Friday, May 3, 2013

Guest Post: More On Leadership

More On Leadership
Colonel Donald J. Myers USMC (Ret)

I recall talking to a good friend in the Corps years ago when he assumed command of a Marine unit and was visiting subordinate elements of the command. At one of the subordinate units, he asked the officer in charge about the morale in the unit and the answer was that he would have to get back to him. Needless to say, that particular officer did not last long as the leader in that subordinate unit. There are all sorts of means to check on the effectiveness of a unit without spending a lot of time, and it applies to any type of organization.

It is amazing what one can learn by just walking around, looking, listening, and talking to personnel. There is a show on TV called Undercover Boss. The boss goes to subordinate elements under disguise in an effort to learn what is really going on in the organization. I have a better method. Get out of the office and spend time with the troops or employees and listen as you watch.

Most good books on leadership talk about taking care of the people in the organization and eliminating anything that prevents them from doing a great job. There are organizations that put together a group of known individuals who have been very successful in a variety of endeavors such as military, business, sales, and government. They are offered as people who can assist in teaching others how to be successful and how to lead. These groups go to various cities and offer their expertise.

Businesses spend a fortune on trying to develop leadership by sending employees to seminars, schools and other programs. They measure their effectiveness by how much they spend rather than checking to determine if any of the programs have made an impact on the people that they sent to the various programs.

I believe that the best method of developing leaders within an organization is through personal example and creating an environment where subordinates want to excel and assume more responsibility. Far too many leaders are micro managers and dictate every step. They do not present a vision, but rather a road map that must be followed to the tee.

Many of these micro managers love to have meetings that are routine but lack direction. Meetings must be agenda driven and time constrained if they are to be productive. When a took over an aerospace company, it had several conference rooms that were always full of people attending meetings. The supervisors went from one meeting to the next and lost control of their particular element in the company. When I assumed control, I talked to all of the supervisors and spoke for about five minutes and then said that from now on I wanted a hand written note on my desk immediately following any meeting outlining what was the purpose and what was accomplished. The stupid meetings came to an end immediately. Now the supervisors could regain control of their elements.

Employees or troops appreciate and respond favorably when they are recognized as more than just an entity. How do you respond when the boss recognizes something that you did or a special day in your life such as a birthday or anniversary? Some have the secretary send a card, but that is not enough. A hand written note attached shows that it was not just something that good leadership says is a good idea. 

There are those who believe that leading in the military is much easier than in the civilian world because the commander has the ability to punish. If that were true, then all the units would be superb. That is not the case. Superior units are created because of superior leadership. If the troops do not care for the leadership, they will do enough to stay out of trouble but nothing more. The unit will be adequate and nothing more.

What makes this such a great country is that the majority of our people respond favorably to effective leadership and perform well beyond what is required when that leadership is positive, directed, practiced by example. The opposite may be successful for the short term, but it eventually will fail.

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