Do you know what you’re doing? I mean really know what you’re doing? Continuing with our Leadership Principles series of posts, today let’s explore the second principle: be technically and tactically proficient. I realize when you see the word “tactically” you might have the reaction of “gee Mike, I don’t wear camo therefore this doesn’t apply.” Wrong. If you have a job, it applies.
This principle is all about knowing how to do your job; how to execute the daily tasks required not only of you but of your team members. How will you coach them or hold them to a standard with a straight face when it’s not something you can do yourself?
As far as credibility goes, this is perhaps the most important leadership principle. Your people watch your every move (just like kids do). They imitate your actions and behaviors. They talk about you at the water cooler when you violate this principle. The good news is there are a few very pointed ways you can immediately bring this principle to life.
A large part of leadership is setting a standard and holding people to it. A big part of setting a standard means meeting that standard. If you can’t meet the standard you’re setting for your team, you lose credibility and their desire to follow you and listen to your instructions diminishes greatly. Need a pointed example? How about when my doctor told me I needed to lower my cholesterol. Yeah. He weighed about 350. Sorry. Your words are ringing a little hollow there doc. Even medical studies back this up.
So are you the fat doctor at work? Do you tell your people to do things you aren’t capable of doing yourself (and if you’re not capable because it’s extremely technical, do you at least understand the process and tools you’re asking them to use)? If you are, I hope you’re feeling slightly uncomfortable right now because it means you’re being mature and admitting where you need to improve. That’s exactly the type of feeling you’ll have as you apply the first Leadership Principle of know yourself and seek self-improvement.
I’m not going to belabor this point. Know your stuff. Know your people’s stuff. Do it. Demonstrate competence (heck, do it better than they can and they’ll really respect you). If you want to hold people to a standard, the first person in line to get over that bar had better be you.
Here’s the requisite story I include in every post: a buddy Doug and I had just been assigned to be ROTC professors at Duke University. On the first day of physical training (PT), things got interesting. The two of us were leading PT in front of a group of 18-21 year-old cadets. Doug and I were 8-10 years older than all of them. Trying to prove their virility, some of the younger bucks started egging us on a bit. One or two pointed out that no matter what we did, there was no way we could “smoke them” because they were young and in great shape. At that point it was on like Donkey Kong.
Doug and I started leading them in some very obscure Army exercises that worked muscles these cadets never knew they had. We pushed and pushed and pushed. We would get them to a point of thinking they were done and we’d push some more. Once we finished the calisthenics, the cadets were breathing hard and looking flushed. One of them came up to Doug and me and said “Hey, that was a good workout sir. It was a little tougher than we expected. We’ll see you later on in class.” When he heard my reply, his jaw hit the floor.
“Oh. We’re not finished. Now we’re going for a run.” Doug and I proceeded to lead them on a 3.5 mile run at the most blistering pace we could muster. We stayed at the head of the column and ran them into the ground. When the group finished (and yes, we made sure everyone finished – it’s an important lesson to never leave someone behind), they were at a loss for words. It was clear in their minds Doug and I were more than capable of doing the things we asked of them. It was an important first step in establishing our credibility. Every cadet knew we were proficient in that task and likely in any other we would seek to teach them.
As a postscript, Doug and I waited until the cadets got out of sight and both of us puked our brains out. I’m pretty sure I was hurling for the remainder of the day between class lectures. But barfing was a small price to pay to establish our credibility with a new group of people we were responsible for teaching.
So how do you ensure you get and stay technically and tactically proficient? Read. Learn. Go to class. Find a mentor. Admit you’re not as smart as you think you are and improve yourself. You (and your team) will be glad you did.
How do you build proficiency and stay on top of it? Where have you seen it work well? Where have you seen leaders fail in this arena and what were the impacts? Please share your thoughts.
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC