During my first command appointment various new expectations, personalities, environments and leadership challenges occurred. Leaning into my OC and seniors provided a year of learning, mistakes and mentorship. I then went on to learn a lot about myself, the organisation, what a 'boss' actually is and how to build teams. Mentors and experiences have enabled my learning so far. The following represents what you can do to take classroom leadership into platoons for junior leaders.
Learning to generate ownership - Top-down execution and bottom-up engagement
My first command appointment was where I began to put leadership theory into practice. The lessons were collaboration and bottom-up engagement, which is the process of employee feedback driving process change. When executed well, those you involve reply with personal ownership and passion. Collaborative planning generates ownership, empowering subordinates and producing learning opportunities for those involved. Further, displaying trust in people and an interest in their trade improves team dynamics and relationships. There will be situations where there are time, resource and information constraints. Yet, involving your team and listening to all ranks provides several benefits:
- Demonstrating you value input at all levels.
- Enabling discussion may isolate key friction points in the plan from stakeholders.
- Strengthening relationships, where people feel open to ask questions and contribute.
Setting the example – Don’t forget your own development
With the rate of information, I remained team focused, initially disregarding my own development. Over time I learned that to set examples, you must be accountable and develop as much as your soldiers. As a leader, fitness and education are the primary means to enable yourself. Consider tertiary education, but also study processes you will encounter in your workplace. This will enable you to provide informed guidance when presented with problems. Many of these will be recurring, so preparing yourself will be of benefit to both you and the soldiers. Immerse yourself in your people professionally and personally. A litmus test for understanding your effect on a team is through 360⁰ reporting. This enables feedback on your approach, enabling your development whilst demonstrating team commitment.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) – Start now and practice daily
An excerpt from Daniel Goleman summarised EQ well, stating:
'If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far'.
As a diverse force, our personalities, knowledge, learning styles and skillset will vary. As such, we need to be experts in our people and understand how to enable them to achieve success. This ties into caring and – whilst retaining professional separation – treating them like family. Understand what drives them; expectations, skillset and personality down to the bone marrow. Well-practised EQ produces improved trust, understanding and workplace experiences. A personal example is that sometimes people will bring you a problem that they do not want solved. This was hard for me, as we typically want to dissect and resolve issues, but a simple vent with no follow up can be exactly what they need. There are a number of similar examples here, but by remaining empathetic and open you can build on this.
Genuine leadership – The sheep in wolves clothing
If I had to define what has changed about me and so many of my peers since RMC-D, it would have to be self-perception. For 18 months, you learn how to act, feel and make decisions along a narrow emotional front. Some of the best advice I received early on, was the common trope of ‘be yourself’ demonstrated in real time.
During an exercise an incident occurred, and the OCs were addressing personnel to send a message, but in a way that was more of a one-way parade scream-off. Whilst this was occurring our Boss stepped forward and proceeded to break down the situation and pointed to why and where it went wrong. This contrasted with the other approaches, which resonated with me because looking around he seemed to be the only one who believed in what he was saying. By proxy, we all walked away from that more conscious of what happened and how to stop it from happening again.
From that moment on he had respect from me and the team, which modified my perception of good leadership. He went against the grain because it was not who he was whilst still achieving the intent and inspiring his troops in the process. He understood his audience and what we would respond to, enhancing the effect of his approach. Each audience requires a detailed understanding and bespoke execution. There will be fundamental differences at the individual level, but also at a group level, such as logisticians vs infantry. We try to reinvent the wheel and deliver passive leadership with it often coming at a cost to who we are and morale. Genuine leadership inspires connection, understanding and change – amplified when you are yourself.
Leadership is a constant process of learning, feedback and improvement. Understanding the basics and seeking mentorship enabled my development and is a practice I will develop over time. By being passionate, remaining humble and developing we can be better leaders for it. This will continue to produce strong teams with genuine relationships therein. Additionally, these early career experiences are largely what shapes our long-term approach so pay it forward so that others can also put theory into practice.