Leadership is hard

I learned that leadership is hard.  Leadership sounds easy in the books, but it is quite difficult in real life.  I learned that leadership is difficult because it is a human interaction and nothing, nothing is more daunting, more frustrating more complex than trying to lead men and women in tough times.

I learned that you won’t get a lot of thanks in return.  I learned that you shouldn’t expect it.

I learned that the great leaders know how to fail.  If you can’t stomach failure, then you will never be a great leader.

Admiral William Harry McRaven, US Special Operations Command, in a speech at the United States Military Academy, January 18, 2014


The Army Leader is a Teaching Leader

Over a decade of war has changed the fabric of the U.S. armed forces.  Short mobilization cycles and changing theater tactics necessitated the development of a learning culture within the organizations.  This learning culture, however, is fundamentally NOT the culture that has sustained our premier forces throughout our history.  As the armed forces move into a garrison environment and resources diminish, it is time for the culture to shift back to what we fundamentally are…a teaching culture.

General Colin Powell, in his autobiography It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, explains that he has been a professional speaker, trainer, and teacher his entire adult career.  He explains

From my first day in my unit as an Army officer, I had to speak to and teach troops.

General Powell built his success on the enduring Army culture where leaders teach troops and other leaders.  They not only learn they pass knowledge on.  Instilling the desire to improve and learn is the important part of any the learning culture; A teaching organization further infuses learning with the culture of passing it on to others.  Noel Tichy, author of the Leadership Engine puts it this way:

(Organizations) that consistently outperform competitors (have) moved beyond being learning organizations to become teaching organizations‚Ķ.That‚Äôs because teaching organizations are more agile, come up with better strategies, and are able to implement them more effectively‚Ķ. Teaching organizations do share with learning organizations the goal that everyone continually acquire new knowledge and skills. But to do that, they add the more critical goal that everyone pass their learning on to others‚Ķ. In a teaching organization, leaders benefit just by preparing to teach others. Because the teachers are people with hands-on experience within the organization‚ÄĒrather than outside consultants‚ÄĒthe people being taught learn relevant, immediately useful concepts and skills. Teaching organizations are better able to achieve success and maintain it because their constant focus is on developing people to become leaders.

In short, leaders train leaders. Continue reading

Leadership Definition: LTG(r) Russel Honoré

The art and science of influencing others to willingly follow you.


Leadership is more than influence. Influence without will leads to things being partially completed or poorly complete leading to even more problems. The real challenge of a leader is to inspire people to want to accomplish goals.


Guard against the lack of vision

Thomas_J_Watson_Sr“You must guard constantly against those who lack vision.¬† You must guard against the reactionary mind.¬† Always cultivate and associate with persons of vision and with persons who believe that things are going to be better.¬† When you do this, you take on the kind of vision, backed by the right kind of inspiration that you need if you are going to grow . . . .” Thomas Watson, Sr., 1874-1956, chairman and CEO of International Business Machines (IBM)

Sleep to be an Effective Leader

20130117-200134.jpgI’m writing in the Washington National Airport early in the morning after a routine pre-flight night of restless sleep (about 2 hours worth). I’m tired and not very interested in doing much of anything. The culture in which I work places an informal value on early mornings, long work days, and late nights. It a badge of honor to say you’ve been awake for numbers of hours. My formal leadership training taught me to believe that a leader only needs four hours of sleep to be effective, a mantra I use to motivate myself late at night. Turns out, that’s all wrong.

Nicholas Hughes’ Good piece on How I Made Sleep a Priority – and Got More Productive opened my eyes (sorry for the pun) to what I had suspected was true, sleep matters…a lot. Its especially important to manage sleep as we age and deep sleep becomes more difficult. Hughes’ article as well as the 2006 Harvard Business Review article he references left me with some points to consider for my personal and corporate sleep management:

1. Sufficient, effective sleep makes helps you be more productive.

2. Insufficient sleep is hazardous to your health. The tragedies associated with driving while sleep impaired are well known. But we tend to thing we aren’t the ones at risk. However, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities anyway. Not only may the effects of sleep deprivation be irreversible, but chronic deprivation may lead to long-term health issues:

Many people gain weight as they age, too. Interestingly, chronic sleep restriction increases levels of appetite and stress hormones; it also reduces one’s ability to metabolize glucose and increases the production of the hormone ghrelin, which makes people crave carbohydrates and sugars, so they get heavier, which in turn raises the risk of sleep apnea, creating a vicious cycle. Harvard Business Review

3. Personal sleep management is deliberate. Instead of a catch-as-catch-can sleep plan, leaders should adhere to a strict sleep plan that is compatible with your work schedule and personal preferences. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the National Sleep Foundation recommend these tips on hacking effective sleep:
– maintain a regular sleep schedule
– establish a pre-sleep routine that prepares you for deep sleep
– create an environment that is comfortable and conducive to sleep
– exercise regularly but avoid vigorous exercise within a few hours of bedtime.

4. Corporate sleep management is deliberate. HBR recommends that companies formalize the importance of sleep and make productive sleep a part of the culture. Leaders can implement (and enforce) policies that contribute to the culture:
– limit hours worked to 12 per day and 60 per week. Only exceptionally allow 16 hour days
– require one day off per week, two is better
– avoid extreme flight schedules such as red-eye flights, single day trips, or complicated connections.
– allow a day of rest after an international flight

Sleep well!

The Commanders Role in Mission Command

The military is tasked with conducting highly complex operations in a life and death environment. Lessons learned since 1775 have evolved the way the military conducts mission command, an evolution that no amount of civilian theory can replicate. When reading military doctrine substitute military lexicon such as commander, mission, and warfighter with the civilian equivalent of your culture (chief executive officer, senior pastor, president; sales, spiritual growth, operations).

The commander is the central figure in mission command. To the commander comes the mission for the unit; in the commander resides the authority and responsibility to act and to lead so that the mission may be accomplished. In mission command, the commander must blend the art of command and the science of control, as he, supported by the staff, integrates all joint war fighting functions. (General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mission Command White Paper April 2012)

To be effective, from the outset of every mission the commander must:
1. Understand the problem
2. Envision the end state
3. Visualize the nature and design of the operations
4. Describe time, space, resources and purpose for the mission
5. Understand the intent of the mission
6. Clearly translate the intent to subordinates
7. Understand subordinate capabilities and trust (but verify) them to do it

The Commander’s (Leader’s) Intent

HesburghVisionWithout a clear understanding of what the boss wants, organizations will inevitably fail to achieve it. Without the gift of mind reading, success depends on the boss clearly communicating what he wants. This holds true regardless of the nature of the organizations, its size or purpose. Church leaders, business executives, managers, and heads of families could take a lesson from an enterprise that literally depends on communicating intent to save lives.

The military understands that the absence of a clear understanding of the commander‚Äôs intent, for any given operation, could result in the unnecessary death of people. The U.S. Army’s manual on the operations process emphasizes this by connecting the commander‚Äôs intent to everything about an operation including how the staff plans operations, the disciplined initiative of subordinate commanders when the plan changes, and the level of risk that is appropriate to achieve the ends state.

The commander’s intent is a clear and concise expression of the purpose of the operation and the desired military end state that supports mission command, provides focus to the staff, and helps subordinate and supporting commanders act to achieve the commander’s desired results without further orders, even when the operation does not unfold as planned (ARDP 5-0, Pg 1-5 )

Several principles govern the creation of intent:

  1. Commanders (substitute any leader as necessary) must have a vision (end state)
  2. Commanders must create and communicate intent by describing the components of their vision on their own. I have been in too many planning meetings where the boss asks the staff to come up with the intent; this is a responsibility that cannot be delegated.
  3. The intent must be concise and easy to remember, the shorter the better.
  4. The intent should be understood two levels below the commander. In Army terms, a brigade commander will frame intent so that a company commander understands it.
  5. Intent will provide the framework for action, shared understanding and focus until the end state is achieved

“The very essence of leadership is [that] you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”‚ÄĒ Theodore Hesburgh

With these principles in place, a commander can frame their intent using three components: Expanded purpose statement, list of key tasks, and statement of end state

  1. Expanded Purpose. The Army communicates purpose, or why an action is taken, in the mission statement of an operation order. The expanded purpose gives the context beyond why an action is planned by addressing the strategic implications to success and how it affects other parts of the organization.
  2. Key tasks. A brief list of activities required to achieve the desired end state. Staffs use the key task list to ensure the development of suitable and acceptable plans. When situations changes and significant opportunities present themselves, subordinates use the key tasks to focus their efforts to take initiative and achieve the end state.
  3. End state. Similar to a vision statement, the end state statement in more descriptive in describing the conditions that will exist when the organization has successfully met the commander’s intent. Write the description of end state in present tense as if everything has been actualized and the organization has achieved the best possible outcome.

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Learn to Learn and Think On Your Own

Lessons from the U.S. Army War College:

Rote learning is good for beginning learning on basic academic subjects, but rote learning fails with time and increased complexity of problem. There comes a time in every life when a person must learn to think critically and explore new ideas without the goading of a teacher, boss, or test. The person who fails to achieve this state is destined to struggle when the inevitable wicked problems of life and occupation arise.


“During your course here no one is going to compel you to work, for the simple reason that a man who requires to be driven is not worth the driving…Thus you will become your own students and until you learn how to teach yourselves, you will never be taught by others.” Major General J. F. C. Fuller

Danger Opportunity

‚Äú . . . the Chinese symbol for crisis is the merging of two signs, one meaning ‚Äėdanger‚Äô and the other meaning ‚Äėopportunity.‚Äô A crisis has the potential to transform or destroy. And what is the tipping point toward transformation in the face of crisis? The choice is either to cower in fear or to step forward with courage.‚ÄĚ

— Dr. Dan B. Allender, American author, educator, therapist

The Lost Art of Backward Planning

Jesus had a plan…and he executed it right on time.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Luke 9:51 (NIV)

Short of the¬†divine¬†knowledge Jesus possessed, few of us would be able to deliver exactly on time with as far to travel and as many things to do. ¬†Along the way he taught ¬†parables, eased Martha to the better choice, confronted demons, expressed woes to the pharisees, healed people, dined with his disciples, and prayed all night before being arrested…right on time.

Granted, the things we do day-to-day don’t have¬†eternal¬†consequences for all of humanity, but why do we seem to always miss deadlines, cram all night to study or finish a project, or flat out miss deadlines? ¬†We’ve lost the art of backward planning.

Backward planning is the process of determining the right time to start something by subtracting from the finish point the time required to complete it .

Here’s a simple example: ¬†It takes 2 hours to drive to your mothers and you need to be there by 7:00pm. ¬†Subtract 2 hours from 7pm and you need to leave at five. ¬†WAIT, WAIT…don’t stop reading, it gets better.

What we fail to do is apply this simple concept to more complex projects like the yearly report, your ¬†masters degree thesis, or even family panning. ¬† Here’s some simple steps to backward plan your next project.

  1. Determine the finish point
  2. List all tasks that must be done in order
  3. Estimate the length of each task
  4. Subtract each length from the finish point

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