This is the third of four blog entries on the topic of messaging. In the first blog I introduced the importance of personal refection and the value it has in creating the culture of an organization. In the second blog I elaborated on how personal reflection can assist with not only fashioning a philosophy that is memorable but also with discovering inventive ways to reinforce your message through repetition. In this third blog edition, I will continue to use my own example—in this case, my staff philosophy—to further illustrate the personal nature of this activity. Why, for example, did I even feel that I needed a separate philosophy directed specifically at my staff?
“All good commanders want to encourage their subordinates to use their initiative within the overall intent. Such commanders also seek to build trust and cohesion among their leaders and to accelerate the speed of the decision-action cycles within their units.”
Lieutenant General (Retired) James M. Dubik,
Former Commander, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq
(Now a senior fellow of AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare)
Successful units absolutely depend upon the ability of its staff to conduct routine business routinely as well as its ability to establish systems that accelerate the speed of decision-action cycles. As experience demonstrates, the staffs within military organizations often experience a high turnover rate, always have more than they can do, wrestle with churn, and sometimes struggle to think through the impacts of trying to knock down so many changing 50 meter targets. If personal encounters have not brought this to light to you personally already, the ability to do thorough staff work in quick fashion does not occur naturally. Human nature often seems to default to deflecting additional work and passing actions from in-box to out-box as quickly as possible. And quite frankly, this happens even more frequently when workers feel over tasked, rushed, or lack experience and leadership. Unfortunately, this natural human tendency happens at the expense of quality output. It can also have the unintended effect of actually lengthening the staffing process. Like an effective command and/or leader philosophy serves to guide the culture and daily activities of an organization; a good staff philosophy can target those particular values that make the organization more efficient.
What I am presenting in this blog entry is simply my own approach to messaging in hopes that it may serve to feed others on their own journey through the process. It is no secret that as a leader you set the example everyday with your actions and attitude. And ultimately, the degree with which you demonstrate that you have trust and confidence in your subordinates will govern the degree of their own proactivity in doing their part to complete assigned missions, identify implied tasks, exercise initiative as problem solvers, and safeguard the reputation of the unit. Maximizing the effectiveness and efficiencies of organizations depend squarely upon its leadership. Make no mistake, the amount of deliberate thought that leaders put into their messaging matters.
The ideas below explain my fundamental beliefs about what separates good and great staff sections. My staff philosophy was intended to build upon the three principles of my command philosophy (Team of Teams; People Always; and Mission First) as well as my thoughts about the qualities of a leader (Work Ethic of a Two-bit Hustler; Mind of a Scholar; and the Heart of a Gambino Gangster). That said, these three pillars broadly describe my thoughts on how the staff needs to gets after the business of day to day operations:
1) Customer Service: Customer service goes a long way and is the hallmark of a professional organization. Staff personnel must do everything within their power to assist “patrons” before resorting to turning them away—think about the way you handle phone calls and visitors. Given that we are a team, staff workers should always ensure the customer’s/visitor’s concerns are addressed and the customer departs with a feeling that your section is both helpful and professional.
2) Analysis: Nobody likes an information passer. There is not one thing that crosses a staff person’s desk that does not require analysis. Always consider the second and third order effects of what you are passing, the units/people it impacts, as well as the questions that action will likely generate two-levels higher and follow through by providing recommendations to those anticipated concerns.
3) Forward Thinking: Being proactive is obviously better than being reactive. A staff that is able to focus its efforts during the planning process and is able to synchronize/de-conflict events well in advance will inevitably facilitate a much better execution and worthwhile experience for the entire unit.
Jim Perkins’ blog entry titled “Solitude Can Make You a Better Leader” also speaks to the importance of reflection. If you have not read it I would encourage you to do so.
* When do you find time for solitude? When do you take time to reflect? In an early morning meditation session before conducting unit physical training. On the early morning 40-mile drive to work while traffic is still light, with the radio turned off, your head fresh, and pen/paper handy. During a long run in the woods on Monday morning before the monotony of the work week begins.
* When do you make time to read? Perhaps early Sunday morning before the family awakes. Perhaps late at night when everyone’s asleep. Maybe at lunch when everyone is out of the office.
Admittedly, the importance of solitude and dedicating time to reading and reflection didn’t really click for me until after a chance encounter in 2005 with General (Retired) George W. Casey Jr. (then the Commanding General, Multi-National Forces-Iraq) in his villa at Camp Victory. It was at that time that I realized that if someone as important and busy as General Casey could dedicate specific time to read, so should I.
Furthermore, when and with whom do you share your own ideas in an effort to maximize their potential for success? Perhaps you share your ideas with a peer over a cigar while watching aircraft take off from Balad Airfield or while enjoying fried catfish on “Soul Food Thursday” at your unit dining facility. Or perhaps you leverage websites such as MilitaryMentors.org. Do not expect any of the answers to these questions to remain consistent over time. Your personal situation often drives your schedule but what remains constant is the need to devote time and the need to dedicate that time on a recurring basis. Reflection time and idea sharing are vital to your ability to make the most out of the guidance you provide to your staff. The effectiveness of your entire organization is impacted by the efficiency, on inefficiencies, of the staff.
In the next blog edition I will offer more on the topic of maximizing the success of your ideas. Using standing priorities as an example, I will demonstrate how leaders can focus their team to not only prioritize actions in an appropriate manner but more importantly convince them that a way does indeed exist to exploit the potential for positive ripple effects. In the next blog—the last in this four blog series—the importance of dedicating personal time to thinking through the message(s) you want digested; and the importance of deliberately thinking through the method by which you deliver said message will be validated as having positive impact. The amount of forethought put in by leadership absolutely has an exponential (positive) outcome on focusing the actions of the unit, reducing staff shiny object chasing, and will make it much easier to stomach overall risk taking. The time you commit to thinking through the messaging process matters. Without question, it will determine the degree of buy-in your team will have when adopting a particular culture.
Start a conversation. Spark a conversation.