The third Monday in that month we all hate to pronounce (is it Feb-roo-air-ee or Feb-yoo-air-ee?) is more than just another Federal Holiday when your mail won’t be delivered and the DMV won’t be open. Presidents‘ Day isn’t just a long weekend of consumerism. For over 200 years, leaders have filled the Office of the Presidency and, with it, wielded immense power and responsibility. History will judge what they did with their time in the Oval Office, but as President Washington said “Example, whether it be good or bad, has a powerful influence”. This Presidents‘ Day, let’s take a look at what past American Presidents had to say about Leadership.
In every competitive environment, organizations evolve to survive and thrive. Society, Markets, and Warfare are ever-changing and so must those who want to succeed in them. Changing systems is a fight in and of itself. But, what if the change required is deeper than spreadsheets and efficiency reports? What if the organization’s values and behaviors aren’t aligned? I used the word “fight” intentionally. Make no mistake, when change is values-based, you are fighting for the heart and soul of your organization. To create a values-centered change, leaders steer the individual to driving the organization, communicate a clear and collective vision, model and steward the change, and empower their team.
Changing Values Requires Clear and Shared Vision
Leaders and formations in the Army are always changing. With this change in people, comes a new look at the organization. It brings reinvention, breeding adaptability and innovation. Change is healthy, important, and necessary – but leading change also requires art. Dissatisfaction, contempt, and failure, are usually the drivers of change. But, that doesn’t mean everyone in the organization will view circumstances through that same lens. Change is disequilibrium caused by disconfirming information. Kurt Lewin’s Change Theory and John Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model, provide leaders a lens through which to view and understand what it takes to successfully lead change.
Maintaining the status quo is comfortable. Leading change requires getting down “in the mud” – are you up for the task?
Ego prevents us from living that John Maxwell quote. But, what about learning from leaders with an enlarged ego? Is our leader development hopeless without good leadership? Case studies focusing on ‘what right looks like’ hold a monopoly on leader development and create a void. This vacuum is most felt by young leaders lacking role models for “what right looks like”. We are tricked into thinking we only learn from good leadership. Learning from, and working for, good leaders is enjoyable, energizing, and sustaining. But, those who are not as blessed with great leadership early in their career are not flapping in the wind. They too have an example from which they can learn.
The United States Military provides an outstanding leadership laboratory to grow yourself and your team. Perhaps the most impressive means of continuing personal and organizational growth is a personnel system that requires leaders to promote out of position and transition organizations. Controlled change breeds innovation and progress. But, change can also bring discomfort and anxiety. Fear not – there are steps you can take to transition well and establish yourself in a new organization.
A Change of Command is just one of many transitions in the United States Army.
A military leader’s first encounter with leadership is rarely through the military lens. Our early leadership experiences with parents, teachers, coaches, church leaders, etc., are often the most influential. These relationships help develop the men and women of character who will later lead our nation’s Armed Forces. Perhaps the family bonds of service in combat inspired Sun Tzu’s emphasis on parental love in leading an Army. No one thinks it is crazy to consider love an integral part of leading a child, spouse, student, or athlete – but when we discuss military leadership it is rarely part of the conversation. Rather than ignore the leadership examples set by those who positively influenced us as children, let’s embrace the example set by these monumental personalities who shaped us along the way.
It’s not the Desert Phase at Dugway Proving Ground; at least, it’s not anymore. The “Fourth Phase” of Ranger School is an abstract construct that transcends geographic location. It is continuous. For some, it starts when they first arrive. For others, it started well before, while attending Pre-Ranger. It is going on during RAP Week, as you shiver your way out of Victory Pond or break ice into Malvesti. The phase is well underway as you traverse the Darby Queen Obstacle Course. It is providing the most significant impacts on your overall success as you side-slope your way “one more hill, one more “click” through the mountains of Dahlonega, GA. Success in the Fourth Phase will see you through The Weaver in the swamps of Florida. If you make it to Graduation Day, it will have determined whether you are standing there alone in success or standing beside your peers in a team triumph. What is this Fourth Phase?
Stanley McChrystal (retired General and Managing Partner at McChrystal Group) posted a LinkedIn article, How I Keep Up with an Unrelenting Work Pace. The article, published on February 1, 2016, received excessive praise from many. It also received criticism from those who note the inherent risks of applying strategic level leadership experiences without thought or reflection. Here are some things you should pay attention to when reading McChrystal’s article.
General Stan McChrystal wastes no time – laptop open and working aboard a military aircraft.