The Changing Face of Military Operations
In a recent address to the graduating class of the US Air Force Academy, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, took specific aim at emerging threats in cyberspace. His point? The warrior’s environment is changing.
What message does this send to the prospective leaders of the US Air Force that listened to this message? Changing warfare environments require change in leadership priorities. It the months and years ahead, it will no longer be appropriate to relegate cyber and space warfare to a dark room of technicians. It will require the attention of educated and engaged leaders.
In fact, it will require the attention of intelligent and technically minded people who could change the face of leadership once more. Could this be the end of the football team captain and the rise of the chairperson of the audio-visual club? For my money, I think healthy change will require both ends of the high school social spectrum…
I recently came across a post by Andrew Bryant on his Self Leadership Blog that provided some insight on how to spot unmotivated people in the workplace. From my experience, he’s right on the money – the signs stick out a mile away and can include:
- frequent absences – these can be traced to social events and, as Bryant notes, generally fall either side of the weekend. Remember Office Space – the accusation of missing a lot of work was answered with, “I wouldn’t say I’m missing it, Bob.” Good for a laugh, but true
- minimal effort – these folks are my favourite – they tend to follow instructions right to the letter; no more, no less. I’ve always thought that if you didn’t remind them to breathe, they might just pass out
- back of the pack – next time you have a meeting that can potentially result in work assignments, have a look towards the back of the crowd. You’ll find them there, hiding behind more engaged people, avoiding eye contact; after all, if they can’t see you, you can’t see them, right?
There’s no question that the disengaged people exist in almost any organization – specialized groups like Doctors Without Borders, Special Forces, MI-6’s Q-Branch from James Bond are probably immune do the high reliability nature of their work and the types of folks they attract and screen for. After all, unmotivated people don’t tend to run a mile in under 5 minutes or do 100 push-ups in a row. Or become brain surgeons. But for most of us, these people can be found within our spheres of influence.
OK, so you found them. What do you do about them? Most organizational cultures have ways and means of getting their employees’ attention. Most of these ways and means are meant to provide a solution for the organization and are administrative in nature (written warnings, performance reviews etc). Most of these ways and means actually fail to address the problem, and dare I say it, tend to make the problem bigger for the individual. So placing the manager’s process-driven handbook with all of its flow-charts and consequence tables aside and putting on a leader hat (mine is white with gold trim), we need to find other options. Some of the strategies that I’ve found successful include:
- Getting to know your folks. This means going deeper than “nice tie” or “how’s the project coming.” It means actually knowing things about them that go beyond cubicle number and arrival times. How many kids do they have, what interests outside of work, what stresses them out, etc. If you exercise some people skills, you can get a pretty accurate picture about the person you’re dealing with, and more importantly what might be causing them to hang back.
- Hand out some responsibility. I’m not suggesting you hand over the keys to your office to the guy who takes Fridays off. I am suggesting that you give them some specific responsibility to the team that causes them to have to perform. Couple this with positive feedback for the small steps that are done right and emphasis on learning points for things that are not going as well as hoped can help somebody turn a corner. After all, anyone who has ever been on any team knows that actually contributing to the goal with people relying on you is a powerful motivator. It’s one thing to let down the manager, but another to let down your peers.
- Have an open discussion about the work environment. Honest approaches go a long way. Sit down and mention some of the things you would like to see change (about the workplace, not the employee) and ask them what they think. If you can get them to talk and you do your part by actively listening, you may discover that some small changes can make all the difference.
If, in the end, your leader hat fails to get the desired result you may be forced to take the other, less optimal options in the managerial handbook. But in my opinion, a good leader is bothered by motivational failures and uses them as a learning tool for the next time.
The very first thing that a leader understands is that he or she isn’t a manager. Sure, your job may have some management components; we all suffer from the constraints of finite resources. But don’t get suckered into thinking that you are a manager, for this is the way of the process-driven automaton. Leaders, according to Seth Godin in his fantastic book Tribes, deal in the business of change. Managers, conversely deal in the building of widgets. And who in the world doesn’t like a good widget?
A couple of years ago in Halifax, I attended a talk given by Canada’s current Chief of Maritime Staff (head of our navy for those land-locked folks out there) , Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden. One of his key points focused on leadership and this quote sticks in my mind – “You have to light a fire in your people, not under them.” Was Admiral McFadden the first to coin the phrase? I have no idea, I just know that it stuck out from all of the other talking points of the day. But it makes sense. It makes sense because if you are a leader, you want people to not only to follow you towards whatever goal you are aiming at, but to involve themselves along the way.
If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering what the heck can I expect from this blog? For starters, you can expect a dialogue about communications and leadership. You can expect that I will be always looking for examples of both and trying to tie them together, for I think they go well together. Think about it, haven’t you ever had a boss that can’t communicate his or her intent? Or while, being of sterling character, sends emails that unintentionally divide your team due to their complete lack of people skills? Or have you seen (or been) someone who instinctively knows how to get a message across in the most amazingly clear manner, but couldn’t manage to convince a co-worker to follow them across the street? Even out of curiousity?
What makes me qualified to blog about leadership? Or communication for that matter? I don’t make widgets. I am both a leader and a communicator. As a naval officer with almost 20 years experience, I have had the opportunity to lead teams ranging from small sections of 10 to a department of 60. I have also had the opportunity to work for some amazing leaders. The one thing the good leaders had that set them apart was great communication.
What do I want to get out of this blog? I want to see a meaningful discussion on command. Not just as it pertains to military cultures, but as a larger concept that encompasses both leadership and communication. I want to learn.