In my last article I illustrated a failure of a major DoD command to understand the basics of driving subordinates in a healthy and positive manner. I feel like anything that’s completely negative is a failure on the part of the recipient. If nothing else I know I've learned a lot of ways I would never want my soldiers lead from this organization. In an effort to find the positive I wanted to illustrate a few methods I personally feel lead to team success
1. Understand your people:
Not everyone has the same goals and aspirations in life. Some people want to stay operational till they’re forced out in a wheelchair. Other people want to support the latter folks and take another role. Within the intelligence world there is a large swath of breakdowns among the INTs as they’re called. Some of them only work in the field and others only work behind a screen. The magic happens for each INT in a different way but the magic is still there. Even within some of the field disciplines there’s a difference in the agent or officer who wants to work more of the cyber angle or those who want to work out alone in the dark and never see an office.
Sit down with each of your people and understand which one wants to do what. This gives you insight into what drives them, what they enjoy, and how to motivate them. It also shows you care about them and know that not everyone wants the cookie cutter career. Never assume you know what your people want till you hear it from their mouths. Additionally in times of stress don't assume to know what they need. Some leaders will tie a subordinate down in times of stress or hardship. In the airborne when you have a bad jump the most important thing to do is jump again as soon as possible. This was something I forced myself to do after getting blown up. The next day I was sitting on top of the lead vehicle of the convoy because I knew that if I didn’t it would haunt me till I did. Rogues don't run from their ghosts they look them in the eyes and move on.
2. The walk of hate and family dinner:
During an Afghanistan tour we pushed towards the end of our tour to a forward operations base where being strange we were about a mile from the chow hall. After spending day in and day out with the same people for thirteen months you can get on each others nerves. We had a few rules that I feel helped us keep it together and you won’t see them in any self help book. One was what we called family dinner - no matter what was going on or how mad you were we all went to dinner together. You could skip any other meal but dinner was mandatory. In order to get to dinner you had to walk the mile uphill both ways in moon dust and even snow at a few points. During this walk which we called the walk of hate you could say anything to anyone on the team regardless of rank, kick dust, or step on anyone's heels. Looking back this was when we decompressed the little annoying things about each other that were getting on our nerves. If we didn’t like how someone did something we told them. By the time we got to dinner it was all blown off and we were able to reconnect with laughter.
3. Involve your people:
Even when you think you have the answers sit down with your people and discuss the problem set. Each person has their own individual lens of interpretation and you never know what person will give you the insight you need to crack the puzzle. Let your people know what obstacles you face and the impediments you are trying to surmount. Often times as leaders we feel we should keep our people focused on the mission and not share the issues we face. Another view is they may know how to get around those issues or have connections that facilitate mission success.
4. You’re not the smartest person in the room:
Get feedback but make the final decision. Some people understand the power of being in charge to be intoxicating and a false ambrosia only believed by their god complex. If you’re the smartest person in the room you’re in the wrong room. Additionally just because someone is a subordinate doesn’t mean they aren’t highly skilled or educated. Only a fool would ignore the chance to get ideas from more than the echo chamber between their own ears. Listening to other doesn’t limit your ability to make the final decision its much more likely to help you make a better decision.
5. Set your expectations: In some career fields there are rules and then there are flexible points we are willing to take risk on. At some point the flexibility becomes a breaking point and we are no longer willing to budge. If you have a clear line you don't feel should be crossed than make that line clear to your team. It's like the difference between a lit and a ruse. A lie is an ugly thing but a ruse; a ruse is a beautiful thing that seduces us. We don't lie and we don't make promises but we do however offer a ruse now and then. Give goals not directions: It can be as simple as saying meet me at X out of pattern and in unfamiliar place. You will notice that some of your people with find it on their own, some will do research and find it, and some will just say I don’t know where that is. This while simple shows the level of self sustained drive that your people have to complete simple directives. The same person who said they didn’t know where that is will require more guidance to complete objectives look for directions from others.
6. Directions then questions:
As a young infantry PFC I had a SSG call me over out of the blue. I stepped over to him and several other NCOs and went to parade rest saying “Here Sergeant”. He said one word “Push” and I dropped and began doing push ups. After I got to twenty-three he told me to recover. I went back to parade rest and waited to be dismissed. When he just looked at me for a second I said “SSG did I do something wrong?” He started laughing and smacked the NCO next to him on the arm. Ignoring me in-between laughs he told the others “Thats what I like about him, he just does it but if you give him the chance after he will question you. Not till after he does what you tell him to do though.” MANY years later that lesson still sticks with me. The role of the infantryman isn’t to question the orders its to complete the mission no matter if it makes sense to them or not. Asking when its over though is never a bad thing. These are a few things off the top of my head that hopefully you can absorb for your tool box. They won’t all work for everyone and they will likely need to be forged a bit but I hope they find some use for you.