Have you ever looked at someone in charge of a team working under pressure and wondered, how can he or she be that confident? How can they remain so calm when all they seem to be getting right now is bad news? How do they know which decision is the right one? They seem to – after all they give clear instructions, smile, and move on to the next problem without ever looking back.
Or do they?
As someone who makes a career out of leading teams, I can tell you that most displays of confidence under pressure are the product of high school drama classes. Every one of us suffers from moments of self-doubt, usually found gnawing away at the deepest part of the stomach. Every one of us actually develops eyes in the back of our heads to allow us to look back as we move to the next problem; that’s how the stomach knows when to act up.
A few weeks back I was talking with a friend of mine who worked with me at sea during a huge international navy exercise off of Hawaii. He and another officer had just joined our ship, fresh from a year-long course designed to make them into warfare leaders, known as Operations Room Officers or OROs. Being an ORO can be a tough job – you are responsible to the skipper for almost everything and have to coordinate a huge network of sub-teams and equipment. On top of this, add being responsible for aircraft and other warships assigned to you for the current activity and now, as they say, we are in business. My point? Many people look to the ORO for guidance and direction. He or she is expected to wade through mountains of information to seize clarity in order to provide sane instructions to everyone else. In other words – a busy job with periods of impossible requirements. The key to success? Confidence and experience. And if you have just arrived and don’t have much experience? That leaves confidence… In fact, my shipmates had the same conversation at watch turnover for almost two weeks – “Figured out this job yet?” Pause. “Nope.”
Imagine sitting in a room without windows and coordinating this... Pressure.
The take away? It’s OK to be human and feel like you’ve left your safe zone because leading under pressure is uncomfortable. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or doesn’t understand the question.
Edward Fox as Lt. Gen Horrocks in "A Bridge Too Far"
Over the last 20 years, I have been assessed on my command presence. I have been given vague guidance about what this elusive presence is. I’ve even been told a few times that I don’t have it. Other times I have been complimented on it. But what is this thing, this so called “command presence?”
It’s one of those nebulous concept that doesn’t really have a concrete definition. Command itself refers to concepts like coordination, direction and control. Presence, in this case, refers to one’s force of personality. When I combine these two concepts in my mind, my imagination produces someone 12 feet tall. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across any of these commanding behemoths in my travels, so I guess it’s back to the drawing board. Or is it?
John Baldoni’s recent blog for the Harvard Business Review was all about this very thing – leadership presence. He breaks it down nicely into manageable chunks that serve to reduce my mental image down to a human of average height. He concentrates on some broad areas: situational awareness, confidence, humility, and hope.
Have a read of John’s post. Close your eyes and see if you can conjure up a mental image. Let me know what you see.
Posted in Communication, Influence, Leadership
Tagged Command, Control, Coordination, Harvard Business Review, Influence, John Baldoni, Leadership, Navy, Organizational Success
I just read another great post by Wally Bock on leadership. In his most recent post, Wally takes aim at the management metaphor that is provided by the symphony conductor. Wally provides a great argument against this leadership example; the conductor stands out in front, above his orchestra and exerts utter control. To make matters worse, the conductor gets to take the full credit for the orchestra’s performance – in fact, the conductor is often the only performer to take a bow. When you view it like that, Wally’s right; this model can’t possibly reflect the modern collaborative approach to leadership. Or is he?
Management or leadership?
Consider the concept of the high reliability organization (HRO). These organizations are defined by the price of failure. They are exemplified by places like submarine control rooms, hospital emergency rooms or the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. For these organizations the price of failure is measured not only in big money, but in lives. The people who work in HROs, much like our orchestra, are professionals who don’t need to be told every aspect of their job. They do, however, require someone to coordinate their activities and set the priorities – I can’t see anyone putting together an orchestra, handing out sheet music to provide the goal and then stepping back – the result would be very hard to listen to. In other words, they need a conductor.
Let’s go over the conductor’s role again. As the leader, he or she selects the music – or, perhaps better seen as the organization’s goal – and then sets the tempo. Communicating using nothing but body language, the conductor coordinates the activities of a vast array of highly trained specialists. With a gesture, he or she influences the outcome – bringing in the violins to take over the melody, initiating the flute sections’ counter-melody, reducing the volume of the percussion section so that Swan Lake can continue to awe and amaze. As Wally points out, the conductor doesn’t wade through the orchestra pit to begin moving somebody’s fingers around the strings of a violin. Quite the opposite – as the leader, the conductor steps up so that he or she can see and be seen. Armed with the whole situational picture that cannot be seen by the 3rd flute, the conductor tweaks the machine to make magic.
So what is the conductor really doing? Is he or she conducting a management activity? Nope. When you roll in coordination, influence and communication, the conductor is coming dangerously close to exercising command.
Posted in Communication, Influence, Leadership
Tagged Command, Communications, Control, Coordination, Leadership, Orchestra, Organizational Success, Outcome, Wally Bock