Let's get personal
It was early in my career and I was a very junior officer in the Royal Air Force Regiment in a live combat situation. I was trying desperately to learn the ‘ropes’ while avoiding as many disasters as I could. Needless to say, I wasn’t always successful! My commanding officer was an aloof and dispassionate man, precise in his style, rigid in approach and unforgiving in his attitude. I worked extremely hard – to stay out of trouble, out of his hair and, above all, away from his direct attention. I knew that, unlike the proverbial cat, I would have but one life. The first time I’d fail would also be the last.
After almost a year of this hell I was seconded together with my forty men to temporary duties with another commander for a six week period in a remote and highly exposed location. My new commanding officer had a reputation for exceptional performance under fire – he was a legend; as I presented myself for his initial inspection I was quaking in my boots, literally. Our first conversation probably lasted all of ten minutes and I cannot recall any part of what he told me, nor am I clear on what I did as a result of this briefing.
What I do remember, as though it was just yesterday, is how I felt as I left his bivouac! He had shown a deep and genuine interest in me as a person. He didn’t address the Flight Commander role I played or the junior officer that I was supposed to be. He spoke to me; me the person, the apprehensive, uncertain, concerned, confused and yet passionate young man who was overwhelmingly worried that he was going to fall short of expectations. He helped me to discover some things about my limited knowledge and skills, but much more about my will-power, my values and beliefs that were going to serve me and my men as we faced the daunting and dangerous operational challenges ahead of us. He made me feel that we could succeed and that our contribution would be an essential part of the total unit’s success. He let me know his expectations and also that he believed in me, perhaps a little more than I believed in myself.
My focus shifted immediately – it took no more than ten minutes; all the concerns of the previous ten months evaporated like the morning mist. Now I really knew the expectations, not just his expectations of me but also mine of myself. He had moved my frame of reference one hundred and eighty degrees – by placing me as a person above and beyond the role that I represented.
The lesson here for business leaders is clear - leadership is not a right, a role or a responsibility – it’s a relationship.
The leadership ‘switch’ is located inside other people – it’s their awareness of and belief in you; to find it you’ll need to focus on them. Are you authentic? Are you really focused on what’s real in yourself and in those you would lead? If you are not focused on others why would you expect them to respond to you and your interests? Focus on others; find, create and nurture success in them and you will profit! By focusing on the real ‘me’, that commander unlocked and opened a door which has never closed.
About the author: David Huggins MASc, FIoD, CMS is an experienced behavioral scientist and executive coach who’s dedicated to bringing out the best in individuals and groups. His insights and direct contributions have taken business leaders to elevated dimensions in performance. He can be reached through his websites at www.andros.org and www.polarisprogram.com