“Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”
General George Patton
20-years of service to the United States Air Force have been a blessing for my family and me.
Every day I have the privilege of serving with heroes, sometimes in the most challenging of situations.
The dynamic environments provided by a career in the military highlight the ability of a leader to overcome complex challenges in fluid environments…sometimes where the variables change on a daily basis at levels of influence ranging from the tactical, the operational, to the strategic in very short sequence.
This where the human element of military leadership is most evident—the ability of a leader to inspire action through the successful combination of persona, credibility, resource management and intuition—and the masters of this element become the subjects of tomorrow’s history books.
Who is Matthew T. Fritz?
Lt Colonel Matthew T Fritz has had an extremely varied military career.
He has lead a 721-person wing and 76-member NATO/US Headquarters joint coalition staff at the senior executive level.
For over 14 years he was an instructor and an evaluator in the United States Air Force.
Outside of the military he is a leader and mentor in the field of complex organisational change, emotional intelligence, and organisational strategy.
Matthew is also a certified acquisition professional, as well as a certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner.
Contact Matthew on Twitter at @fritzmt.
It goes without saying that the military environment is unique, but not so unique that effective parallels cannot be drawn between business and society at large.
In fact, in 2013, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff offered that it was the responsibility of military leaders to learn “how to connect the warrior to the citizen.” His charge was for military members to share stories and, in return, listen to the different perspectives of fellow citizens and learn from them. As a result, it is an honor to share with you the facets of leadership I have learned from observing my leaders, mentors and peers over 20-years of service.
I come to you not as an expert, but as a student—a lifelong student—eager to share my insights on these important facets.
Facets with proven return on investment
There is no secret-recipe for effective leadership that is guaranteed to work in all situations. The secret sauce for success is found in managing and developing the facets of leadership that apply to your environment. The key to employing these facets is to study those around you—examples, both good and bad—to understand the effects and the results of leadership action.
Engagement and action are a foundational necessity—without them, there is no life…and leadership is about sustaining life and growing. The facets I share below build upon your foundation of active engagement for a proven return on investment:
Persona Matters – You Are Who You Project: Do you have a leadership “brand?” How do you define your style? Military history is rich with leaders who had a personal brand, a leadership signature, which defined their persona and modified their shadow. Who wouldn’t recognize General Patton with his highly-polished helmet? Alternatively, General MacArthur with his corncob pipe? While recognizable, these signatures were outward in nature.
Leadership persona goes far deeper. Whether you like it or not—you have a personal brand. The true question is whether you consciously created it…or did it create you? Your brand defines you as a leader, as well as the results you are capable of delivering. Non-deliberate brand building creates instability—in your product and in your relationships. This is where high self-awareness comes into play: evolving your brand in response to your environment and ensuring you deliberately project the influence and image you want to see. As well, your team takes on your leadership traits as a “group persona.”
Author Dave Ulrich, in his book “Leadership Brand,“ shares that “…an exceptional individual leader may deliver outstanding results for a while, but the quality of leadership is what sustains results.” This is true throughout the team, as the persona you project permeates the entire organization. In essence—you establish a brand not only for yourself, but also for the leaders within your team and for the team, itself!
Credibility Counts – The Basis for Leadership: Establishing yourself as a leader requires a foundation of credibility based upon technical competence. Without it, you risk becoming an empty suit.
This is not to say that you need to be a line-technician to manage a telecommunications company, or a pilot to run an airline. However, technical knowledge at a depth sufficient to understand the “why” behind your organization’s product and customers is what allows your team to focus on your leadership, not your lag.
My organization, the US Air Force, has established that an operations squadron commander must be a rated pilot. Why? Technical competence and credibility form the basis for the commander’s ability to understand, manage and lead this particular type of organization and gain the trust of teammates. Stephen Covey correctly points out, ”When a leader's credibility and reputation are high, it enables [the team] to establish trust fast — speed goes up, cost goes down.” What expectations, written or unwritten, are established by your teammates for you, as their leader?
Resources are Finite – The Winner Knows How to Use Them: Have you ever met a leader who had too much money, time, people or raw materials? My guess is your answer is as empty-handed as mine is.
Resources are variables in an equation that changes over time. Just when you think you have it licked, one of those variables changes again and you are reacting to the impacts. As such, your best defense is a solid offense! Helmuth von Moltke is credited with forming the basis for the phrase, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” This is doubly true for your plan to execute the finite resources of time, money, people and raw materials towards achieving your goals. As such, you have a responsibility to lead your team through detailed planning – but give yourself the opportunity to accept that your system will not remain static.
Resource management is an OODA-Loop process, which requires constant attention to ever-changing variables in a competitive game between you, the environment, your competitors and your goals.
Intuition – None of Us is as Smart as All of Us: In the military, we make much ado about the ability to make a quick, smart decision and act. The focus always seems to fall upon the “quick” portion of the phrase.
What gets lost is the “smart.” While it is true that a quick, smart decision can save lives, an equally quick bad decision can cost them. The key is capitalizing upon the above facets to form the basis for your actionable wisdom.
In “Judgement Calls,” authors Thomas Davenport and Brook Manville explore the value of following your gut, and they analyze some of industries’ most spectacular successes and failures. They highlight ways we can utilize collaboration and data analytics to improve our chances for a successful outcome. With this in mind, however, it is incumbent upon you as a leader to avoid the fatal mistake of “strategic paralysis:” analyzing yourself (and your team) to death. Sometimes a really solid 80% solution derived quickly outweighs a 100% solid answer that takes too much time to churn out.
You were placed at the top of your team for a reason—so you can see the whole picture. Utilize this vantage point to increase your awareness continuously—constantly updating your sight picture—so you can be agile in response to the needs of your team.
Love military leadership?
More content to feed your appetite:
In his book, “My American Journey,” General Colin Powell shared, “Dig up all the information you can, then go with your instincts. We all have a certain intuition, and the older we get, the more we trust it… I use my intellect to inform my instinct. Then I use my instinct to test all this data.”
Look around the halls of your company, the buildings of your city hall, the altar of your church, the living room of your family and you will see these same heroic traits leading under different, but no less challenging, environments.
The benefit of connecting communication between warriors and citizens is that all of us have the opportunity to learn vicariously from the successes and failures of one another. The challenge is in keeping the conversation alive, open, and responsive. I welcome you to join me in continuing the conversation here in the comments, or over at GeneralLeadership.com, a site my fellow curators and I started for this very purpose. I look forward to learning from your successes and failures, and hope you will join me in the conversation!