Tuesday, March 28, 2017

On Leadership - A Brigid Post

Back when I was in my late 20's, I had an evaluation for a entry-level leadership position for an outfit I worked for.  It was something in which no woman had ever held the position and certainly not anyone my age.  I'd like to say I was cool and collected but I was nervous as hell.  At any point in the interview, I expected the next thing out of my mouth to be a Homer Simpson utterance of "Beer" or "Donut".   The senior folks read through my resume (oh please, please tell me I used the word "Statistical" and not "Sadistical") and commented on the recent MBA (not my first choice in studies, but I knew that just being a science geek or a pilot isn't guarantee of leadership positions later).  They also mentioned my age (back in those days you didn't have HR breathing down your next going "Good Heavens, Man, you can't ask THAT question?")

After the technical type questions I did OK at - came the deal breaker - "Describe your organizational skills".

I thought of all those classes, I thought of Peter Drucker books and multi-attribute, utility diagrams; I thought of getting a big box of an airplane across a big desert with steam gauges and sweat. One never forget those flights, suspended in space, hanging from a point between mobility and absolutely motion, thinking there is no better job as you chase the wind, knowing it's too good to last. I thought of budgets and acquisitions and purchase orders and how none of them do you any good when you're looking down at miles of open water late one night and the EICAS panel is lit up like a Christmas tree and everyone is looking at you to make a decision before the other one flames out.
All those things I thought, but what came out of my mouth without pausing for breath, was "I once cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 23 pilots including real mashed potatoes and pie without a microwave and everything was hot on the table at the same time."

"Oh, Crap, did I just SAY that?"  I thought as I felt a breeze on my cheek, the ax falling, most likely. What's next, a conversation about dishware and shoes?

But I got hired.  A couple days later I was riding herd on a couple hundred people.  I hoped they didn't all expect pie.
I've been in command positions a good part of my life, on the ground, in the air. I'm not usually just the only woman leader, I'm often the only woman-- period.  I spent the last 7 years as the leader of a group for several years, in a unit, that with one brief exception, had been all male, I was their first female team leader.  I was replacing a former General. .But I tried to show them, through my own work ethic that I was engaged (and I think my email that I was probably personally responsible for the media hyped bacon shortage won them over). I miss that team dearly, all but one Veterans, all strong men, strong personalities. We had some losses, and we've had some laughs (specifically someone in defense that once called a planned Post 9/11 tabletop exercise among various agencies as a  "Practical Exercise Not Involving Soldiers".  Yes, Operation PENIS had us in stitches before someone caught that and changed the name.  But I needed to take a position that didn't have me away from my husband half the month.

I wouldn't trade those years for anything and it's the reason I spent at least two weeks a month away from my husband for several years, not willing to give it up for a desk at headquarters quite yet. My husband too is a leader.  He knows that if he asked-- I'd quit my career in a heartbeat as he is more important, just as he knows he won't ask that of me, for he totally gets it.

These thoughts here tonight, are based on the core principals of military leadership that many have passed on to me by my Dad and my superiors, as well as things I just learned by watching bad leaders as well as making my own mistakes, finding my way.  I revisit them regularly, and with humbleness.
Seek out your strengths and weaknesses, even the ones you can't see yet, and look to improve on those daily.  Do it openly, do it quietly, but each day try to improve on something in which you are lacking and perform just a bit better on those things of which you are skilled.  Teach those with you to do the same.

You can get away with not knowing how to play Dungeons and Dragons but if you are managing people, you must know the latest of technical developments in your field and how to use them to deploy your resources. Never stop learning.

Seek responsibility and take it.  A key leadership principle is that we ALL make mistakes, but it's how we respond to them that separates the "men from the boys", as they say. If you make a mistake and blame someone else, no one is ever going to trust you again  (though some people might be stupid enough to vote for you again).

Your Mom doesn't work here.  If you screw something up, own it, don't wait for someone to make an excuse for you or correct it for you.  If you break it, fix it, if you open it, close it. You are accountable for your actions, you are accountable for your outcomes.
Act with your head, not other parts of the body.  You're angry, desperate or just want to fling a colleague into the next county with a trebuchet? Don't.  Take a deep breath, go drink some cold water and deal with it rationally. Once you've acted rashly or solely on emotion or hormones, you will lose ground you don't get back. If you're already perceived as weak, it can be fatal, as a leader.

The rules that apply to your team, apply to you.  If they have to sort it, document it, retain it, verify it, or fill out 8 forms for it,  SO DO YOU.

Lead from the front. You are setting the example. If you are thinking "just this one time",  or "let's take a shortcut",  "let's just this once, sacrifice a (little) standard", whatever it is, then your team will be OK with it too when you're not looking.  Hold yourself to a higher standard, and they will try to as well.

Waffles are great for breakfast but they make lousy leaders.  Think out your decisions and take into account, every bit of information you can get when you make them, asking those who are more informed and, if they aren't available, then questioning yourself.  But make them decisively. Do NOT wait for popular opinion or the news cameras to come out to make them.

Questions are less bloody than not asking them.

Know yourself, but know your team as well, and look out for their welfare like your own.  Loyalty may be bought, but only very briefly. Be compassionate, but be firm, and be clear that what they offer is important. If they know that they can count on you, you can count on them.

We all have wounds that drive us and the scar tissue usually isn't visible.  Understand what drives your people, what gets their hackles up, what motivates them not to be in some particular place.  Never be so busy that you fail to listen to them about something that may sound like it has nothing to do with the team.  It will have everything to do with the team.

Successful missions come in threes - the mission you plan, the mission you do, and the mission you wish you had done.

Some things are classified, but don't be a mushroom farmer.  Keep people informed.  Share those things that may not necessarily be their specialty, or even within their current technical grasp. They will learn, and they will feel included and valuable, for they are.

Go into battle with them.  Don't sit at your comfy desk with your giant mocha latte every single time they hit the field when conditions are beyond crappy or risky.  Get out, be in front, and get seriously dirty and a bit dinged up with them.  Never forget those places that got you to that desk and revisit them when you can.

Successful completion of a task depends on how well you know your unit’s capabilities. Don't give out a task you have not prepared them to do.  Experiments are for a science lab, not the field.

You set the standards by what behaviors you ignore, reward and punish.

There is no "I" in "Team" but there's "Me" if you rearrange the letters.  Yes, and No.  Respect the individual, know the individual.  But train and cross train as a team, individuals have weaknesses, teams learn to compensate and overcome them.  Reward is not the only thing shared, responsibility is.

Have a sense of humor. It can disarm, it can engage. Don't overuse it, and in the workplace, avoid with strangers, but never forget it.  And someday, when I'm retired and all witnesses are dead, I'll tell you a story about getting someone to collect evidence by milking a goat.

Just because it's not your fault, doesn't mean it's not your problem.

Trust but Verify. You have to trust your team to do their job without micromanaging every step.  But verify it's done to the standards you have set, standards that are clearly communicated and adequately supervised. For their mistakes aren't just theirs, they are yours, for you are accountable to your superiors.

People like rewards, be it monetary or even a plate of home-baked cookies - but that's not why they sign up to work with you when there are other choices.

Recognize not just physical courage but moral courage.  Standing firm on values, principles, and convictions is just as important as putting life and limb on the line.

Know your limitations. Not just your own, but the limitations of your team and the individuals that comprise it, as well as those of your organization as a whole, at the highest level.  If you know that, you know when to call in back up and how and who to call for back up.  And don't be afraid to, no matter whose toes or egos get stepped on.  There are jobs where failing that might mean a bad meal, a bad haircut, loss of income, or a loss of face for someone.  In some positions, failing that means people will die.  NEVER forget that.

Never get so self-important that you can't take advice from the probie and thank them for that.


Rev. Paul said...

I've been in management for decades, and that's just about the best summary of "necessary skills" I've ever read. Thank you.

Eagle said...

Rev. Paul: +1

Brigid: With your permission, I'm copying and saving this, and will always give you full credit under your pen name.

Old NFO said...

The difference between a 'manager' and a 'leader'! Well done!!!

Home on the Range said...

Thank youm gentlemen. And Burt you are welcome to share with credit shared.