It would be naive to think that one leadership or management strategy is going to work exactly the same from environment to environment. It’s just not that easy. Every organization, work center, company, and or course, the military will have different ways of operating. After all, they all have different missions.
I am now working in my fifth work center in the last six years. I didn’t have a full spectrum of the mission or what I’d be doing. I did have to put my learning cap on and embrace the change. A question that has come to mind lately is how do I lead in an environment that I am unfamiliar with? After brainstorming with my mentor and close friend I have narrowed down some ways. Here are 5 ways to get your foot in the door into leading in a new environment.
Learn the mission! You have to know what the overall mission is and you have to know your role in the mission. Know your limits of responsibility and know your strengths and weaknesses given the new mission. Everyone has a specific amount of responsibility over their area. Know where your role begins and ends. Ask yourself what you bring to the table? What are you good at and what do you need work at? You will need to self assess your strengths/weaknesses in this new environment. Play your strengths when you are able and learn when you are unfamiliar with the process or directions. Ask questions when you don’t know an answer or a process. It’s okay to ask other agencies how they fit in the mission. You need to see the big picture and not just the area around you. Knowing the mission and knowing your role will ultimately help move the mission forward.
Introductions! Aside from knowing the mission, you have to know the team you’re a part of. In order to work on a team you’ve got to know the team and the team has to know you. First impressions are very important, but we can never truly know someone by a simple greeting. After personal introductions have been made, lay the foundation of your work ethic. Begin to show your work ethic. This is where people will truly get a sense of who you are. Lead with values, not authority. Values provide a standard of positive behavior. Use them and add other values that instill a strong work ethic. Get to know how your team members operate. Seek what drives their performance. Ask them questions about their passions, their family, their background. Leading is ultimately about taking care of people. One must know their teammates on a professional and personal level in order to be effective at taking care of them. After all, leadership is about taking care of people. Know your team!
Be proactive, not reactive! Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do something. Take initiative in your area. Seek out and find what needs to be done or what could be done. There is always someone who needs help. Go ask them if you can help or if there is anything you can do to help. If you know what needs to be done, do it. If you don’t, then ask someone what you can do to contribute. This is why knowing the mission is important. It will give you an idea on what needs to be done. When you’re proactive you stay ahead of the game. Doing so can often help save you and others time in the future. Being proactive means you’re prepared. No one likes the feeling of being unprepared. Take initiative every chance you get! It may lead to some great opportunities! Nothing is more satisfying to a supervisor than seeing a subordinate take charge. This not only tells them you have a great work ethic, but that you are capable of leading. Be proactive!
Communicating clearly. Communication is a very hard skill to master. For someone to put thoughts or an idea into words, or better yet, action, it can be quite difficult if you don’t understand how each member of your team listens or learns. To clearly get your objectives across to your team can be very delicate. Make sure you take time to get the correct words down before you speak your objectives/tasks/ideas, etc. The precision of your communication can make or break the success of your team. And always make sure that your team members know to ask questions if they don’t clearly understand the objective. That is also another part of communication. It’s a two way street. Ensure you communicate clearly and ensure your team knows how to seek answers from you by asking. Listening and hearing are two different things. Listening is an audible action, hearing what’s said is the process of information into a structured concept. Communicate clearly so that your point is heard.
Be willing to learn! A leader’s job isn’t to know all of the answers. Leaders must show they are willing to learn from their team members. Listening and learning from the members on the team builds trust. When teams learn from each other it strengthens their ability to adapt to overcome challenges. It creates a teamwork environment. When leaders and members of the team are open to learning from each other it also creates a culture of learning. Learning is how we grow. Show them that if you can, they can. Learn together!