This blog post is a summary of a group discussion from our company meeting held on June 7th, 2013. Hopefully this will explain the conversational nature of the post, and you will forgive the poor structure.
One of the most intense scenes from a movie is the D- Day landing from Saving Private Ryan. I’ve watched it many times, and each time I’m amazed by the firm determination of the American troops as they assaulted the beach into the waiting German defenders. What kind of leadership must have been in force for those men to plan and carry out that attack, knowing that at any moment they could be killed or horribly injured?
Most of the leadership challenges we face are nowhere near as intense as that, but solid leadership is still important. As I think about the kind of leadership that must have been present that day, “Esprit de Corps” seems to be a foundational component.
That bond between team members, that common spirit and devotion to the group that inspires enthusiasm. The glue that securely holds that bond is trust, without it nothing else amounts to much. When you don’t have trust – when trust breaks down, it’s easy to spot
- Every question from a leader becomes a challenge to the competence, loyalty or ability of the team member.
- Every response from the team member becomes insubordination.
Here’s what is sounds like: “Well, what about the specifications right here on the paper? Did you think about this variable? Why didn’t you anticipate x, y or z? (Say it in an accusatory manner with a sneer to get the full effect)
We’ve analyzed the increased operational tempo that is made possible by decentralized operations, so I won’t go into detail here, but decentralized ops relies on an implicit contract between leader and those led.
The leader will provide big picture, the vision, the intent, and the subordinate agrees to make decisions in line with that big picture.
The leader agrees to delegate that authority in order to gain the rapid tempo unleashed when the person on the scene with the facts can make a decision and act on it quickly.
What if we analyzed the implicit agreement in the other direction, what would that look like?
In order to figure this out you’d have to ask yourself, what does the team want?
- To be listened to.
- To have as much information as is reasonably possible.
- To be treated with respect.
- To be encouraged and mentored.
- To be provided with as good of a working environment as is possible.
In exchange for those things, what will the team do for the leader?
The team will give their leader the benefit of the doubt, understanding that he’s going to make decisions and ask them to do things that may not always seem to make sense at the time. Over cycles of operation, the trust will build and become so ingrained that the leader and his/her team operate as if they are in constant communication, even if they haven’t spoken for days.
Decisions will be vigorously and enthusiastically implemented as if the team had come up with them originally.
Not begrudgingly, not with whispers and eye rolling. You won’t hear someone say something to the effect of “I really don’t think this is a good idea, but the boss says it’s the way we’ve got to do it, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
What about dissent? How should that be handled?
Dissent is important as a source of new ideas and as a disruption from the normal routine. Dissent plays a vital role in giving rise to innovation. However, it must be presented respectfully, in the right time and place. Good leaders provide mechanisms to capture, analyze and evaluate dissent such as regular meetings with subordinates, suggestion boxes, and group discussions. Dissent presented in a positive manner is helpful and should be encouraged. Dissent presented at the wrong time, with the wrong attitude, in a disrespectful manner should be handled with decisiveness, firmly and calmly, and the individual should be immediately removed from the scene.
Tip for leaders – You’ve got to build up enough of a reservoir of trust and respect, that even when they don’t agree with you, the team will have enough confidence in your ability and judgment that they will give you the benefit of the doubt, remain loyal, and circle back to discuss when time allows.
A common mistake many leaders make is being short and not feeling like the team deserves an explanation.
You should try to provide the team as much of the big picture as you can, along with your intent and vision. Bits and pieces leave them scratching their heads and wondering why they can’t be trusted with the truth and provided with updated situational awareness.
Leaders remember – you owe them an explanation. You can’t expect to just give your team bits and pieces of information and then hammer them when they ask questions. Take the time, show them the respect of explaining what’s going on. Communicate (that means listen as well as talk) Show respect, take the time to build up that reservoir of trust and see how your Esprit de Corps develops.