The Risk of Leading

Leadership

Failing the mission.  Team disfunction.  Loss of resources, time, money, and people.  These are all outcomes when leading.  It’s scary to step into the role of a leader.  Once you have decided to care for others the people and the mission become your responsibility.  It’s terrifying knowing that the decisions you make could hinder the mission or the people around you.  And if everything does go south, all fingers could point to you.

There is risk in leading, but that’s what makes a leader a leader.  They understand things may not always work out and that the outcome is never guaranteed.  Leaders take on the risk in order to achieve success, but they make decisions using their knowledge and experienced combined with the team’s knowledge and experience to make wise decisions.  Leveraging the power of the team is necessary to reduce the risk.  Leaders do this constantly and consistently. 

Bottom line, it’s going to be scary.  It’s going to be challenging and it’s going to be tough.  There is no avoiding it.   The greatest part about risk is that when it works right everybody wins!  Innovation requires risk and without leaders pushing the boundaries of the line between failure and success innovation will not occur.  

There is purpose to why we spend so much time developing our leadership abilities.  The more prepared we are the higher chance we have at succeeding.  The approach to risk always has the same liabilities, but the action to challenge it gets easier every time you take risk.  It’ll never feel perfect or guaranteed, but the fear, the uncertainty goes away because you know it has to happen.  People need to grow and the mission needs to be accomplished.  We can’t halt everything just because we have to face a decision with risk.

Keep in mind risk will come in many forms, but don’t approach it alone.  Use your team, the mission and the values that guide the culture to overcome it.  

5 Ways You’re Failing as a Leader

Leadership

We all know a bad leader from a good one.  It’s like a superpower.  We just know.  How well a leader leads can sometimes hinder the culture of the organization and or performance of the team. 

How often do we call out what leaders are doing wrong?  How do we know what to look for?  It’s tough to identify every detail leaders do wrong, but there are some more common than others.  

As a leader you have to evaluate how you’re leading.  The more trust the team has the stronger the team is.  If you were to fall, you would want someone there to pick you up, right?  If you reach your hand out, would your team be there to lift you up? A successful team works together and you are a part of that team.  Here are what I feel are five ways you could be failing as a leader.

You devalue your team members.  Every team is diverse to some capacity.  Each person brings a set of skills and experience to the table.  A bad leader overlooks talent and experience and undervalues their team members.  Teams are not things.  They are people.  You can’t see people as objects.  They hold a different value.  They are the life force of any organization.  Never underestimate the power of your team.  Diversity is a great team asset.  Teams work best when they are used to the best of their abilities.  A great leader values  the abilities of their team members.

It’s your way and only your way.  This aligns with the value of the team.  Plain and simple, not every decision has to be made from you nor does every idea have to generate from you.  Part of a leader’s job is to grow others into leading.  You can’t do that when you’re the only person making decisions or providing ideas.  You have to allow others to contribute as well.  If you don’t use your team you will end up losing your team. A great leader provides the opportunity for others to contribute. 

You don’t listen. Communication is a two way street.  Your team members may have great ideas and solutions.  Sometimes the best solutions come from those around you, but you’ve got to listen.  Listening is crucial to interacting with your team.  Someone may be having a bad day and it’s your responsibility as a leader to help them bounce back.  Listening isn’t just an audible action, it’s also a visionary action.  Body language, moods and performance can be seen and interpreted.  You’ve got to listen to what others are saying even when they’re not actually saying it.  Leaders listen. 

You’re looking out for yourself above others.  Nothing disconnects a leader more as to when they’re only looking out for their self.  Being a leader is putting others first.  Leaders give team members the glory and the recognition.  Your team won’t succeed if you only look after yourself.  Leaders look out and help their team rise to success.

You don’t lead by example. One the most powerful ways to lead is to lead by example.  If you enforce a standard for the team, but you’re not following it, then it just shows that you are above the standard and them.  Just like a child mimicking their parent, a team will mimic their leader.  What you do, they will do.  What you tolerate becomes the normal.  If you have bad habits, they will adopt them because that’s the culture you have allowed to take over.  Before you expect others to act the set standards be sure that you are doing so as well.  Leaders lead by example.

5 Leadership Lessons from Suicide Squad

Leadership

Everyone had the potential to be better, do better and know better.  A chance to put ourselves last and a chance to prove that we are better than we may seem.  The Suicide Squad was given the opportunity to do some good.  Though, this is a movie about some bad guys, we can still learn to be a good leader from the examples.  Here are a few things we can learn from the Suicide Squad regarding leadership. 

viola-davis-as-amanda-waller-in-suicide-squad

Amanda Waller: I want to build a team of some very dangerous people, who I think can do some good.

Leaders see potential.  They see a bit of the future in how people can make a difference.  Here,  Waller pitchers her idea that she wants to build a team of some very dangerous people, who she thinks can do some good.  She did her homework.  She looked into everyone’s background to get all the information she needed to pick the team.  She looked at everyone’s strengths and weaknesses to form the team.  Which brings us to the next lesson.

Amanda Waller: Because getting people to act against their own self-interest for the national security of the United States is what I do for a living.

Leaders know their team.  A great leader knows their team members on a personal level.  Meaning they know more than their strengths and weaknesses.  They know their story.  They know their families, they know their goals, etc.  They do this so they will know their triggers in how to inspire them, how to motivate them and what they need to get the task complete.  

Amanda Waller:  Before she ran off and joined the circus, she was known as Dr. Harleen Quinzel. A psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum. She was assigned to the clown himself. She thought she was curing him, but she was falling in love. Talk about a workplace romance gone wrong.

suicide-squad-4-2-600x399
Knowing how to motivate can be quite difficult if you don’t know your team members.  Deadshot brought it up a few times to Flagg about motivating the squad.  Flagg didn’t care about the team. He just saw them as tools.  If you’re going to lead any time regardless of the mission you must learn to inspire and motivate.   Leaders know how to motivate.  

Deadshot: You might wanna work on your team motivation thing.

During the bar scene where everyone is having a drink, Deadshot is talking about how they almost pulled it off and then Diablo responds with how they weren’t picked to succeed, but they were chosen to fail.  

Deadshot: Well, we almost pulled it off despite what everybody thought.
Diablo: We weren’t picked to succeed. You know that, right? We were all chosen to fail.

gallery-1470325627-suicide-squad-trailer-2-3-bar-scene

Diablo goes on to talk his past of killing his wife and children and then Harley comments:

Harley Quinn: Own that shit. Own it!

It’s important for leaders to own their mistakes.  What you do after the mistake matters most.  Near the end of the movie, Waller asked Flagg how the Enchatress got loose and Flagg confessed that it was his fault that she pretty much got away from them. He owned his mistakes and said he would accept the consequences.  Admitting mistakes and then taking ownership is a characteristic of integrity.  

Rick Flag: I’ll accept the consequences.

Integrity isn’t just doing the right thing when no one is watching, it’s also admitting you did something wrong when no one was watching. Leaders have integrity. 

Reviving Core Values

Leadership, Organization

Every day I walk up a flight of stairs to my office where I work as NCOIC, Administration Management. On the first set of stairs, there are three steps that have one Air Force core value written on each of them.  Integrity, Service, Excellence. These core values are burned into the memory of every Airman since day one of basic training. They are meant to guide us. They are meant to be lived. They are meant to be a path of being better, doing better and knowing better. Yet, at times, we, members in the Air Force, undervalue and underutilize our core values. 

Values drive the behavior of any organization, not just the military. Values are set so that the people in the organization have a guiding light, a north star to show which direction to go when we’re lost and to remind us that although, people fail, our values cannot. Values will be rock solid. Values will never fail you. Values will always be there when you need them.

An organization that doesn’t have a set of values setting the behavior of the organization will often fail. It would be as if the organization is walking blindly. Our Air Force core values are easy to understand. Opportunities are birthed every day that allow us to perform our core values. Values are not meant to be used sparingly, they are meant to be used at every opportunity that arises. It’s how we create a culture of positive behavior. We can correlate a core value into almost every decision and every action and if we’re dedicated to actually living them, we’ll never be wrong. Though, we can fail as people and as a leader, it doesn’t mean values have failed you, it just means that you’ve failed at what you’re doing.  Ret. Gen Stanley McCrystal once said, “Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”  The same goes for our core values.  Though, you, a person may fail, if your core values are the heart of your actions, you will not be a failure.  It just means you have to try again.

Sure, we hear them, read them and every Airman is given a coin that has them embedded in it, but are we using them to the fullest potential? Even more, are we, as a team and individuals using them at all? Is it even possible to live them constantly every day? I like to think that if we gave a little more effort into living our core values how awesome our leadership would be and how awesome our teams would be. Walking up the steps to my office while reading our core values challenges me to live them. Just like in any busy work culture, it’s easy to overlook our values. I’m guilty of it, I’m sure others are too. Will there be days that you just don’t feel like putting in the effort? Of course, but our core values even address that behavior. 

The Air Force provides a definition for each core value(can be found here), but is that the end all be all to the core values? No. They can mean different things to different people and can be elaborated on.  What do you think they mean?  It’s a question that we, as an entire organization sort of forgot about as we engage in our daily duties and I believe our core values need to be given the attention they deserve. Right? Our culture depends on it.  Lately, it seems we’ve lost sight of our values and that’s okay, we’re human, we forget things, we know life is busy. It’s never too late to revive them and use them to improve our culture. Our core values have unlimited value.

Above all else, values help us be and become better leaders. When we feel our teams slipping in character, judgement and performance, we should always look at our values.  They’ll keep us in line and keep us moving forward.  Values create a work environment fit to thrive and survive.  Here is my personal look at how I apply and see the Air Force core values. I hope over the next few days or weeks you consider writing your perspective on the core values.  Share your perspective with your team, use it as a topic of professional development.  Get to know your Airman’s perspective to see how they view them.

Integrity first –  It’s not just about doing the right thing when no one is watching, it’s also about holding yourself accountable when no one is watching.   This also includes you holding your team members accountable.  It’s about carrying out your responsibilities accurately and effectively as possible. Show humility when you don’t have the answer. It’s okay to be wrong. Own your mistakes.  Be transparent in what you do. Keep true to yourself and be a person others can count on.  Integrity is about how the team is held together.  Make sure there are no kinks in your line that can jeopardize how the team holds on together. 

Service before self There will be days when you wake up and you just don’t feel like it.  We’ve all had those days and we will have more. What we do as Airman is bigger than ourselves.  It’s bigger than our personal desires.  Service before self is simple.  Your duties come first to include the service of leadership.  It’s about taking care of people as well. People are a part of the service so they must be taken care of so they can take care of the mission. Personal desires can always be put be aside to handle an issue/task/challenge at hand. This is not about you, it’s about the team.  When the team wins, you win.

Excellence in all we do –  My middle school coach used to say, “Go hard or go home.”  That was the standard.  Was it possible to give your full 100% every single football practice? No, but it wasn’t just about your physical ability. It was about your mentality, your heart, your attention, your dedication. It was more than running hard or hitting hard. It was the effort, the approach to the game. We must not only do our best, but whatever we do must be done with the results of great effort.  It’s hard to really measure effort, but people can always tell when you are giving less than what you are capable of giving. Whatever we’re working on, the end goal, must reflect excellence. Don’t commit to something unless you can give your absolute full attention and effort it deserves. One of my favorite quotes is from one of my favorite runners Steve Prefontaine. “To give any less than your best is to sacrifice a gift.” There is no time for slacking, half-assing, or procrastination.  If you’re going to do a job, do it right.  In the words of Deadpool, “Maximum effort.”

A 3 Pointer in Failure Readiness

Leadership, Life, Organization, TEDTalks

I don’t watch a lot of sports, nor do I play very many, but I am a very competitive person in just about everything.  Everyone knows that competitive people dislike losing.  I was never much of a basketball player, but I did play in middle school and a little in high school.  I remember playing in middle school and one particular game stood out more than the rest.  We were losing by 6 and we had .57 seconds on the clock before halftime.  Half a second!  It was our ball under our own basket.  The coach called a stack play and knowing we only had a split second, I refused to run the play.  There wasn’t time for it.  I took a risk.  As soon as the ball was in play a shot had to be made, if a shot could be taken.  I actually remember setting up for the play and then breaking to run to the 3-point line around the opposite side.  The person throwing the ball was telling me to get back, but I said, ”We don’t have time for a play, throw me the ball.”  I was wide open!  He threw me the ball and I shot the 3 pointer.  I made it, but we were still losing. 

If there is one thing that we dislike the most it would be failing.  We are anti-failure! We don’t want it to happen!  It doesn’t feel good and it can cost us time, money and resources. Though it doesn’t feel good, it’s bound to happen at some point.  We all experience failure.

Even though I made that shot, it wasn’t enough to tie or take the lead. What I felt was failure.  I remember sitting in the locker room and I was very upset that we were losing.  We weren’t winning and to come back seemed like it would need a miracle.  I was not happy and I began to think losing was inevitable.  As I look back, I now know that there is a way to fail the right way.  I may not have realized the in-depth look at failing, but I do now. Here are a few lessons I extracted from this memory that has helped me be ready for failure. 

Mindset; Be prepared – Burn it in your mind that failing is okay.  If you haven’t heard the TedTalk by Ret Gen Stanley McCrystal – Listen, Learn and then Lead, he makes the comment, “Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”  When you fail, it doesn’t make you a failure.  It’s what you do next that defines your success.  Have the right mindset that failing is okay and that it is a possibility.  Don’t focus on failing, but be ready to try again.  It’s not being negative, it’s being prepared for whatever may come.  I believe when you’re ready for anything, even failing, that you’re getting a head of the game.  Don’t be fooled by failing.  It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning of another try.

Learn; Take away something new – There is learning to do in failing.  Always see what there is to learn from failing.  Remember that failing is sort of like constructive criticism.  It’s a chance to reevaluate what you’re doing so that you can try again.  Learn what worked, what didn’t work and why it failed in the first place. Learn something out of failing!

It was halftime now and it was now the coach’s opportunity to teach us what we were possibly doing wrong.  We evaluated what we were doing, we created an improved plan to fix it and then we took the 2nd half as the time to execute it.  We created that execution plan by learning from what we did the first half. We learned!

Attitude; Don’t be negative – Attitude changes everything.  If you have a bad attitude, it brings you down and the team down.  No one likes a downer.  Be positive that you will succeed.  Failing at something is a road bump.  You can still keep going as long as you remain positive and dedicated.  Keep your spirits up.  Having a good attitude can be contagious.  It’s good to pass that along. Sir Winston said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”  Do not let failure control your emotions and certainly don’t let failure define who you are. Of course during any halftime, you’re not there to just create a new game plan, but you’re there to get re-motivated.  A time to push away the negatives and focus on the positives.  An attitude adjustment!

The half-time was a time to regain our composure and focus on turning the score around.  We went back out there and we played hard.  It was a close game and at the end, we ended up winning by 3 points.  I always look back at that game and think that if I had not made that shot would we have won? Remember the game is only over when you give up.

Steve Rogers–Being a team

Leadership, MARVEL

It’s easier to get a job done if you have more than one person contributing to the project.  We all need help from time to time.  With that said, we know that teams are important.  A football team requires every person to know their job and their assigned responsibility.  The quarterback trusts that the linemen are going to protect him so he can focus on getting the ball to the right person.  If a lineman fails, the quarterback can be blindsided and get tackled.  This is crucial because the quarterback must trust his teammates.  He has no choice because he can’t block, run and pass the ball at the same time.  That’s why each position is crucial to the success of the team. If it’s 4th quarter with 5 minutes left and one team is losing by 40 points, the chances are, that team is going to lose.  They don’t stop the game and give up, but they tough it out because it’s how the game works.  You play till the last second is over, but a football team wins together or they lose together.  It is a team effort.

Most teams have a leader, a team captain, or an individual calling the shots.  In Avengers and Avengers Age of Ultron, Captain American by way of his leadership skills is gradually designated as the guy who calls the shots.  He is the team leader. It’s not because he’s super strong, fast and meant to be the first super soldier, but it’s because of his tenacious choice to do what’s right, even if it means failing.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Tony Stark:  We’re the Avengers, we can bust weapons dealers the whole doo-da-day, but how do we cope with something like this?
Steve Rogers: Together
Tony Stark: We’ll lose
Steve Rogers: We do that together too.

Leaders keep teams together even if they know the outcome is not favorable.  They stick through the tough choices. They stick through the struggles, even when others on the team have doubt.  Leaders find ways to keep the attitude of their team reaching toward the goal. Whether it’s winning or just getting something accomplished.  In this debate, Steve and Tony are were talking about how to beat Ultron, as Tony is thinking it’s impossible, Steve Rogers says, we’ll then we’ll lose together, but we’re going to try. 

If you find your teammates starting to drag, starting to become discouraged, remind them that you are a team.  A strong team can accomplish anything.  Focus on the team’s mission not the thought of losing.  Captain America never gave up on the team and the team won.  Be the leader, be the one who holds the team together. Lead like Steve Rogers!

Batman–Embracing Failure

Batman, Leadership

Batman is not only a man, but he’s a symbol.  He stands for something greater than himself.  Batman is one of the best superheroes out there because he’s just a man trying to make things better.  The Nolan Batman series pulls some great lessons in leadership.

One of the most memorable quotes is from Alfred.  

Why do we fall, Sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.

main-qimg-c6d785bac8f610024a407d6ecf829d70

There are a couple of examples to highlight based off the idea of not giving up. One of them is this quote.  This quote in a nutshell says, it’s okay to fall because we learn from our mistakes or better yet, we fail because failure is a part of finding success.

In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne has a broken back and it thrown down a deep hole.  He attempts a few times to get out by jumping and grabbing the only ledge leading to the way out.  He failed the first time, he failed the second, but on the third…he gets it!

 

Bruce Wayne failed many times at trying to reach that ledge, but he found success!  He did not give up!  He got out and reignited what he set out to do for Gotham. 

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sound familiar?  

Batman wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but he tried becoming a symbol so that others would carry on what that symbol stood for.  It wasn’t about one person, it was about doing what’s right.  Batman would eventually succeed in this, but most importantly,

Batman did not fear failure. 

Batman tried to nurture Harvey Dent into the hero Gotham needed.  Harvey Dent was the leader Batman wanted Gotham to have. Even in that, it wasn’t about Dent, it was about what he stood for without a mask.  Justice, doing what’s right, making the city a better place.  Bruce Wayne went on to say,

I believe in Harvey Dent. 

What he really meant was, I believe in doing what’s right even if it means I fail!  

We seek success and if we fail, even as a team, we know that we have lessons to learn and another chance to take another shot.  

Leaders embrace failure. 

Batman, Harvey Dent embraced failure! They knew that if they didn’t try to make a change, a change wouldn’t happen.  

Leaders push teams to their limits.  Sometimes those teams fail and the punch can feel impossible to get up from, but leaders inspire, motivate, but most importantly teach those around them that failure is only a step to success.  They empower their teams to take chances, to be bold, to see failure as another step into completing the mission.  

We know that many movements for change have failed.  The Wright Brothers failed many times before finally taking flight.  Steve Jobs failed numerous of times before finally creating a well-built, affordable home computer.  Can you imagine what it would be like if these people gave up after failing the first time? 

The next opportunity you have to accomplish something, don’t let fear of failure scare you away from success.  Your leadership is crucial in moments like this, it make or break a team.  Through the bruises, through the time, through the failure, we make progress. Lead like Batman.  

TEDTalk Tuesday–Listen, Learn…then Lead

Leadership, Organization

This is a great talk by former commander General Stanley McChrystal.  Key point in this TEDTalk is his quote…

“Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”–Gen Stanley McChrystal