlson

 

For all of those reasons and more, being right is not always worth the cost.

When you are right, what happens?  Others applaud your brilliance!  They nod to you as you pass them in the hall.  A gleaming trophy arrives for your new corner office, allowing everyone to know that you are “RIGHT.”

Ah, no. Not exactly.  Pretty much none of that happens.

It’s far better to allow others to be right.  Let little offenses pass.  Save the disagreements for the big things.

 

“Celebrating accomplishments is one of the fastest ways to change a culture.” -Skip Prichard

 

That’s my advice for individuals.  It happens in organizations, too.  When an entire organizational culture is centered on being “right,” what happens then?

You will find a culture:

With more meetings. Instead of having a conversation about an issue, everyone works hard to be correct.  That means that there are meetings to prepare for meetings to prepare for meetings.

With longer meetings.  Everyone needs time to share the “right” point of view.  Everyone needs the microphone to prove her point or to highlight his knowledge.  And we need time to point out the flaws in everyone else.

5 Ways to Increase Trust in the Workplace

Building up trust concept: Black alphabetic letters forming the

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask James M. Kerr a few questions about culture, trust and engagement.  Jim is a Partner at BlumShapiro Consulting. He is a business strategist and organizational behaviorist.  His latest book is The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change.

Increasing Trust

 

You cite studies showing that trust in business is at an all time low.  What do you do to reverse that and increase trust?

It’s really up to the senior management team to set the tone and do what is necessary to build a high trust work environment.  Some of the ideas that I discuss in The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change to reverse the trend include:

 

1.  Place Focus on the Outside

The competition lives outside the four walls of the organization.  In-fighting just wastes time and energy and can contribute to distrust.  Placing focus on the competition allows a firm to put that energy to good use and diminishes the time that staff dedicates to internal politics and positioning.

 

“Focus on the competition to diminish the time dedicated to internal politics.” -James Kerr

 

2.  Make It a “No Spin” Zone

Management must set an expectation that all of the business dealings of an enterprise are done with the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in mind.  Eliminating “spin” improves transparency and enhances trust.

 

“Eliminating spin improves transparency and trust.” -James Kerr

 

3.  Don’t Play Games

If you play games and pit one group against another, you’re encouraging others to follow suit.  Play the work setting straight-up, with no innuendo – just honesty.  Trust will follow.

 

“Play the work with no innuendo – just honesty. Trust will follow.” -James Kerr

 

4.  Do Your Job

It’s our job to ensure that everyone knows what success is and what their role is in achieving it.  Once that is established, attention must shift to making sure everyone “does their job.”  This focus contributes to establish a high trust work environment.

 

“Ensure everyone knows what success is and what their role is in achieving it.” -James Kerr

 

5.  Do Your Best

Expect the best and people will rise to the occasion.  As they do, confidence will rise accordingly.  The need to play games and be deceitful will lessen and trust will fill the void left behind.

 

“Expect the best and people will rise to the occasion.” -James Kerr

 

Creating a Winning Culture

What’s Your Leadership Legacy?

Adult Hands Key To Child

 

Do you think about your leadership legacy?

What type of culture do you want to leave in your organization?

As a result of your leadership, what will remain long after you left?

 

Andrew Thorn is a business coach, consultant, and psychologist.  He has recently written Leading With Your Legacy In Mind.  I had the opportunity to ask him about his new book and leaving a leadership legacy.

 

The Importance of Legacy

Why did you decide to write about legacy?

My father passed away when he was 65 years old.  I was born when he was 30, so many of the important events of my life happened 30 years after they did for him.  When he died, I had an overwhelming sense that I was next in line.  This caused me to think about my legacy and the impact that I was making.  I asked myself if I was satisfied with my life, and the answer was no.  I began to make some changes and that included writing about the process of creating a legacy.

 

“Leadership is the act of making things better for others.” -Andrew Thorn

 

What is Leadership?

What’s your definition of leadership?

Leadership is the act of making things better for others.  When we live by this definition, all of us, regardless of our formal title or lack thereof, can engage in leading with our legacy in mind.

 

“Discussion is impossible with someone who claims not to seek the truth, but already to possess it.” -Romain Rolland

 

What is the “arc of leadership”?

The “arc of leadership” represents our own maturation as a leader.  It helps us remember that life is a circular experience and that it is difficult for us to see it as a whole.  When we pull out an arc, or a part of that circle, we can study it and understand it more effectively.  Each arc calls us into movement and improvement.

 

“The measure of a society is not only what it does but the quality of its aspirations.” -Wade Davis

 

Where To Spend Your Time

I’m interested in your view of balance.  Your chapter on this subject is called “From Balance to Focus”.  What does this mean?

A very lucky person, over the course of a 45 year career, will spend about 117,000 hours at work (average of 50 hours a week working), 131,000 hours sleeping (average of 8 hours a day sleeping), and 65,000 hours (average of 4 hours a day) taking care of personal responsibilities.  This scenario would leave the lucky person with a little more than 50,000 hours to use however he or she wants.

Unfortunately, most of us work longer, sleep less, encumber life with unnecessary personal responsibilities and then find ourselves too tired to make our free time matter.  Just by looking at the hours, we can see that there is no way to balance the number of hours between work and life.  We need to work to provide for our needs.  Instead of trying to balance the time, we must spend time focusing our efforts into meaningful work.Andrew Thorn

The time we spend at work is the time when we are most awake, most alert, most focused on what we want, most productive and most engaged.  Once we focus on where we want to work and how we will contribute what we know we must contribute, we find ourselves full of energy at the end of the work day, which in turn means that I can use my 50,000 hours more effectively, too.

 

How do you coach clients to understand ‘purpose’?

I think it is important that we understand that purpose is a moving target.  In other words, purpose is different during the different seasons of life.  Sometimes we hang on to a purpose for too long or we let it go too soon.  This is why we must be constantly evaluating what we find to be meaningful.  When we connect to meaning, our purposes come into focus, too.  When we can see purpose for what it is – the guiding force of why we do what we do, then we can begin to also know what to do.  I use one or two questions to connect my clients to purpose: (1) Why do I want to do this? & (2) If this were my last day, would I still be willing to do what I am about to do? Once these questions are answered, there are very few doubts about purpose.  I don’t want to make it any more complicated than this.

 

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -John Quincy Adams

 

From Success to Significance

 

Let’s talk about one of the leadership arcs: moving from success to significance. How do you help coach someone in this area?

Tips for New Graduates: How to Start Your Professional Life

Competition In Business

This time of year is full of graduation ceremonies, resume writing and job searches.  It seems everyone is looking for good advice for those just starting a new career.

I recently asked Robert Dilenschneider
  for his advice for those just starting a professional career.  Robert is the founder and Chairman of The Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations and communications consulting firm headquartered in New York City. He is the author of many books, including the best-selling Power and Influence and the newly-released The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life.

 

Find the Right Culture

 

Most job seekers think, “I just want to get a job anywhere” but you point out that finding the right cultural fit is important.  Why is it important to know the culture of the organization you are potentially joining?

The cultural environment of a workplace can be critically important.  If the core beliefs, value systems, and behavior patterns of many of the people one works alongside of differ perceptibly from yours, you will never feel at home, be able to perform at your highest level, and move upward in the organization.  That is just a realistic fact of workplace life.  Taking a job “anywhere” can upend one’s career track significantly.

The Critical First Years of Your Professional LifeWhen you are outside looking in, reading the recruiting materials and looking at the website, how do you figure out the culture?

Figuring out a firm’s culture from the outside may not be easy.  Cultural climate and identity have to be experienced directly.  But asking the right questions of a future employer, or of anyone you may know now working at a particular company, could be very helpful.

Let’s talk about the boss. You say, “Every day when you go into work, you want to determine — quickly — where the match is between your bosses’ goals, strengths, and weaknesses and yours.”  What is a “match” and how do you find it?  How do you create a good relationship and the right fit?

Again, verbal exchanges with your boss or manager are essential.  But colleagues, who’ve been working at a specific job longer than you, can probably be a font of valuable information about the person or persons one reports to — their likes and dislikes and, most importantly, their on-the-job objectives.

 

Work the Grapevine

 

Working the grapevine is not something that most of us learn in school. Why is this so important?