Military Leadership

  Loving the “How to Start a Startup” series by Sam Altman (co-founder of Y-combinator) so far!  A free Stanford class on tech entrepreneurship, all online?  Why not?  Learning some great lessons every day.  

  However, one quote by Phil Libin (CEO of Evernote, a tool I LOVE):

“People have this vision of being the CEO of a company they started and being on top of the pyramid. Some people are motivated by that, but that’s not at all what it’s like.

What it’s really like: everyone else is your boss – all of your employees, customers, partners, users, media are your boss. I’ve never had more bosses and needed to account for more people today.

The life of most CEOs is reporting to everyone else, at least that’s what it feels like to me and most CEOs I know. If you want to exercise power and authority over people, join the military or go into politics. Don’t be an entrepreneur.”

  I love this quote, it changed the way I look at senior level leadership.  However, I do have one issue with the part about exercising power and authority in the military:  I’ve only seen that once in my military career, and it didn’t turn out well.  You can imagine how little respect you have for someone who only leads because of their rank or position.

  I’ve worked for many military folks in my time, and while not all of them were exceptional leaders, they always set the example by leading through mutual respect.  I’ve done the same for folks that worked for me.  

  The military isn’t all about hard-charging, cigar-chomping cowboys barking orders like in the movies (though I’m sure it exists here and there).  It’s a highly-educated, professional organization of volunteers who expect and deserve leadership at all levels of the hierarchy.  If you want to exercise authority and power over people like that, you don’t belong in today’s military.

Leadership Development – The Plan for the Next 2 Years

In what ways do you want to develop your leadership potential in the MBA program?  

   This is an interesting question.  It’s easy to just want to be a better leader, but the question forces you to think more concretely.  As part of the MBA program, we did a “leadership 360” survey that solicits feedback from peers, direct reports, and supervisors.  If you went to Squadron Officer School, you’ve seen this before.  Thank you to all the people that filled this out for me (especially if you did it in 2012 for my first survey!), the feedback was amazing and it helps me identify my weaknesses.

    One of my lower scores was in self awareness.  The assessment had some recommendations for improving self awareness that might be worth a try:  

  • Engage in self-reflection.  I’m already blogging and keeping a journal, and it’s helped immensely to make sense of the things that are happening and my reactions to them.  
  • Undertake self-observation and mindfulness practices.  I have a mindfulness meditation app, I can definitely use it to start off every day when I take the dog out for a walk.  
  • Explore what psychologists call your ‘implicit theories’ about yourself, as well as your beliefs about good leaders and effective leadership.  A theory is a story we maintain in our heads that helps to explain how things work.  So what is your story about your ‘best’ leadership, or the ‘best’ leader you worked with?  That story will guide the way you behave and also the way others perceive you and behave.  List what you feel are the top positive attributes of effective leaders and compare your list to a colleague’s list.  Definitely a topic for a future blog post!
  • Conduct a “Reflected Best Self” exercise – ask people who know you best, both personally and professionally, to tell you stories about you when you are operating at your best. Compare this with your own thoughts, story or implicit theory about times when you are at your best and work to align self-other views.  Can do!

  The other improvement area was in “balanced processing.”  One of my raters had some really important feedback for me:  I have a tendency to lead small groups quickly and make decisions on behalf of the group without considering what everyone has to say.  Once I get a routine I tend to stick with it.  It’s something that I need to work on, and the feedback was really well written.  When we broke out into our core teams and did a ‘feedforward’ exercise (basically you self-identify problems that you want to work on in the future), this was the problem I wanted to address.  The recommendations from the 360 assessment are pretty cut and dry:

  • Seek out conflicting perspectives when making important decisions.
  • Pay attention to your personal biases and tendencies to stereotype people or situations that might interfere with openness to important input. Uncover and understand the assumptions that underlie your decisions.
  • Create diverse teams by ensuring diversity of backgrounds and beliefs and explore how that diversity can and does influence decisions.

    I’ve already started the path to accomplishing some of these recommendations.  Practicing mindfulness will help relieve the feeling of time pressure that might cause me to make a decision on behalf of the group.  Journaling and blogging will help me improve my self-awareness and help me recognize if I’m starting to take over.  A teammate also recommended that I physically write down or record everyone’s thoughts on a particular decision so I make sure I get everyone.  

  My raters also recommended that I improve:

  • Push for higher levels of management and leadership.  Seek more responsibility and leadership opportunities.  Time to join some clubs!
  • More delegation of tasks.  While our core teams will have work distributed pretty evenly, this is definitely something to work on and be cognizant of if I get a leadership position in a club next year.

  So I have a lot to work on!  In the near term, I’ll be writing a lot more, but not just in this blog.  In my entire Air Force career, I’ve never had this much time to focus on self-reflection.  I look forward to more team events and learning from my fellow students, and building proficiency at holding productive discussions and seeking consensus.  

If you influence people, are you a leader?

  Just finished day 1 (of 3) of the UW Foster MBA leadership curriculum.  Section B had some pretty remarkable conversations in Building Effective Teams and in Leadership.  At one point, the question was asked:  is Kim Kardashian a leader?  

  I’ve gone through a lot of leadership courses in my day, but there was one definition of leadership that really stuck with me:

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.

— Dwight D. Eisenhower

  So if Kim Kardashian tweets about a purse and a hundred thousand screaming fans rush out to buy it, is Kim Kardashian a leader because she influenced their behavior, and the purchasers probably did it thinking that they actually like the product?  

  Based on this rather simplistic definition of leadership…yes.

  But when you think about people who you consider to be leaders — who you would want to follow — you don’t think of Kardashian or any of the other celebrities with a rabid fan base.  Is Eisenhower’s quote flawed?

  I had always thought of leadership from a military/work context – for example, you could paraphrase the quote to: “a good leader can inspire others to perform the mission and understand why it needs to happen.”  But if you take the Eisenhower quote at face value and apply it in a for-profit, marketing, or sales context, it doesn’t make as much sense.  Furthermore, what if someone evil, like Darth Vader, said it?  Is Darth Vader a leader?  This simplistic definition doesn’t mention anything about being an ethical or moral leader, which some leadership models include in their definition of a ‘good leader.’  

  I think I’m starting to see the advantage of leadership models, at least for discussion purposes. I hated them as an Air Force Officer because we would always have to learn new ones in our various career training courses.  As a pretty successful officer, I always thought that I knew what leadership is…but then putting it down into words was damn near impossible!  Leadership models make the concepts more tangible (and usually takes a lot of really popular terms and leadership characteristics) and then you can debate it endlessly in an academic setting.  I totally agree that talking about leadership makes us better leaders, because it helps us put our experiences into context and helps us evaluate and further develop our own ideas and concepts.  It allows us to better verbalize what leadership is, and in doing so, we can further develop our leadership style and make us more capable.

  Time for a new definition of leadership.