How To Be A Leader

Ok, I only have a few minutes so I'll try to be brief.

I learned how to manage people in the Marine Corps. Since then, I've managed people only a handful of times.  Basically, I hate it.  I'm very good at it, but I greatly dislike it.  I dislike it, because people universally hate their manager usually because they hated the one before.  They're going to hate the one after.  But, while *I* am their manager, they will experience what it's like to work for an honest-to-God, real-life manager who 'gets it.'  Unfortunately, for them, they spend most of their time trying to prove that I'm just like every other shithead manager they've had. 

What makes a good manager?  Honestly, it's actually really simple.  You have two missions:  (1) Mission accomplishment, and (2) Troop welfare.  Civilians constantly think that the world of the military doesn't apply to them.  It's precisely this false belief that makes most of them really awful managers.  And why is that?  That's even more simple.  No where else on this green earth do you have 1000+ years history of examples of what works and what doesn't work when you're trying to motivate a large body of humans toward a common goal.  TQM?  Load of bullshit, I promise you.  It doesn't matter what new fangled sociological application you try, the military model already tried.  If it worked, they're still doing it.  If it didn't, the corporate world is still probably trying to make it work.  The military is the best testing ground for ideas because it represents the truest footprint of our society.  And yet, civilians look down their nose at military members as if their experience and leadership are fabrications of deluded minds.  Well, silly-vilians, YOU tell ME how to motivate 100 people to do something that will likely get them killed.  In the civilian sector, you can't even motivate people to do their job well enough to not get fired.  But they never get fired, do they?  They usually get promoted.  Incompetence seems to be the skill-set du-jour.  The more incompetent you are, the higher you are.  Getting back to my point, what makes a great manager?

(1) Mission accomplishment:  The job has to get done.  The finest Marine I ever knew was Captain Marshall.  Obviously, he's been promoted since then, but he was Captain when I knew him so I called him 'Skipper.'  When people tried to chuck others under the bus, he got really angry.  I once heard him shouting, "If I cared who's fault it was, I'd have asked you that.  But seeing as I didn't ask, that clearly means I didn't care.  I still don't care.  It's still not done, and you're still in my office breathing my oxygen.  If you focused your attention on training and teaching MY Marines to do their jobs effectively, you would never have been called to my office in the first place.  You're the Platoon Commander, it's YOUR fault, go FIX it, NOW."  I already respected the man, but that moment taught me something.  In this day and age of folks getting ahead by standing on others and squashing them down...  it really is worth a lot to be able to go against the popular trends and rise above through awesomeness.  To apply this to the civilian world:  stop focusing on why **** doesn't get done.  Focus on fixing the problem.  Find out what's in the way of accomplishing the goal no matter how small the goal is.  If you have someone perpetually late for work, ask them why before you **** up their tree.  Ask them about their schedule, their life.  For all you know, they have to get their kid somewhere and they can't manage it.  That's where you come in.  Because you're the manager.  In circumstances like that, wherever you can, adjust the schedule to accommodate.  Sometimes, you have to think of problem solving in terms of preventing problems.  Helping people succeed is more important than having enough proof to burn them.  It takes time and money to train new people.  It takes time just going through the hiring process.  If you can't do your job to hold onto your people, you're going to spend all your time trying to replace them.  Training is important and ongoing.  If you're not willing to get down in the trenches, and teach people effective skills, then you suck as a manager.  And, you have to get buy-in.  That means, you have to ensure that the mission matters to them as much as it matters to you.  You have to approach your people with respect and compassion.  You have to be firm, and fair.  Furthermore, you actually have to care about others, and not just your own personal agenda.  You're trying to bring people together toward a common goal.  You can't do that if you're hiding ulterior motives.  Don't be a douche.  Encouragement is worth more than discipline and discipline is not the same thing as punishment.  Discipline is merely exacting fair ramifications for missing the mark.  It is not a punitive measure nor is it vengeance. You have to motivate your crew to want to accomplish the goals and they have to see fair and equitable treatment among crew members.

(2) Troop welfare:  Two things you never mess with...  Food and Pay.  But you also don't jerk people around.  Take care of their needs.  Pay attention to their lives, to their conversation.  You should know their family structure, their demographics.  Make sure that your people get paid, and that their pay is correct.  Make sure they always get time to eat.  During training, always offer them food.  It's a metaphor for the knowledge you're giving them.  They won't necessarily notice that, but their brain will take in the information more readily and permanently.  Have potluck lunches and never screw up opportunities to demonstrate your own humanity.  BE the kind of person you would respect.  BE the kind of boss you follow into combat.  BE the person each of your people would WANT to share a foxhole with.  Take care of your people.

A few other "rules" I made up for myself which have been smashed in my face recently.  I say "smashed in my face" because the person training me is probably the WORST leader I have ever seen.  Thankfully, she's a retail manager and not someone directly imbued with the task of keeping anyone else alive.

1. The Sergeant NEVER goes to chow before their troops. Basically, the manager makes certain all their people have had a chance to get a break, eat something and take a few minutes to themselves BEFORE they, the manager does.  It is amazing to me how few managers respect this.  You don't eat before your children, do you?  You don't make THEM wait for their meal before you shove hot food in your gullet!  Your staff are not your children, and yet, watching someone meet their own selfish needs before they send their crew is just tactless, tasteless and really demonstrates that they will chuck their people under the bus and never take responsibility for the goals.

2. NEVER EVER dress down a crew member in front of anyone else.  I can't believe I even had to write that down.  Who the hell DOES NOT know that?  If someone needs remediation, it's done privately.  Trying to get the entire crew angry at the one member who isn't pulling their weight is really weak tactic and shows a lack of character in the manager.

3. NEVER tell a crew member why they're failing.  ...because you don't actually know.  And if you tell them that their failing is that they're lazy, get ready for the finest example that employee can muster.  You don't tell people "You're lazy!"  Who the hell does she think she is?  You don't tell people negative hypotheses about their character.  You point out what is their job, and where they are not meeting expectations and YOU ASK THEM WHY....  I have discovered things about my employees by asking that simple questions that really changed the picture.  For example, "Sue, why didn't you finish that job?  The customer came in this morning just as I opened and I discovered that it was never run."  And then Sue tells me, "You didn't hear?  {embarrassed look}  Oh, well, I passed out last night and was sent to the hospital in an ambulance."  I said, "Holy SH!T!!!  What happened?  Why did you pass out?"  Mind you, this conversation occurred in the back office away from all other people.  She admits to me that she's anorexic and has been battling a particular bad episode.  Her boyfriend had cheated and she surmised that it was because she was 'fat.'  She was rail thin and insufficiently nourished to the point that she was passing out.  This is a serious moment and one most managers would screw up.  Why?  Because this employee is very very ill and possibly, too ill to remain on the schedule.  If she passes out again, might she hit her head on any one of the 50 pieces of equipment?  Might she really get hurt?  And no one called her manager to tell me the night before?  If I had come off making accusations and labeling her, I would never have known what was going on.  She privately placed a call to our company's Employee Assistance Program, and her own doctor.  I can't say the outcome because I don't know.  What I do know, is that her needs were met; she was kept safe and healed so that she could return to work safely and I had the knowledge I needed to accommodate her needs as well as MY schedule.  A good deal is when everyone walks away with what they needed.

4. There is no bus-chucking, no dime-dropping and no buddy-f-ing.  There are some managers who really want to know who to blame.  There are some employees that can't bear the scrutiny of being responsible.  People lie.  Someone I know used to say, "Blame is the failure to accept responsibility."  Accepting responsibility is not the same as getting blamed.  Accepting responsibility means you are willing to be at cause to acknowledge, affect and change the situation.  It does not mean that everything that's gone wrong is your fault. 

I am always grateful for everything the Marine Corps taught me.  It's not always easy to do the right thing, but it's a lot less work than doing the easy thing.
TrustIsEarned TrustIsEarned
46-50, F
Jan 22, 2013