The Deputy Sends…

1000w_q75The contents of this blog are published with the original author’s permission and is some of the best mentoring I have received in my professional career.

DEPUTY SENDS #1: Leader Development Starts with the Individual

The CG’s number one priority is to “Develop Army leaders.” As I’ve been considering what this means for our workforce, I’ve been reflecting on the responsibilities and actions required of myself, both as a supervisor and a subordinate.

Our office has invested, and continues to invest, a great deal of resources to professionally develop its workforce. In FY16, we sent 17 personnel to 24 various training courses, not including language training and broadening TDYs. Training serves an important role in building the necessary competencies required to succeed within a specific position or career field. Leader development, however, requires the nourishment of the intangible qualities of an individual such as character, attitude, and authenticity. Our journey to develop as “authentic leaders” has no end point, and it begins with us as individuals, understanding ourselves and how we’ve been shaped by our experiences. In 2007, Bill George (former CEO of Medtronic and now a Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School) wrote:

“The journey begins with leaders understanding their life stories. Authentic leaders frame their stories in ways that allow them to see themselves not as passive observers but as individuals who learn from their experiences. These leaders make time to examine their experiences and to reflect on them, and in doing so they grow as individuals and as leaders. Authentic leaders also work hard at developing self-awareness through persistent and often courageous self- exploration. Denial can be the greatest hurdle that leaders face in becoming self-aware, but authentic leaders ask for, and listen to, honest feedback. They also use formal and informal support networks to help them stay grounded and lead integrated lives.”

In May 2013, Kevin Kruse, a contributor to Forbes Magazine, further defined the elements associated with authentic leaders:

  1. Authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine. Authentic leaders are self-actualized individuals who are aware of their strengths, their limitations, and their emotions. They also show their real selves to their followers. They do not act one way in private and another in public; they don’t hide their mistakes or weaknesses out of fear of looking weak. They also realize that being self-actualized is an endless journey, never complete.
  2. Authentic leaders are mission driven and focused on results. They are able to put the mission and the goals of the organization ahead of their own self-interest. They do the job in pursuit of results, not for their own power, money or ego.
  3. Authentic leaders lead with their heart, not just their minds. They are not afraid to show their emotions, their vulnerability and to connect with their employees. This does not mean authentic leaders are “soft.” In fact communicating in a direct manner is critical to successful outcomes, but it’s done with empathy; directness without empathy is cruel.
  4. Authentic leaders focus on the long-term. A key tenet in Bill George’s model is the company leaders are focused on long-term shareholder value, not in just beating quarterly estimates. Just as George did as CEO of Medtronic, and as Bezos has done for years at Amazon, leaders realize that to nurture individuals and to nurture a company requires hard work and patience, but the approach pays large dividends over time.

In Mr. Kruse’s fourth element, he makes reference to “long-term shareholder value.” As public servants, we don’t generate profits, but we work to create public value with respect to national security and defense of the homeland.

Bill George also stated that “No longer is leadership about developing charisma, emulating other leaders, looking externally, and acting in one’s self-interest…nor should leadership be conflated with your leadership style, managerial skills, or competencies.” Skills and competencies can be trained and developed; at the core there must be a foundation of character complimented by a positive attitude.

The CG’s priority of developing Army leaders is not a task or effort reserved only for our unit’s supervisors and/or specific staff sections – it’s a call to action for all of us, regardless of position or rank, to continually seek personal and professional growth that positively contributes to the collective good of our Army and the organization in which we work.

The responsibility for leader development starts with the individual. We are responsible for our own development as leaders; supervisors enable that development through feedback, dialogue, encouragement, and facilitating the appropriate professional opportunities. We cannot be passive passengers on our leadership journey; we must be proactive in pursuing personal growth. The responsible choices and actions we make on a daily basis, and our ability to learn from our mistakes, are what allows us to continue developing as leaders – not passively waiting for the next training course to become available. To that end, we all should strive daily to:

– Be self-reflective. Set time aside daily to reflect on ourselves – who we are, how we can improve, and how we can best realize our leadership potential while living integrated lives with our friends and family. Reflection is critical sometimes to gain clarity.

– Be intellectually curious. Spend less time surfing the internet, and commit yourself to professional reading and writing. Reading allows us to consume new information, while writing enables us to reflect and process that information in a more conceptual and thoughtful manner.

– Be empathetic. Making a real effort to view ourselves and situations from the perspectives of others.

– Build and Maintain a Support Network. We can’t succeed alone – build and maintain relationships with family, friends, and professional associates. We all need support from those relationships in order to navigate life’s ambiguity and get through difficult times and gain honest feedback.

DEPUTY SENDS #2: Mentorship

In response to an Army Directive, our staff has been working to develop and implement an “Emerging Enterprise Leader” (EEL) development program. As this program gets implemented (~Fall 2017), the mentoring component will be a very large element to make this program successful.

Army Regulation 600-100 is the Army’s policy for leadership. It states that “All leaders have a responsibility to develop those junior to them to the fullest extent possible. In addition to institutional training and education, leaders can facilitate development through the knowledge and feedback they provide through counseling, coaching, and mentoring.” Counseling is the leader’s feedback mechanism to a subordinate, whereas coaching refers to a leader teaching/guiding someone to assist them in developing and refining skills. The Army defines mentorship as:

“The voluntary developmental relationship that exists between a person of greater experience and a person of lesser experience that is characterized by mutual trust and respect…that extends beyond the scope of chain of command relationships and occurs when a mentor provides the mentee advice and counsel over a period of time. Effective mentorship will positively impact personal and professional development. Assessment, feedback, and guidance are critical within the mentoring relationship and should be valued by the mentee in order for growth and development to occur.”

Equally important to having a mentor who provides positive encouragement and support, is having a mentor who will challenge the mentee. Good mentors provide honest and candid feedback; a mentee must be willing to accept that constructive criticism, reflect on and internalize it, and apply those changes necessary to realize improvement. As Bill George writes, “Mentors are not necessarily people who make you feel good about yourself or tell you that you can do anything. Sometimes the best mentors provide tough love by being critical as a means of teaching…As a mentor, it is relatively easy to be a good listener and support other people’s ideas but harder and riskier to point out their weaknesses and blind spots.”

Most of us are currently mid-level careerists, where we are simultaneously providing mentorship to others, while also still in need of mentoring ourselves as we continue to grow professionally. Acknowledging that the ultimate goal of mentorship is for the mentee to realize both personal and professional growth, both the mentor and the mentee must be willing to have honest dialogue that drives improvement and development of the mentee. As you proactively seek out mentorship, ask your mentors to highlight areas you need to improve, and how to effectively realize that improvement. Likewise, as you serve as a mentor to others, engage in those difficult conversation and provide constructive feedback that challenges your mentees and helps them to develop.

Ultimately the success of a mentoring relationship rests on the mentee’s ability to be proactive in seeking out mentorship, self-reflective, and willing to change.

DEPUTY SENDS #3: Staff Officer Coordination and Email

A major indicator that a staff officer has not fully and effectively coordinated an action (particularly an important and time-sensitive action) to the best of their ability, is when asked for a status, they state “I’ve sent an email, but am still awaiting a response.”

Electronic mail, or email, has become the common method of communication and tool for coordination – particularly within the Department of Defense. Email is not coordination in itself – it’s merely one of many tools to assist staff officers to conduct coordination. Email can facilitate an extremely fast flow of information to a wide audience of recipients. There are instances when employing email as a staff coordination tool is effective; however, relying on email as the sole tool for coordination has several risks that can lead to failure, especially when input from the other stakeholder(s) is required.

An email sent does not equate to coordination complete.

Coordination is a key function of a staff officer – great staff officers are those who can coordinate effectively to gain the required input in a timely manner. At the end of the day, if we’re not commanders, we’re staff officers. Some staff officers may also have formal leadership/supervisory roles, but all are still required to conduct coordination with others.

The importance of our unit’s ability to effectively coordinate cannot be emphasized enough. Our office is required to engage in constant coordination across all staff sections within our unit, country teams, the combatant command, the Army headquarters, and various other external stakeholders. When our office fails to effectively coordinate, the impact is usually immense and realized at several levels.

I don’t believe the instances when our unit has failed to effectively conduct staff coordination is due to a lack of skill or ability of our team. Rather, the root cause often lies in our over-reliance on coordinating solely by email – ALL OF US ARE GUILTY AND NEED TO IMPROVE.

A staff officer has not completed their responsibility of coordination until the information/feedback they seek has been appropriately realized.

The likelihood of staff coordination failing is significantly greater when other methods of coordination are not employed. The recipient(s) may have not read the email, and/or are already overwhelmed by other competing requirements. Their email inbox may be overflowing, non-functioning, or they’re working other deadlines for supervisors or other staff sections. Some emails fail to clearly articulate the action/input being requested (what), the importance of their input (why), and the associated required suspense (when).

If a staff officer chooses to use email as the first method of soliciting information or decision, then the responsibility still rests with the originating staff officer to conduct follow-up, either face-to-face or via phone.

If you operate in an area of proximity, follow-up your email by engaging stakeholder(s) in-person – it’ll be the most effective way to (1) demonstrate to them importance of the issue, (2) provide clarity and (3) gain feedback. If time is a constraint, or the individuals are located further away, contact them by phone. Both methods will increase the responsiveness of obtaining the information (or alternate source for information) in a timely manner, while also building greater professional rapport.

DEPUTY SENDS #4: Competence, Character, and Attitude

We’ve all worked with different types of individuals throughout our careers. Some employees are really nice people, but wouldn’t be considered stellar performers or subject matter experts in their fields. We may enjoy being around them during social events, but they might not be our first picks to have on a project team. Conversely, we’ve all encountered individuals who are very knowledgeable, but are difficult to work with, negative, or simply untrustworthy. Even though their expertise is undisputable, their overall personality makes them undesirable to work with.

Then there are individuals who are extremely knowledgeable, professional, positive, and are trustworthy – their reputations are often well-known and everyone wants them on their team. The reason why subordinates, peers, and/or supervisors alike enjoy working with this type of individual because they possess technical COMPETENCE, have a high-level of CHARACTER, and possess a positive ATTITUDE – and are consistent in how they both act and perform over time. These attributes can be defined through the following questions:

COMPETENCE
- Knowledgeable in their area of work and able to quickly learn new tasks/concepts?
- Able to apply that knowledge to produce value-added and meaningful contributions? – Consistently produces a high quality work and products?
- Writing ability and verbal communication skills?
- Able to technically function with little oversight and/or guidance?

CHARACTER
- Is the individual trustworthy and do they possess integrity?
- Is the individual respectful to others (gender, race, religion, differing professional positions? – Does the individual always doing the right thing, needing little to no oversight?
- Unifies people or a driver of conflict in the workplace?

ATTITUDE
- Consistently maintains a positive attitude, or are they pessimistic and negative? – Acts in a professional manner, or is abrasive and combative?
- Consistently works well with others (peers, subordinates, other staff sections)? – Willing to assist others and be a team player, or are they divisive and toxic?
- Proactive and takes initiative; eager to learn and listen to others?

Having served on 17 hiring panels over the past five years, I’ve found applicant resumes to be informative about competence, but did not provide a complete picture of the individual in terms of character and attitude. This is where contacting professional references and requesting past performance evaluations for review have become critical elements of the selection process, prior to extending an interview. When the above questions were asked to applicants’ past employers, their feedback was very insightful – and not always positive. Technical competence is important, but arguably more important, is the attitude and character of an individual.

As I reflect on the military and civilian personnel who have worked in our unit over the past eight years, the best performers sometimes had little to no knowledge of security cooperation and/or Africa when they initially arrived, but they did possess great character, positive attitudes, and were quick learners. Over time as they gained experience and training, they excelled because of who they were, and how they chose to apply the knowledge and skills they had acquired.

Bill Tayler, co-founder of Fast Company, conducted interviews and research of ING Direct (online banking), Southwest Airlines (airline service), and the Specialty Care Center (healthcare). What he found was that these companies evaluate “talent based on the proposition that who you are as a person counts for as much as what you know at any point in time – and subjects prospective employees to a barrage of character tests before they join the organization…They hire for attitude and train for skill. They believe that one of the biggest challenges they face is to fill their ranks with executives and front-line employees whose personal values are in sync with the values that make the organization tick. As a result, they believe that character counts for more than credentials.”i

We should ask ourselves: (1) How would we rate our own competence, character, and attitude (how we view ourselves)? (2) How would others rate those attributes about us (how others view us)? (3) How can we improve?

DEPUTY SENDS #5: 10 Things That Require Zero Talent

The last Deputy Sends #4 addressed hiring for competence, character, and attitude – with character and attitude being the most important elements of an individual.

On LinkedIn, several individuals continue to share the list of “10 Things That Require Zero Talent.” A Google search shows that this list is pretty prevalent on the internet and shared in many different formats, but the list itself remains unchanged.

“10 Things That Require Zero Talent:

Being on Time (and in the right uniform/attire)2. Work Ethic (not watching YouTube videos or surfacing Facebook during duty hours) 3. Effort (fulfilling one’s duty and obligations to the fullest)4. Body Language
5. Energy
6. Attitude (positive attitude)7. Passion
8. Being Coachable (and possess self-awareness)9. Doing Extra (be proactive in taking action, vice waiting to be told)10. Being Prepared.”

All of these attributes go back to an individual’s character and attitude, and compliments very well the seven Army values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

It doesn’t matter what an individual’s educational background is, how much professional experience they possess, or how much they know (or think they know) – if the individual is unable to do the fundamental things listed above, all of their competence/experience is of little-to-no value to an organization.

A person who possesses the ten attributes above are usually the ones who are most effective in applying the knowledge and experience they possess, and turning it into meaningful action that produces value for the organization.

A “top block” performer is someone who consistently excels at the ten things that require zero talent – and then are also able to consistently excel performing the technical aspects of their position.

DEPUTY SENDS #6: Improving Through Constructive Feedback

In myDeputy Sends #2: Mentorship I wrote that “Good mentors provide honest and candid feedback; a mentee must be willing to accept that constructive criticism, reflect on and internalize it, and apply those changes necessary to realize improvement.”

Often times, we are narrowly focused on training and education as the primary means to be professionally developed and groomed for the next level of responsibility. However, proactively and persistently seeking constructive feedback from those around us is the most accessible, immediate, and unlimited manner that we can realize incremental improvements for future success. Compliments and praise are nice – positive feedback is often uplifting – but we won’t reach our full potential without spending more time analyzing constructive feedback about how we can improve.

The biggest barrier preventing us from capitalizing on feedback is ourselves. The tendency to perceive feedback as a personal affront is a function of ego. Try not to view constructive feedback as negative criticism, denigration, personal attacks, or blame; rather, embrace feedback as an opportunity to become a better professional.

During a conference in 2016, I provided a 60-minute brief about security cooperation. Following the brief, I asked several individuals, “How did I do?” Individuals only offered compliments and pats on the back; I knew there was something I could have done a lot better. I approached a senior civilian in the organization who I had trusted would offer constructive feedback about how I could improve – he did not disappoint. His comments to me included: “It was a bit too academic…too much information and detail…the brief probably did not resonate with most individuals because of the level of detail vs. their level of knowledge…after about 30 minutes, you lost my attention.” It was now my responsibility to contemplate that feedback, understand why this individual made those assertions, and consider what I could do to improve.

Fast-forward one year, and I was asked to brief the same topic again during the 2017 conference. This time I reduced the brief by half – both in time and material. I reflected back on the 2016 comments from the senior civilian, thought more about the purpose of the brief, desired outcome, the diversity of the audience, and adjusted the key points of the brief accordingly. After my presentation concluded, I again approached several individuals for feedback, to include the senior civilian – all of whom provided positive feedback. During the break however, a visiting general officer approached me. He commented, “You know, everyone here is saying you did a great job on your brief – and it was good – but I didn’t want you to leave not thinking about how it could be better. For me, you failed to really draw me in and capture my interest, mainly because it was a lot of information for 30 minutes…I think you could’ve done better by having fewer slides, focusing on three key themes/points, and soliciting participation more from the audience – seeking questions and/or comments…when you brief GOs, you have to draw them in – they’re receiving countless briefs every day and consuming tons of information – tell them what they truly need to know – not what’s interesting to you.” That was powerful feedback from an executive leader who forced me to further consider how I could evolve the manner of preparing and delivering a presentation more effectively in the future, particularly if the target audience is at the GO/SES-level.

We all need to more proactively seek constructive feedback from others about how we can improve – after a brief, submission of a product, execution of an event, or during performance counseling – and truly embrace the feedback. The feedback may be communicated in a very direct manner, but depending on the source, it may also be transmitted through very subtle and mitigated language – it’s our responsibility to actively listen and interpret what others are telling us. Understanding what we did well is important to sustain good practices, but it’s equally important to learn how we could have done something better, or different. Before dismissing feedback, make more of an effort to internalize it, and determine how to best incorporate it in the future.

Training and education may increase our knowledge and/or skills, but effectively seeking out and leveraging constructive feedback, on a routine basis, will enhance our performance, increase our professional reputations, and increase the likelihood of further career progression.

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