I get asked from time to time the following question: “How do I develop better leadership skills?”
It’s a good, honest question. Too many times in our iconic, selfie-driven, trophy-for-participation society people find themselves in a leadership position with no idea on how to develop their skills beyond what they’ve seen in a movie or observed in their jobs to be effective. Like the oft-seen graphic below, some folks think that behaving like MGySgt R. Lee Ermy in the movie, “Full Metal Jacket” is the way to lead. For those that harbor that illusion, you couldn’t be more wrong. All you have in the case of a NPT is ‘moral’ authority. That is, that authority that is given to you by the team members. They can pull it just as fast as they give it, and you’ll know when it happens, because they either vote you out or simply quit…en masse.
The result usually seen is the so-called leader has become nothing more than a petty tyrant who points a finger, gives a direction (many times not well thought out), and yells/screams, berates those he or she leads for not performing fast or well enough without providing methods or solutions to become better team members. This same person will always blame the team members when it self-destructs rather than look at the real cause: Poor leadership. Many times so-called, ‘leaders’ don’t understand that being respectful to team members will be returned and that there’s a time and place for ‘dressing down’ team members, and a simple rule governs those times: Punish in private–praise in public. Ok, great, but what, then, is the foundation of leadership? More than the foundation, the cornerstone of developing better leadership skills is simply this:
Be a good team member and/or follower.
If you can’t follow direction, you won’t be able to give direction, either. At least not for long. Whether you’re a subordinate leader or simply a team member, and you follow someone up your organizational chain with passive/aggressive or otherwise disruptive, disrespectful or negative behavior, why should anyone follow you any differently when you become a team leader or a group leader? If you’re the kind of team or group member that undermines the team leader when it’s not you giving direction or coming up with the plan of action, what can you say when someone on your team undermines your leadership? Being a good team member and supporting the leader doesn’t mean you’re an ass kisser, either. It means that so long as the leader is asking you for compliance and performance on things that fall within the scope of your group/team, you do it no less than 110% (translates to ‘with everything you’ve got). If you can’t agree with what’s going on, and it’s a matter of style versus substance, talk to the leader privately, find out the ‘why’ and then, if you still can’t support it, leave in a courteous and respectful way. Why? Because leaving a team with the objective of destroying it demonstrates is petty, immature, and demonstrates that the man leaving in such a manner cannot be trusted or depended upon in any SHTF/WROL situation.
The first element of developing leadership skills is strictly knowledge and performance based:
Possess competence in the general skills by the group being led.
In small groups, leaders tend to be the trainer as well as the performance evaluator in most endeavors. Meaningful (read this as being able to provide constructive performance improvement feedback to a team member) evaluation cannot occur if the leader is not competent in the area he or she is training and evaluating. This next element ties in very closely to the first:
Lead by personal example.
Simply put, you have to become tenacious when pursuing team objectives or goals. Let’s say your NPT standard is a 16 minute mile with a 65 pound pack for 3 miles. 48 minutes. You, as the leader, should be doing enough PT and practice walks so that when the ‘official’ walk happens, you are pulling 46:30 total times. If you’re a fit man not yet into your 60’s, maybe you should be pulling 45 minutes. The point is that you shouldn’t be dead last. You should be inspiring your team by your own performance and drive. Obviously, when you cross the finish line and time is called, you’ll have earned your water and rest. But do you? Not if you are a leader focused on the team members. You drop your ruck, jog/fast walk to where the slowest team member is and bring them in while providing encouragement.
The team only has to observe this once, and it will become a custom, slowly but surely, and the team will police itself, ensuring all ‘fast movers’ go back and encourage the slower ones. The slower ones will, by obligation to the team, pick up their PT and performance so they, ‘don’t let the team down.’ All due to leading by example. I’ve seen this happen for both small and large teams with great success. It’s not just rucking, either. Any skill or task practiced or performed by your NPT can be influenced in the same manner. If you, the NPT leader, don’t set down for your meal before your sub team leaders do, you’ll see them start to wait until their team is all taken care of at meal time. Same with sheltering; the leader always makes sure the team is sheltered before he is. If you’re doing overnight training, you, as the leader, should take a shift of ‘fire watch’ while your team rests. Lead by personal example, and you’ll reap dividends.
Next up is to understand motivation. Where it comes from and what you can do about it, both from a positive and negative perspective. Many leaders falsely believe, especially in an environment that has no meaningful consequences for refusal to perform a particular task or series of tasks, they can ‘motivate’ a poorly or non-performing team member, usually by some sort of ‘punishment.’
The truth is this: Barring the application physical pain (which just might get your behind beat by that team member you’re trying to ‘motivate’) or the ability to provide or remove physical necessities (food, water, shelter, etc), leaders cannot motivate anyone to do anything. Period. End of story. All any leader can do in any situation is to provide the ingredients for self-motivation. To accomplish that, the leader must learn his people: what they value; who they are; what’s important to them; why they’re part of the team; their needs (acknowledgement, encouragement, belonging, etc). Then, the leader sets up the environment the team is working in so the factors he’s learned are in play, and the team members are more likely to achieve or exceed performance goals. The physical need to belong can go far in team members self-motivating, provided they see loyalty between each other and the team leader. It will translate to team members ‘going the extra mile’ to ensure they don’t let the team down.
So far, we’ve covered, competence, personal example, and motivation. In Part II, we’ll talk about ‘leadership style’ and ‘task maturity’ and their relationship in the way the leader behaves with his team.