One of the greatest things about the work I do is having the opportunity to speak with young leaders. If you have ever stood on a stage and asked a group such as this for questions, it usually starts with silence until the first student gets up the nerve, and then the questions usually just flow. It’s at this point you get a few that really cause you to pause and think…
If I could summarize some of the big questions and DeM Banter answers…the top five are below:
1: What do you wish you would have known at a younger age that you simply didn’t:
Young leaders have a big mistake shield, make decisions, make mistakes, and learn from your mistakes. The more mistakes the more learning.
That which does not kill us makes us stronger. –Friedrich Nietzsche
As a young lieutenant people expect boldness and some mistakes. Often times young officers are so scared of making mistakes, they refuse to make decisions. As the officer matures and grows–he/she will find themselves in a position where they must make crucial life and death decisions, but if the leader has not practiced on the small decisions they will fear the big ones and shun decision making.
It’s all about your classmates…build a powerful network and invest in it.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” ― C.S. Lewis
To say it is all about who you know sounds so self serving… but it is indeed…all about who you know. This does not have to be people above your pay grade. One thing I ask young leaders is to rank order these categories:
1) Superiors…supervisors, bosses, raters
Usually they appear in the above order of importance… I would argue the priority should be
3) Superiors…supervisors, bosses, raters
Peers are your true network; help your peers and they will help you. A boss once told me…”Make your friends when you don’ t need them.” Once this network is built, care for your subordinates, take care of them, and be sure they are accomplishing the missions they have been handed. Supervisors will naturally be amazed and, in turn, well cared for. Too many times young leaders focus on pleasing their boss and they build castles made of sand…there is no structure, no true network–it’s lonely and miserable. Success may follow, but there are certainly better ways to succeed.
3: When you arrive at a new assignment, what do you do, how to begin leading people you don’t know?
Nurture and mentor your people, establish a vision, and don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant. —Max DePree
Leading is miserable for all without great people around you. Build a team and invest in them through professional and leadership development. Always make more leaders! Next, if people aren’t the right fit, move them fast so as not to compromise your unit’s culture and your vision.
Take risks to better the organization and your people…find a limb and crawl out on it.
You manage things; you lead people. —Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper
As a leader, keep taking risks — not only when you first arrive, but each time new ideas present themselves. In the military we are constantly facing new challenges. Try to forecast the future and build strategy… you might be wrong in your assumptions, but your organization will be better–if for nothing else for the planning effort. General Eisenhower was quoted as saying…”Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”
5: What do you recommend we do as new officers?
Figure out what’s most meaningful to you and make that the core of what you do.
Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch
As new officers and leaders you will be working hard and learning massive amounts both technically and professionally, but you will also be developing as leaders, so you need to have deep faith in something bigger than yourself, as well as in your own ability—especially if you expect people to follow. I tackle this one at a spiritual, mental, and physical level. Spiritual… is easy for me based on Christian faith, but if you don’t share those beliefs… the key is believing in something bigger than yourself. Second, always look to better yourself mentally… personal study plans, research, planning, strategizing, future thought, reading, learning, writing. Finally take care of yourself, hit the gym, go for a run, eat well, sleep well. If you work on building these three things (Spiritual, Mental, Physical), you will be amazed at how your ability will grow and how your confidence will shine.
Okay… now you are on stage…what are your answers? What did I miss?
Bottom line… it’s a pretty cool gig…