A recent post by Constantine von Hoffman caught my eye and brought back some memories. Three Leadership Lessons I Learned in the Army talks about his experiences at Fort Knox, Kentucky going through the same military training I received back in the early 1970’s.
I particularly enjoyed his reference to “Stripes“, which is one of my favorite “slob comedy” movies, because I know most of the locations in the movie first-hand and the characters, while broad, bear some resemblance to people I knew at that time in the military.
Nicholas pulls three good leadership lessons from his experience, which I repeat below along with my comments. I also throw in three more good lessons from my military experience:
1. Troops eat first, officers eat last.
Following this guidance has been one of the best things I have retained from my military experience. Making sure those who follow you receive attention first is simply one of the best ways to show you really care about their well-being. Beats the snot out of snazzy t-shirts and “Casual Friday” policies.
2. Always ask the sergeant.
True this. Sergeants run the Army and seasoned non-commissioned officers in other branches are vital to their services as well. In every organization, people exist who are capable, know how processes work, where the glitches are, and who influence others to either respond or not respond to the organization’s direction and leaders. These key people are harder to name in civilian life, but just as important to respect and collaborate with on an equal footing.
By the way, if you screw over one of these key people, you may make a short-term gain, but as we used to say, “They got more ammo, more guns, and more time.” Your leadership career will grind to a halt at some point if you do not understand and respect your key people.
3. Lead, follow or get out of the way.
I’m not as enamored of this one, because I have seen some people abuse this phrase by using it to ram their own agenda down other’s throats through intimidation. However, when action is required, these are the only practical choices. In our organizations, we sometimes mess up on that “get out of the way” thing:).
My three additions, which are more in the self-knowledge vein:
4. You can run further, sleep less, and haul more than you ever thought possible . . . especially when you are given no other choice.
I accomplished more while really tired, hungry, and stressed than I had ever believed myself capable of doing. In addition to just staying awake, moving, and making sense, I learned that physical strain and deprivation are only details, not the critical factor in decisions. We have more intellectual ability than we give ourselves credit for.
5. People respond to authority, but you have to prove yourself first.
As a brand-new second lieutenant, I experienced the feelings of pure smugness of youth with power and at the same time being scared stiff that everyone would see I did not have a clue. While I had authority and responsibility, I lacked a certain self-confidence. Once I made a few decisions and acted on them, I found out that I could do so without the event ending in total chaos. I was able to soldier on with more self-confidence.
Being a new supervisor or manager is much the same.
6. When you are really in command, you don’t have to tell someone to do something. If you lead, others will follow.
One of my favorite sayings with a military twist did not come from my military experience, but from a non-profit organization years later. Several of us were discussing a newly promoted young manager, who had leapfrogged past a few folks (including me) into a position just subordinate to the president.
As we discussed how well he was doing and the almost total lack of hubris that he displayed, one person said “You can’t see it, but there’s brass on those shoulders.” This reflected the person’s ability to radiate a sense of quiet authority without seeming to “push his weight around.” He just acted as though he was in charge, which he was:). Expectations are important.
Another valuable trait for a young leader.
So what experiences do you draw on for leadership lessons?
Remembering basic training in the Heartland . . .