All leaders are not heroes, but all heroes ARE very likely leaders. While one doesn’t generally aspire to be a hero, the character and values exhibited by those branded as a hero are inevitably the foundation of their leadership…their Inner Leader makes daily (if not hourly) decisions, aligned with their personal values of honesty, integrity, courage, experience and hard work.
My husband Jerry and I were invited to an event recently in which the guest speaker was a Vietnam Veteran. The speaker, Bob began his remarks by sharing his experience in Southeast Asia in a composed dissertation of facts:
- He was in the US Army
- He was a helicopter pilot who flew the Bell UH-1 Iroquois, nicknamed “Hueys”.
- He flew more than 800 medical evacuation missions; leading his team as they rescued wounded American service men and women, and ensured those who had lost their lives were escorted from the jungles and fields back home for burial.
- From 1959 to 1975 the US military had more than 8000 Hueys in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, of which 4000 made it back.
- These days Bob is retired and spends his time volunteering to help current members of the military and he is a part of a group that is restoring six Hueys, which last saw production in 1978 and are in limited service today.
These are compelling data points, and the essential message to be learned was delivered after the more formal prepared remarks. As an Army man Bob said that he and his team ran more than 100 missions in service to the US Navy, evacuating their service members from danger. To thank and recognize Bob’s team, naval leadership invited their Army brethren to lunch onboard a Navy vessel. After months and months of boxed K-rations, a freshly prepared, hot meal had the team salivating: especially for fresh milk and ice cream which were not on the menu in Army camp.
On the appointed day and hour, Bob and his team boarded the ship and were greeted by the commanding officer. The CO invited Bob to dine with him in the Officers’ Dining room and directed Bob’s team to the Enlisted Mess Hall. With respect, Bob politely and assuredly told the CO that while his team was grateful for the thought and preparation put into the meal planning, his preference was to eat alongside his team. Apparently after much discussion and confusion on how to accommodate this request, they compromised and everyone ate together on the flight deck. In the heat of Vietnam, the ice cream quickly became liquid, but more importantly the message was well-received that Bob, although the senior-most in rank, was an equal among his team.
Leadership messages come from all corners of life, and in Bob’s story, I was struck my two significant messages.
Let’s transfer these leadership ideas to current business context. First, if you as a leader and your team do some extraordinary work for another division of your organization or for a customer and you are to be recognized for this effort, there would likely not be a division in the recognition based on status or rank. The entire team would be invited to the recognition event.
Digging a bit deeper, what about the less formal recognition? Do you, in your leadership role, authentically acknowledge the appropriate members of your team? Are you taking any of the special “perks” or recognition for yourself even if it is behind closed doors? Are you “bringing your team” to the recognition meeting AND messaging the value of each member? Are you consistent with this practice, avoiding “stealing the thunder” of the folks in the weeds who get the job done? Or are you covertly taking any of the special “perks” or recognition just for yourself…even if it is behind closed doors.
Since most of the readership of my newsletters are talented leaders I would imagine that you read this last paragraph and were able to affirm that you, like Bob lead and recognize team-efforts fairly.
Now for the second message.
In your role as a team member, are you doing your part and pulling your weight to be an equal member of the team and to deserve the equal recognition? This is a bit more complicated and requires leaders to be self-perceptive. When Bob and his team flew a rescue mission, everyone on his team knew exactly what needed to be done and performed it to the best of their abilities. Precision and accountability meant life or death. In today’s business world, some roles are ill-defined which means that confusion replaces precision. In this situation, I would submit that it is not ONLY up to the leader to move from confusion to precision, it is up to you, the team member, to pull on your Inner Leader and clarify the ill-defined role, and then ensure that it is performed to the best of your abilities.
Good team performance is dependent on many things and ACCOUNTABILITY seems to be lacking in the majority of the organizations in which I am involved. The message I hear from my high performers as they assess their peers, is frustration and surprise that while they are hard at work at 7 pm, their peers are out the door at 5 sharp. I am constantly asked by leaders how to better equip their team members to take accountability for their results. Team leaders want to ensure that their accountability is reflected in their team’s best contributions as well.
I know that I am on a bit of a slippery slope here and I would like to make the following suggestions – for you as a leader and for you as a team member:
As a leader if you have an underperforming team member, ask yourself the following:
- Is the role and the expected results clearly defined?
- Does the person have the tools by which to accomplish the expected results?
- Does the person have the appropriate “soft skills” by which to accomplish the expected results?
- Does the person have the innate desire to accomplish the expected results?
Note, as a team member, ask the questions above and insert, “Do I …know my role, have the tools, skills, desire etc.”
If the answer to one or more of these questions is no or probably not, then do you as the leader have the courage to replace this team member with someone else who can accomplish the expected results? Do you as a team member have the resolve to step up and give your best work or ask for help to do so?
In summary, I see too many leaders these days struggling with a team that might not be performing at optimal levels. First look to yourself and assure that you are
unleashing your Inner Leader in an authentic manner to inspire the trust in your team. Once that is done, look to your team members and confirm that you have built your own HUEY TEAM to ensure that you have the best people in place to guarantee success.
Congratulations, by building the best team and emulating Bob’s leadership skill of steadfastness you too, will be able to accomplish even the most seemingly impossible missions.