The Critical Importance of Leadership During Boring Times

Mike Figliuolo and His Tank Crew

Leading during a crisis is easy. Adrenaline leads to focus and higher performance. But how do you lead during the doldrums when nothing “important” is going on? Those slow times are the ones that affect performance during the crisis. Failure to lead during slow times leads to failures during crisis.

I recently spoke with Todd De Voe of EM Weekly. We discussed leadership, management, and how to lead people who deal with crisis situations on a regular basis. You can listen to the entire interview by CLICKING HERE. You can also listen to the entire interview below.

We had a great conversation and I’d like to share an excerpt of our discussion where we discuss the importance of leading people during the boring, day-to-day situations that reside in between the crises we invariable face. Here is my perspective on that situation.

The day-to-day stuff is an easy place to get lazy and not do it well. Everybody is going to lead well in a crisis because we respond in those exciting moments. The adrenaline kicks in. We see the stakes are high, we get focused, and we understand the importance of leading well in those situations.

I argue that it’s easier to lead in a crisis situation than it is during periods of calm.

From a military perspective, it’s easier to lead in the field than it is to lead in garrison. I think, back to my platoon leader days and my soldiers were awesome in the field. I loved taking those guys to the field because they were focused. They were on it. They were doing the right things. They understood the mission and how they contributed. Incidentally, the photo is me and my tank crew – SGT Villarreal, PV2 Bundy and PV2 Dick. Yes, my driver’s name was Private Dan Dick. Stop giggling.

When I got them back to garrison… oh my gosh… what a nightmare! They were constantly doing stupid stuff in the motor pool, getting drunk, and other assorted tomfoolery. I always asked “why are you guys so good out in the field and you’re so bad here?”

But then I took a step back and realized I own that bad behavior. I was their platoon leader. I was looking at garrison as not that critical of a place to lead. Sometimes I was like “yeah, whatever, we have formation. Ok, so you’re a little bit late. Just get in line.” I thought this way because the stakes weren’t as high as when we were in the field and running training missions on 68-ton tanks.

I’d argue those day-to-day times are harder to lead because the stakes aren’t as high. When the stress isn’t as high, we tend to diminish the value of those leadership situations. The rub with that approach is the habits that you establish in garrison – back in the barracks or during the day-to-day – are the ones that are going to show up when you’re out in the field. If you’re not paying attention to detail when you’re in garrison and you’re letting somebody get away with untied boot laces, or not shining their boots, when it comes to the field, that little bit of slack can show up in tiny ways that matter. In the field, if they’re not cleaning the machine gun as effectively as they should, that could have catastrophic consequences even in a training environment.

I think back to my West Point experience. There were times I would walk out in the hallway for a uniform inspection. My team leader or squad leader sometimes said things like “Hey, your name tag isn’t straight, and you have a little thread coming off of your pocket.”

My reaction was often “Seriously?”

Their response was the right one. “Yeah, seriously. Fix it, now.”

It was that rigorous attention to detail that made a difference. Those leaders who were correcting me were leading me by showing me the importance of attention to detail. They did this because they knew when you go out on a tank, and you’re bore sighting it to line up the sights and the gun tube, details matter. If you’re not paying attention when entering computer correction factors and you’re off by 0.01 on the digits you put in, guess what? There’s a huge difference in where that round is going to land. That small detail can mean the difference between life and death.

Leading during the simple day-to-day times presents an interesting challenge. The crisis stuff isn’t what’s hard. When you really step back and think about it, the stuff that’s hard is the stuff that seems like it doesn’t matter. Arguably, that matters more than anything else.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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