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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is Having a Good Time effective Leadership?

For my money, having a good time is at the top of the list in required considerations for leadership positions. If you aren’t having a good time; there is hardly any reason to be there. You just gotta enjoy what you do; not necessarily every little bit of every day; but most of the time. You have to be able to look back at EOD and say to yourself: ”Wow, how about that ……….?

They wouldn’t call it work if every single minute of the day was totally enjoyable. There has to be some tough times, some stress and maybe some strife mixed in with what you do. I will bet you that when you look back in retrospect the times you remember the best and most fondly are the tough times. That’s what made you who you are.

It doesn’t make much different how tough the times were; somehow they turn out to be the memorable times; at least that’s my experience.

You will also find that there is always a we that made those times memorable.

We all reach our own highest level of excitement from different angles. Don’t be timid about looking for that next challenge. Regardless of where you have to go to take it on; seek it out. Expand your horizons; look to where you have never been before. Don’t be afraid to go there. You have no idea just what might be around that next corner.

I was lucky enough to have made that exact decision when I accepted my first assignment in the Army and spent the next four years in Alaska. The lessons I learned and the friends I made will last a lifetime; if only in my memory. The times were tough and the lessons weren’t always easy to learn or endure; but I survived and so did those I had the opportunity to lead.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cycles in Business – Recurring Problems – Leadership involvement

Do you have recurring problems—problem areas that you have fixed return after a period of time?

If you aren’t watching, the stuff you fixed a year ago can become unraveled. You have to continuously go back and check on the Fixed Stuff. It’s never enough to sit back and think: “Well that’s fixed and now we can move on!”

Due to the constant change that takes place, subordinates will tend to forget policy and end up ignoring rules and procedures put in place that kept things right in the past—it’s only human nature.

What’s important now is what’s important now!

Even the best employees and organizations can get wrapped around the current hot problem and let slide those practices that recently became routine.

Think about posting a board where everyone can observe the what we just fixed areas of concern and periodically refer to certain problem areas during employee and specifically, staff meetings. Review their importance and why they got put on the WWJF board in the first place.

What’s broke today is important, but what used to be broke can be just as important if you don’t keep it visible.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Where are the Leaders? The Everyday Leaders! – Part 3

What’s the danger of going outside the organization to find a departmental leader? This is a tough task and one that can not be taken lightly. Usually, you have only the word of the candidate to base your decision on. Unless you just happen to have a mutual contact that will shoot straight with you on qualifications and background, you are stuck with one viewpoint – the candidate’s. It has become very hard to get references from previous organizations.

So! What are your options? Well, there aren’t many.

I was once tested using the method I am going to describe to you as a possible option for the hiring manager.

I reported to the interview on a Friday morning around 8:30 AM. The hiring manager was the Vice President of Operations. I have no real idea how many other candidates he had discussed the position with prior to my interview; but I discovered later that there were more than a few.

I sat down with the VP for about an hour discussing one thing and then another. He probed my background while I probed the organization, the reason for the vacancy, and the organization’s future. This phase of the interview went fairly well—I actually thought so at the time.

This is when he must have decided that I was worth a longer look. He told me he wanted me to stay the entire day, spend time with each department and several of the key players within the company. Well, I had to do some quick rearranging of my expected day. I had not planned on the interview lasting any longer than three hours at the most. I had lunch plans and another place to be that afternoon. I made a couple of calls and we were soon ready for the rest of the day.

The next hour I spent in the warehouse learning their procedures and asking questions on how and why they did certain things certain ways. After the hour, the warehouse supervisor ushered me on to the purchasing department. Each of these individuals reported directly to the VP of Operations currently.

On it went; spending time with each. The next stop was in production control and soon on to shipping and receiving. Right after lunch I was dropped off in the production departments. Later in the afternoon, I spent time with sales, customer support and eventually with HR. Each department picked my mind and then reported their thoughts to the VP.

Just about 4:00 PM, I was returned to the VP’s office, where we discussed the day, what I had learned and what ideas I had that could help improve the operations of each department. I was very frank with the guy and told him just what I thought in each case: where the strong points//players were and where I thought there was room for improvement.

The organization was in desire of a huge expansion but stymied as how to go about accomplishing it. I must have said the exact right things because he offered me the position before I left for home. I had basically worked the entire day off the clock often giving direction where I thought it was needed. I had met and passed the can we work together test with a wide variety of the organization’s vice presidents, directors, managers and supervisors. I had made my thoughts and ability to think on my feet very evident. I passed the test; good thing I was wide awake when I had arrived or the day may have gone a completely different direction.

Having been tested this way, I saw the benefits of this procedure and used the same overall method several times in my future endeavors. This is probably one of the best methods of working out an outside candidate’s fit that I have every come across or have been put through. It works; but your interviewers have to be somewhat skilled to be able to test the candidate and must have a great deal of openness to both sides of the struggle.

Openness is of extreme importance in this interview process. You have to weight some areas greater than others unless the skills of each are just as strong as the skills of the others.

If you have the opportunity; give it a try. But always keep in mind, the decision still resides in the hiring manager. Don’t blame the subordinates if the hire goes south.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Where are the Leaders? The Everyday Leaders! – Part 2

I am sorry that some of you out there do not know of Alvin York or even Audie Murphy. Those of my generation grew up reading about them in our history books. They were leaders of the first order. Their actions inspired others around them and those that heard of them, to undertake actions that they would normally let pass. But, maybe not just let pass; they would not even consider. Look them up. Wikipedia has decent short pages on each; it doesn’t take long.

SGT Alvin C York
2LT Audie L Murphy

Let’s get back to what I started to say yesterday: skills versus talent. Skills are traits that can be taught in some fashion or another: seminars, role playing, and revolving positions come to mind as good methods of developing skills. Talent, you can not teach. You can have a hand in developing it, just don’t try to teach it. Talent is a factor of the environment where the individual develops.

How do you test for leadership? This is hard to answer. You can put candidates in situations, challenge them with tasks under some pretty difficult conditions and evaluate results. But, if you haven’t discovered the difference between skills and talent; how do you determine who passes the leadership quiz? Some need the challenge of stress, some need the challenge of thought, and still some need the challenge persistence.

Skills, especially skills honed over a sufficient period of time, will allow the trained to out perform the true leader sometimes. I have been in situations where groups have been tested, you know like in the ropes course layout; and having experienced some of these layouts many times, the answer comes too easy. This is an unfair situation to those without the experience or opportunity.

So, in the short space and time we have here; how do you test leadership. If you are a hiring manager looking for a leader for one of your subordinate units, departments or divisions; how do you go about selecting someone to fill that position? Will you settle for the best you have and try to develop over time. This is often the mistake that managers make. Even more often, they do not posses the leadership talent to do the development themselves. A bad situation all around!

Even worse, if you have to go outside the organization to find a leader; how can you tell that he or she actually posses the talent to do the job? This is a real conundrum that faces many executives today.

Think about the opportunities that will present themselves over the next two to five years. Assuming a ramp up post economic recession and the retirement of hordes of baby boomers leaving the workforce; how will management fill the coming opportunities with true leaders?

This is where we will go next.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Where are the Leaders? The Everyday Leaders!

How do you get to be a leader? Are you a leader already? Are you a leader or just a manager? Maybe you aren’t either, but wanna be! So, how do you get there?

You can’t train to be a Leader; but you can be trained to be a manager or supervisor. Leaders are products of their environment, not of some training school or academy. People can be trained in specific skills and behaviors; but leadership is a talent. Talent is the development of the environment and surroundings that have formed certain qualifications over a number of years and experiences.

Some leaders are easy to spot; you just can’t miss them. Then there is the leader who pops up outta nowhere. He//she wasn’t a leader before being forced into being one. The talent was always there; maybe simmering just under the surface. Military history gives us the two best examples: SGT Alvin York, and 2LT Audie L. Murphy. No one would have ever taken either of the first two to be the leader they demonstrated that they were until the exact right set of circumstances called them out. They then lead. Both were recommended for and awarded the Medal of Honor. Each also was the most decorated individual of their respective conflicts (WWI & WWII).

Recently in Afghanistan, SSG Salvatore A. Giunta, a team leader within his unit also met the right set of circumstances and SSG Giunta responded. He did what he had to do.

Products of their environment?

So, who out there is a leader. There has to be some around. Every leader isn’t in uniform—they exist in everyday life also. In the everyday world that most of us play our daily game in, it can be hard to tell a leader from those that aren’t. Oh yes, there are the CEOs, presidents, directors and the such of the organizations we each earn our daily bread from; but just because they have that title, it doesn’t necessarily make them a leader.

Look around and give it some thought. Where are the leaders of today?

Early Ft Bragg – Florida – Mess Hall Cups – Hurricane Heaters & a 500 lb Bomb – Part 1

After arriving at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in late 1974, my initial duty assignment was to the 151st Service Company; one of the two units making up the provisional Materials Management Center prototype unit (the other was the 29th Maintenance Management Detachment). This prototype organization, one of several I had the pleasure(?) of being part of the testing stage throughout my military career, was later to become the regular army Materials Management Center (Corps). Officially it’s designation was to became the 2nd Support Center (MMC-Corps).

Our mission was in support of logistical operations for the 18th Airborne Corps and it’s subordinate units; primarily the 82ND Airborne Division (also stationed at Fort Bragg), the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and the 24th Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia. Along with our sister units of the 1st Corps Support Command (COSCOM) we assumed support for additional units assigned or attached during any operational deployment.

I was almost immediately assigned the additional duty of D-Pac Commander (that’s deployment package commander for the military lingo and acronym challenged out there). One of the more senior officers had obviously lobbied his way out of the assignment—new blood in the area ya know.

Other than the fact that I had to sign for the package’s equipment (which I had absolutely zero control over); the task meant that I was now the point man for all deployments for 18th Airborne Corps units—anywhere they went, I was sure to follow. The package’s official deployment designator was D+6; meaning that the package was to follow the initial deployment units after their departure plus six hours (that’s right, hours, not days).

I managed to call several practice alerts within the first four months or so; most of which was blown off by the more senior officers assigned to the team. I complained and was given lip service by the boss (I’ll talk to them!). All the captains, lieutenants and NCOs showed up and performed their duties. The majors and above just wouldn’t be bothered. This would eventually change once the new provisional unit commander was assigned—everybody suddenly always had time.

In the middle of an October the next fall, the D-Pac was assigned to participate in an operation into a remote area of the Florida panhandle. Eventually the mission was reduced due to budget constraints and boiled down to just me participating. I was assigned to augment another provisional unit as the Procurement Officer within the Materials Operations Section for the deployment. We were flown in to support an field training exercise pitting a Brigade of the 82ND Airborne Division, the good guys, against an aggressor force from the 194TH Armor Brigade, the bad guys. As it turned out, my procurement duties during the deployment were the least of my troubles.

The 194TH Armor Brigade out of Fort Knox, Kentucky having drawn the aggressor unit assignment in this particular field test, had its full contingent of its own specific heavy armor maintenance support units. But since the COSCOM were going to be there, 194th was able to participate without bringing a large support base for its non-armor requirements—the COSCOM provided the support—huge cost savings to the DOD.

Like I said, my primary function for the operation was to act as the procurement officer. To fund this requirement, I had drawn a little more than several thousand dollars from the post Finance Officer prior to leaving Ft Bragg. The amount of cash that I was carrying required that I also carry a side arm and draw live ammunition for my protection. This made me, the Headquarters Commandant, and the forward elements’ armor the only members of the entire command routinely carrying live ammunition. Now you realize that we didn’t expect many really bad guys in the Florida panhandle; but you just never knew—that amount of cash could be very tempting.

After arriving and joining my section mates and because of my prior assignments and extensive experience in their areas—lucky me!—I was routinely called on by the other staff officers for assistance when they had a situation that confused them or just didn’t fit the norm. Several members of the staff were new captains on their first deployment with the command. Their newness often resulted in a great deal of my day was being spent with them reviewing their requirements, operational results and the data associated with those results—sometimes we spent more night than day at this task as you will eventually realize.

As the primary operations officer I assumed the responsibility for the overall development of the SITREP (situation report)[i]. Depending on operational conditions, the data and info consolidation for this activity sometimes called for consolidation of data that often stretched into the late night.

Having been on station a little over a week already, you might say that we were fairly well dug in when the events detailed in Mess Hall Cups, Hurricane Heaters and 500 Lb Bomb took place

The 260TH Quartermaster Company[ii] of Ft Stewart, Georgia, for some odd reason had more than their share of trouble with numbers—their data almost never added up .The staff petroleum officer’s blind acceptance of their reporting methods hindered him from conducting a detailed review of their nightly data. Instead of just sending the incorrect data on to the command in the rear; I took it upon myself to get the situation straight. Consequently I had spent an inordinate amount of time working with and coaching him on the problem. But bad numbers continued to roll in. Both he and the 260TH seemed to be getting better but neither were not quite there yet. This often made an evening that should have been another one of those no-brainers seemed, at times, to last forever.

I actually had no more than a hand full of opportunities to perform my primary function of procurement; most of them dealing with the purchase of u-joints for ¼ ton utility trucks (jeeps). It seemed that the sand (somebody was spending their time on the beaches) was having a undesirable effect on this particular vehicle or as the maintenance tech thought: “The units aren’t keeping up their routine maintenance and brought their vehicles on the exercise to get somebody else to do the maintenance for them.” Maintenance techs always think this way—you might surmise by listening to them that they were the only people that actually worked in the United States Army.

As a result of another piece of luck, I just happened to also be the only experienced and school-trained food advisor in the forward command. It was because of this fact and it being common knowledge to the Old Man that he stopped me after the morning briefing and ask me to look in on the Headquarters Commandant and the mess facility after we had learned of the Chief of Staff of the Army, Bernard Rogers, impending visit the following day. As I mentioned, as the representative of the MMC, I was responsible for calling forward supplies and coordinating material with the rear elements at Ft Bragg as the operations dictated.

At this impromptu discussion out of hearing of any others, the Old Man had asked that I see that some mess hall cups were put on the next flight, hopefully prior to GEN Rogers’ arrival. His words specifically were: “I’ve had enough of those Mickey Mouse Cups in our field mess.”

Neither of these requests were major tasks and I acknowledged my compliance and trotted off to accomplish my daily tasks. On my way to the mess, I decided that I would add the mess hall cup request to the evening SITREP; the gathering of a dozen mess hall cups not being much of a task at all—little did I know at the time.

[i] Situation Reports (SITREP) are generally communicated on an ‘as required’ basis but usually not less than daily. They provide higher level and adjacent commands with necessary data concerning the ‘periods’ activity and any special details, requirements and assessments.

[ii] The 260TH Quartermaster from Ft Stewart, Georgia had sent a couple of fresh lieutenants to oversee their support mission on this operation and they really didn’t have the experience required to handle the quick paced situations we were experiencing. They were a little ‘laid back’ for what we were accustomed to from Fort Bragg. The staff petroleum officer and I finally had to demand that the Company Commander show his face and get the support on the straight and narrow. Eventually, we had the Battalion Commander there also. As an aside, I ran into one of the lieutenants again at the Quartermaster Advanced course after leaving Fort Bragg in route to my next assignment.