Leading people can be one of the more difficult tasks in the business world. Many people don’t like taking orders, and many people feel uncomfortable telling people that work has to get done and that they are the ones that will do it. There are many cases where a person will be tasked with managing someone that is old enough to be their mother or father. There are also many cases in which a person will be promoted and called to manage friends.
These have been many of the hardships I have faced while leading, managing and mentoring people. I am, at this point, fairly new to the world of business leadership. I am, however, not new to leading people. At the time of writing this post I am taking over a platoon of MPs in an Army Reserve Company, and I have had several years of experience leading a squad and a team before this most recent assignment.
In this post, I am going to share with you some of my philosophies about work and leadership and how it applies to both the military and the business world. But before I get started, I want to clarify that there is a difference between managing, leading and mentoring. They can all be performed by the same person, or by separate people with differing relationships to you. The differences are important and not practicing some of these skills can stunt the development of your employees.
- Manage – to be in charge of (a company, establishment, or undertaking); administer; run.
- Lead – to be in charge or command of.
- Mentor – advice or train (someone, especially a younger colleague).
You can see that these roles are very similar, by definition. But they can be broken down a little better I think.
To manage someone is really the least developmental in my opinion. You ensure that they have work to do, even if it is busy work at times. You check their work for accuracy, correctness, and completeness, and ensure that they are where they should be when they should be there.
By contrast, to mentor someone is to help in the development of that person, with the goal of improving their ability to perform a task, or even to help in the development of that person on a professional, emotional or spiritual level.
In my opinion, leadership is a combination of the other two, and it is how I operate as a Non-Commissioned Officer in the United States Army. Not only do I ensure that my people, and by extension their people, are on time and in the correct uniform, ready to do the professional work that we have trained to do; but I also help to develop my junior leaders in how to do their jobs and how to develop their soldiers in return.
Leadership, executed properly, will result in an organization that produces excellent employees that can easily take over the job one level up, making replacing employees easy. At the same time, this will develop an environment with high morale and loyalty.
Now, the keys to good leadership are not difficult to perform. Although, there seems to be a lot of people not willing to put in the effort. My list of keys is in numerical order for a reason, number 1 is the most important to me, you get where this is going.
- Honesty – Lacking this key will ruin your relationship with your employees. You must have honesty of all types, including intellectual honesty. Do not hide your failures or mistakes, own them and fix them, and show a genuine effort not to repeat them.
- Integrity – This goes hand-in-hand with honesty, and should support your ability to be honest with you employees and your employer.
- Ability – You must have the ability to do the work that you need your people to do. It is impossible to be an expert in every area. But having an area of expertise and have a general understand of the other duties that your employees perform will help to reinforce why you were selected to be in a leadership position. You people are watching your every move, they will quickly figure out if you are faking the funk.
- Competence/Confidence – Competence ties in with both ability and confidence in my book. Confidence without competence and ability is just arrogance, which will not sit well with most employees. Ability without confidence is often wasted.
- Grace – Grace is not neglected in the civilian market like it in in the military. However, an overabundance of grace may result in employees that see you as weak. It is important to the difference between excuses and reasons, and apply grace to those who deserve it.
With the right balance of the above characteristics, I have found a degree of success in leading soldiers. I am constantly trying to find the right balance, and it seems that every organization has a different formula for what works.
Now, on to another important issue. WORK!
We don’t leave our families every day because we enjoy working (although some of us have found work that we do enjoy). We work because we must provide shelter and sustenance to ourselves and the ones we love.
So, how do we motivate out employees to do quality work that they might not care about?
In a perfect world, they would just work, and their work would be done to the best of their ability. But this is not a perfect world, and you will have an employee that seems to give less than his best.
First off I would like to say that I do not think that all bad employees are irredeemable. In my time in the Army, I have come across several soldiers that were considered irredeemable. Many of them were, and they were cut from our ranks. However, several (at least 3) were turned around by effective leadership. All of these “irredeemable soldier” I am proud to have severed with, and I would gladly take any of them as subordinate leaders in the Army as well as in the civilian market.
That being said, sometimes the best option is to cut employees like that, especially if they start to affect the morale and culture you (hopefully) have carefully cultivated.
Work is a reflection of who we are, even boring work is a reflection of us. If we are lazy, our work will look lazy. If we are bored by our work, it will show. If we take pride in our work, that will be apparent.
So getting our employees to perform in a professional manner can be a simple as explaining that simple concept to them. Or you can use different methods to have your employees compete against themselves, where good work is rewarded. Games always work, especially when they come with gift cards.