A couple of months back, through pure happenstance, I stumbled across the U.S. Army Leadership Handbook on Amazon. At the moment I have a pretty big waiting list for books, so it took me a little while to get to it, but once I did, I was truly blown away by what a leadership gem this book is.
I’ve been fortunate to spend a great deal of time with many leaders from the military community. Throughout the years, I’ve begun to learn what a misconception there is about leadership in the military. For us civilians, we perhaps have the preconceived notion that military leadership is comprised of quite a bit of yelling, structure, and order-dictation. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Sure there are times when intense yelling and orders are required, but is in fact quite a collaborative setting that focuses on developing individuals and an incredible amount of decentralized command.
A few years back, as I was spending time with a recently retired high-ranking member of the military, we got into a deep discussion about leadership styles and found out that the best leaders in both the military and business communities share a core belief about leadership: there is no single correct leadership style, but rather the right leadership style is the one that the person being led best responds to. Think about that for a minute. Leadership isn’t about the leader; it’s about those being led. It makes perfect sense, but far too often we see the opposite play out as egos and pride get in the way. To that end, if that’s the belief in the military world where the stakes are so terribly high, then it absolutely must be true in the business settings where most of us find ourselves.
As I read through the U.S. Army Leadership Handbook, I was struck not simply by that misconception, but by how directly applicable the lessons in this book are to leaders in all settings and facets of life. Today, I want us to take a peek at Chapter 1 of the handbook as there’s enough in that chapter alone to keep us busy for quite some time.
Note that the book is notated much like Meditations by Marcus Auerelius, so sections are listed as X-X as seen below.
“1-2: Army leaders motivate people both inside and outside the chain of command to pursue actions…”
This is a HUGE issue for business leaders. They somehow have this idea that their “team” is simply those within their organization or under their chain of command. Absolutely not. As leaders we must hold ourselves up to be examples and leaders for the entire organization, not simply those we work closely with. Our responsibility is to anyone and everyone.
“1-3: Values and attributes are the same for all leaders, regardless of position…”
No one is above the rules and standards of the organization. We’ve all seen this play out in the news, as we see countless examples of unethical behavior for executives. This isn’t limited to unethical behavior, however. Think about your own organization and how executives take liberties with things such as being late for meetings or outright missing meetings. Little things like this are not so little, and send massively harmful signals to the rest of the organization. When you are a leader, the standards of the organization apply MORE to you. There is no leeway. There are no shortcuts. There are no gray areas. Be the example.
“1-6 New challenges facing leaders, the Army, and the Nation mandate adjustments in how the Army educates, trains, and develops its military and civilian leadership.”
Things change. Organizations change. The minute you or your organization stop changing and evolving is the minute you die. It’s that simple. As a leader you must constantly keep a pulse on how things are changing and how that aligns with how you want them to change. Leadership is about constant adjustment, all made possible by leaders maintaining the humility that allows them to appropriately self-critique. There will always be a new challenge, and as leaders we must anticipate these and prepare our teams for them.
“1-6 Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization
Wow. This is one powerful statement. Leadership is about influence. We could easily read right over that without grasping the full magnitude of that statement. As a leader we move people through influence. In order to do so, we must effectively motivate these people. What makes it so hard is motivating around a current operation, while keeping an eye on the future (improving your organization). That can create problems for leaders who can become too tunnel focused. Think about it, how frequently do we become so focused on our current jobs that we turn a blind eye to the future. It’s probably more than we care to admit. As a leader, you have to fully grasp the responsibility associated with this. You have to crave it. Without that, you’ll never be doing your team a service.
“1-7 Personal examples are as important as spoken words”
We cannot overstate this fact: you have to be the leader you admire. The example you set will far out-perform any words (good or bad). I’ve seen the smartest, most eloquent CEOs struggle because they said things that should have made perfect sense, but the way they conducted themselves didn’t inspire confidence or respect among those in their chain of command. Nothing could be more fatal for a leader. The way you act and the way you treat people will spread much faster – and more dramatically influence – an organization than anything that you say ever will. Make sure you are working each day with this in mind.
“1-8 Purpose gives subordinates the reason to act in order to achieve a desired outcome.”
Just as we talked about in 1-6, we need to motivate subordinates. The best way to do that is to weave a sense of purpose into what they’re doing. When people feel they’re on a mission that has meaning and is bigger than themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. Don’t simply tell you team to do things. Provide them the reasoning and purpose for the direction they are heading. That will make all the difference.
“1-10 Providing clear direction involves communicating how to accomplish a mission: prioritizing tasks, assigning responsibility for completion, and ensuring subordinates understand the standard.”
The best teams are typically the best organized teams. The more organized something is, the more mental bandwidth we can devote to creating solutions. Within your teams, you must establish clarity at all costs. Ambiguity will kill teams and organizations.
“1-10 Providing clear direction allows followers the freedom to modify plans and orders to adapt to challenging circumstances.”
This is tough for people. Few executives or leaders naturally empower those around them. But we must provide freedom to do so. If we as leaders have created clarity, ensured that our teams clearly understood the goals of the mission, and adequately prepared them for this task, we should be comfortable with our team members having the freedom to make judgement calls in the heat of the moment. I once worked with a CEO of a Fortune 100 company who exclaimed “No one can make a decision but me!” That told me everything I needed to know about him.
“1-12 A leader’s role in motivation is to understand the needs and desires of others, to align and elevate individual drives into team goals, and to influence others and accomplish those larger aims.”
Once again, leadership is not about you. It’s about those you’re leading. You must understand these individuals on a personal level so that you can best prepare for and motivate them to achieve the team’s goals. This is not about you, it’s about those you influence. A lack of humility in this department can undermine an otherwise effective leader.
“1-16 Improving for the future means capturing and acting on important lessons of ongoing and completed projects and missions.”
Leaders are in an endless cycle of improvement with no finish line. We must be constantly evolving and finding ways to better ourselves and our teams. To do this, we must be both introspective and retrospective. We must take a sober look at our previous work and look for areas of improvement while capitalizing on successes. Just as athletes watch film (I also recommend that everyone in a business setting watch film of their presentations), we must be constantly evaluating our performance.
“1-17 Developmental counseling is crucial for helping subordinates improve performance and prepare for future responsibilities.”
Those under your command must know what role you are preparing them to move into next. It certainly plays into how motivated they are, but it’s also healthy for the organization. Organizations must grow and develop the people within it, or they are going to become stagnant and see a constantly revolving door due to turnover. Organizations can’t thrive with turnover. The true sign of a leader is how he or she develops those under their command to take the next steps in their careers. The bonus here is that even if they don’t always stay with your organization and contribute to it, the fact that you develop people will continually attract talented people to your organization. That’s a huge win.
As you can see, Chapter 1 by itself could keep even the most immersive leadership class busy for quite some time. I can’t recommend this book enough, and it will certainly be something I suggest to all aspiring leaders. I’d love to hear what you think. Shoot me a message here.