What Do You Want Most In A Leader?

This is a quick leader development exercise that always makes a positive impact.  It’s perfect for a “Lightning LD” (that’s a quick, yet impactful, leader development session with your team), and can be done, for example, over lunch.  Ask your team members:

  • What attributes and/or competencies do you want most in a subordinate leader? [Brainstorm out as many as you want, but then select the top 3-5 in rank order]

Have them think and write on their own (individually).  After a few minutes, shift their focus and ask:

  • What attributes and/or competencies do you want most in a boss? [Brainstorm out as many as you want, but then select the top 3-5 in rank order]

After a few more minutes, have a conversation.  Ask them to share their lists and to explore their thought process.  Facilitate a conversation about the similarities and differences across your team.  And draw attention to someone who has a different list for a subordinate and a boss.  Use that observation to dig into the why behind the lists being different.

Wait a day or two and ask your team several follow-up questions:

  • Given what you said you value most in a subordinate and boss, how would your current boss assess you as a subordinate?
  • How would your current subordinates assess you as a boss? In other words, turn your own criteria around on yourself.
  • And, how are you putting this into practice?

Have a conversation, and see where it goes. The greater challenge really is not to decide on the “right” top five attributes/competencies; rather, it is to act on them–to put them into practice.

For more insight about how you can use this idea with your team, read two previous blog posts describing a similar process with a group of West Point cadet leaders:

(1) What Do You Want In A Leader, Part 1

(2) What Do You Want In A Leader, Part 2

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It is in the perfectly disciplined will

Vince LombardiThis is a special 3-minute video featuring legendary Coach Vince Lombardi.

Coach Lombardi is best known for coaching the Green Bay Packers to five NFL Championships in seven years, and is widely considered the best football coach of all time.

He also, by the way, was an assistant coach at West Point (Go Army!) for five years under Earl “Colonel Red” Blaik.  Those years were formative for Lombardi.

Of all the amazing quotes captured in this video, this one really stands out to me:

“The new leadership is in sacrifice, it is in self denial, it is in love, it is in loyalty, it is in fearlessness and humility, and it is in the perfectly disciplined will. This is not only the difference between men, this is the difference between great and little men. Thank you.” –Coach Vince Lombardi

Are you fired up!

Shackleton’s Call

Sir Ernest Shackleton was a British explorer who famously led an expedition in 1914 to cross the Antarctic continent.  Their ship, “The Endurance,” was aptly named given the absolutely epic challenges the 27 crewmen overcame on the trek.  

When Shackleton was preparing for the mission, he published an advertisement in the London newspaper: 

“Men wanted for hazardous journey.  Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.  Honour and recognition in case of success.”

I love this!  It appeals to me.  It connects with a part of me that doesn’t often get called upon.  What can we learn from this?  Is there opportunity for leaders today to create this kind of a call?  What would that even look like?

What do you think?

If you want to learn more about Shackleton, get this DVD, narrated by Liam Neeson.  It is incredible!  Absolutely inspiring!  And it is a great catalyst for conversations about leadership.

Harvey Pittel: Lifelong Learning in Action

This week, I had the privilege of attending the West Point Society Luncheon in Austin, Texas.  Harvey Pittel, world renowned saxophone player and teacher, was the guest speaker.  As a young Sergeant back in the late 1960s, Harvey played sax in the West Point band for three years (see the connection?).  Harvey had us all in stitches recounting stories of the sax player with a Masters Degree in Music going through basic training at Fort Benning, GA.

Harvey is a magnificent musician, and he graced us with some of his playing.  But where his talk got super interesting for me was when he matter-of-factly stated that at West Point he continued to study his craft and “learned to play all over again.”  So, there was a saxaphone player with a masters degree in music in the West Point band who went back to square one and began anew.  I asked Harvey to expand on this.  Here’s what he shared:
“Although I had been playing since I was 7 years old and had a masters degree in music from Northwestern, I did not like my sound.  I had a vision for how I wanted to sound, but I was not there.  When I was in the band at West Point, the band leadership encouraged us to study and continue to learn–and they put their money where their mouth was with funding to help.  The West Point band allowed me the time to start over.  And they gave me permission to experiment and take risks.  I began studying under Joe Allard at the Julliard School in New York City.  I relearned how to do a  lot of physical things, and I changed the way I held my mouth.  But the biggest insight Joe shared right away is that I sounded like Harvey Pittel trying to sound like someone else. He challenged me to be my authentic self.  Thus began 15 years of lessons with Joe.”
Learn more via Harvey’s YouTube video series beginning with this one. [Really interesting stuff!]

Curiosity and a passion for learning are fundamental to success as leaders today.  The West Point band obviously valued learning and helped put into motion the continued development of one of the world’s best sax players.

What can we take away from Harvey’s story?  

How can we foster a learning culture in our organizations?

“Continuous learning is the sauce that success is sautéed in!” –George Purcell

High School Leaders Tell Stories of Leadership in Action

On Tuesday, 1 November, we ran a Leadership in Action (LIA!) workshop for a group of exemplary high school students who are participating in the West Point sponsored “Frances Hesselbein Student Leadership Program” this week (Coordinated by Melanie Dodge & the Department of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership).

HighSchoolLeadershipExercise(2)The students came prepared to share a story about a person—a story that is an example of leadership in action. During the workshop, participants told their story three times, and they listened to as many as 9 stories from others. Pictured below, the participants placed a hand on the person whose story resonated the most with them.

The exercise brings out underlying assumptions about leadership, and it helps clarify what we value and the kind of leader we want to become. One of the insights that crystallized for the participants is that they each have valuable stories to share and that, perhaps, one role of leaders is to create the space and time for people to share their stories.
We concluded the workshop by talking about specific, very practical, practices that we want to cultivate—practices that, over time, will enact the values and leadership principles that we think are so important. I think we all walked out of the experience more Positive, Inspired, and Energized than when we started!

If you want to learn more about leading your own LIA! workshop, read the callout on page 4 of this ARMY Magazine article (PDF) and read two previous blog posts: August 24, 2011 and April 5, 2011.

Thanks again to Melanie Dodge, the coordinator, for inviting us to contribute to this great program.

Personal Reflection: This was the first time we have done a LIA! exercise with young leaders like this (High School Juniors), and we were pleased with how well it worked out. Their stories were about exemplary teachers, coaches, and parents–and one especially good story was about an older brother who befriended a mentally challenged peer and, in the process, received more than he gave. The one thing we did differently with this one is that we asked the students a week ahead of time to come prepared to share a story. In other words, they had a solid heads up; in all our previous LIA! workshops, participants had to think of a story on the spot. There are pros/cons with both ways, but with this age group we thought it would be more productive if they had some time to think about it.

Leader Challenge: Dynamic, High-Energy Leader Development

On 27 September, 144 platoons of cadets met across West Point to conduct the first “Leader Challenge” workshop of the year. In each platoon, the cadet platoon leader and an officer mentor worked together to facilitate a platoon-level session that featured round-robin, small-group conversation about a real-world, high-stakes, ambiguous problem faced by a second lieutenant in Afghanistan.

The “Leader Challenge” methodology is a two-part process: (1) Online Interaction; (2) Face-to-Face Workshop — all centered around a challenging, concrete experience that an actual leader faced.  You can read more about the Leader Challenge approach to developing leaders in this ARMY Magazine article (PDF).

Participant Feedback

Sometimes, participant feedback gives you the best feel for the value of an experience.  These are some responses after this particular Leader Challenge:

“I feel like I got to check out of being a cadet and check into being a PL for an hour. It was awesome!”

“I was really excited last night when I walked down the hallway and overheard a group of yearlings standing around the CCQ desk debating some courses of action for the scenario. They asked me if they were going to be able to do more Leader Challenges, and then we discussed the scenario for a little while.”

“The Leader Challenge had the best content and material in any PMEE lesson I have seen at West Point.”

“I am very pleased with the new system, and it really puts the control, tempo, and discussion of PMEE back into the cadets’ hands.”

“I was amazed at the energy and the deep level of discussion that was taking place. This was relevant & meaningful development.”

“Everyone loved the small groups of four, and the rotations kept the conversation lively.”

“It really forced cadets to think. It pushed them outside of their comfort zone by having to share and discuss the actions they would have taken, but it also helped them see the variety of possible answers as they listened to what their peers had to say.”

Things to Sustain in Future Leader Challenges

Upon reviewing the feedback, the top two most mentioned “sustains” were:

(1) the small-group format with rotations (high energy) in which one facilitator stays at the table and all other cadets move to a new table (all new people at the new table);

(2) the real-world relevancy of the content. Cadets appreciated wrestling with tough issues in the context of the profession they are entering.

I will close out this blog post with a few more participant comments to reinforce how positively the high-energy format is received:

“The LC concept with small group discussion and round robin is a winner. More cadets participate and they universally agree that small group sessions are the most productive part of the program.”

“The rotating groups kept the dialogue going. It allowed the groups to gain multiple perspectives on the problem.”

“I love the small group idea. Cadets talk so much more in groups of 3-5.”

“The discussion atmosphere, instead of a lecture.”

“This format is by far the best and most well received by the cadets.”

“I want to sustain the different rounds switching up the small groups. I felt that by getting different people’s take on the situation was good and allowed us to see the scenario from different points of view.”

What Do You Want In A Leader, Part 2

For over twenty years, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have been asking people all over the world what they want in a leader. As reported in their exceptional book The Leadership Challenge (see page 24), based on the input of 75,000 people, the qualities of a leader people willingly follow include: Honest, Forward Looking, Competent, and Inspiring.

Based on their research, the authors go on to lay out a compelling model for leadership. And if the book feels a little too hefty with your current work load, start with their shorter book, The Truth About Leadership.

So, how does this jibe with what we experienced in the “Leadership in Action” workshop?  The big surprise from our workshop was that we (36 cadet leaders) did not collectively value accomplishing the mission (competence), or vision (forward looking).  In our discussion afterward, individuals objected because, after all, they only had three votes and there are so many things that are important to leadership; however, what was clear as we stepped back and looked at the big picture was that we, collectively, did not value certain things.  Collectively, we had 108 votes.  Collectively, we did not value vision/looks ahead, develops subordinates, competence/accomplishes the mission, or team building (builds a cohesive team).

This deserves some thought.  What is behind this?  Could it be that at West Point we socialize ourselves to see leadership a certain way?  Could it be that because we are not experienced yet — and therefore do not see ourselves as “competent platoon leaders” yet — we undervalue the importance of competence and developing subordinates?  What would happen if we changed the question.  What if, instead of asking, “What do you want in a leader?” we asked, “What do you want in a battle commander?” Would that change our emphasis?