A few years ago, The Wall Street Journal ran a piece about a new way that the U. S. Navy finds candidates for undesirable duty stations. It’s through an online bidding system, similar to Ebay. It matches up geographically motivated candidates with open duty stations. For example, it gives a sailor who is married to an Italian citizen a chance to bid for a two year tour to an area in Italy that most sailors would find undesirable. It is an effective and congruent concept, accomplishing the mission of filling openings with those most likely to benefit and contribute. But at the end of the article was a quote from a Commander saying that this was an absurd system of weakness and was chipping away at our Navy’s quest for seapower.
Perhaps this officer thought that legitimate empathy and servant leadership was a sign of weakness. One of the first lessons we learned at Annapolis, though, was that true leadership in its purest form is indeed servanthood. Throughout the four years at the Naval Academy, West Point, and the Air Force Academy, midshipmen and cadets hear the same mantra over and over and over again: Take care of your people. Take care of your people. Take care of your people.
But what about mission accomplishment? Doesn’t taking care of your people get in the way of getting things done? What’s more important of the two?
I asked that question to Walt Boomer for an article I was writing when I had a column on workplace issues in a Gannett newspaper. Boomer was the CEO of Rogers Corporation in Connecticut, a successful $300 Million manufacturing company. He was also a successful leader in the military, retiring as a general wearing four stars on his lapel, serving as the Assistant Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.
“Walt,” I asked, seeking the final answer to this dichotomy. “What’s more important: taking care of your people? Or mission accomplishment?
He paused, thought carefully, and gave me his answer. “Taking care of your people, Scott. Definitely taking care of your people. If you have the right people in place and if you take care of them, they will accomplish the mission.”
In General Boomer’s succinct response lies the real fundamental key of successful organizational development. First, put the right people in place. Second, tell them what the mission is. Third, take care of them. And that’s it. Real simple.
But here’s the problem in most organizations. First, the wrong people are in place. Second, they don’t know what the mission is. Third, most managers are too preoccupied with building up their own political capital that they neglect the needs of their people. And that’s it. Real simple.
Here are three steps to take as you strive to grow in your own personal leadership development.
1. Develop a strategy of hiring the best and putting only the best people in the positions that can benefit from their strengths. This is an entire core competency and deserves the immediate and ongoing attention of every line manager. If hiring strong employees is important to your organization, then train your line managers on how to properly do it. Without formal training on interviewing, most line managers end up hiring the best interviewer, not the best employee, resulting in a substandard work force.
2. Communicate the mission to each of your employees.
3. If you have the wrong people in place, you need to carefully avoid a critical mistake made by many well-intentioned managers: keeping the wrong people in place. Make sure that your staff measures up to the reality of performance expectations, and not your perception of reality. And if there’s an internal position where they can make a bigger contribution and have a bigger fun quotient, then by all means, make it happen soon.
Follow these action steps and you’ll always have troops eager to follow your leadership, and you’ll always accomplish your mission.