Friday, September 7, 2012

A Life’s Worth of Leadership Lessons

You may have noticed that Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership blog has been on the Treasury Café blog roll for a long time. I ran across Wally’s site in my early blogging days, and liked it for a number of reasons:
·         Posts are nice, short, and easily digestible
·         He likes to promote “Independent” bloggers
·         He has a very common sense perspective
·         He is not prone to hype
I had not read his bio for quite awhile, so last week I reviewed it again, and was struck by the fact that it contained some very practical and time tested leadership attributes, activities, and principles, just like he writes about.
So what information can we learn from Wally Bock’s life that can make us better leaders?
Know Thyself
“He [slightly older relative] avoided going to classes for a year and a half, before his father found out. I thought about that a lot. I realized that however bright I was, if I went to college right then I’d probably do pretty much the same thing.”
If we are going to interact with others and maintain a leadership role, we need to understand ourselves with clarity. This is because our words, and especially our actions, will be subject to a hyper-vigilant and keen awareness amongst our group – discussed, analyzed, and interpreted beyond our wildest imaginations.
If we delude ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses, we lose the ability to understand how we can impact our teams. They will know our weakness while we remain blissfully unaware, thereby perpetuating the situation, and we will not leverage our strengths effectively.
Embrace Challenges
“Even in those days of the draft, the military services were on the lookout for bright young men and women. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard recruiters offered me wonderful packages of benefits if I would sign up with them. The last service I talked to was the Marines.
I walked into the recruiting station where an old guy, (he was probably thirty-five) with an almost shaved head, a jaw as big as my fist, and creases in his shirt and trousers you could cut glass with, was filling out a form. He was the Marine recruiter.
When he looked up, I told him what all the other services had offered me one-by-one. He listened quietly. I concluded by asking, “What will the Marine Corps offer me?”
He turned back to his paperwork and growled, “Four years of Hell. A haircut every week. And a rifle.” Naturally, I joined the Marines.”
Mr. Bock had the choice of the easy road and the hard road.
I am reminded of Professor Dumbledore telling Harry Potter, who was concerned that he shared many traits with the evil Voldemort:  it is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities
Our choices tell the world our morals, values, and attitudes. They can also determine how much we grow and develop.
For these reasons, it is often the case that the choice of the hard road is the correct one. In school, if we choose easy we learn little, if we choose hard we learn a lot. For a CFO, it is easy to maintain last quarter’s earnings forecast, it is hard to announce that it is to be lowered. For someone who needs to follow a healthy diet, it is tempting to reach for the cookie, and quite hard to go for the celery instead.
Accomplish the Mission and Care For Your People
“[About the Marine Corps experience] There were a lot of things that stay with me to this day, but there are two that are important here. The first one is the job of the Marine leader. It has two parts. Accomplish the mission. And care for your people. That's true for leadership anywhere.”
‘nuff said.
It’s Sergeants That Win the Wars
“When I was up before the Promotional Board examining me for promotion to Sergeant, I was asked what my ambitions were. I said that I wanted to acquire a commission and ultimately become Commandant of the Marine Corps.
A Marine Major was in charge of that panel. He enlisted during World War II and landed at Iowa Jima. That adventure gave him a scar that started above his hairline, ran across his cheek, and disappeared down into his collar. He fixed a steely glare on me.
“Don’t worry too much if you don’t make it all the way, son,” he said. “You’re seeking promotion to the most important job in the Marines. Those Generals may win a battle or two, but it’s Sergeants that win the wars.””
As leaders, it is tempting to believe that our actions and initiatives are what impact the company. Yet this is likely in part due to our need to feel like we are being useful.
If you are in business, the ultimate objective is to “make the sausage” or “get the beer on the truck”. The folks who do these activities are not the rarified executives of the firm, they are the folks working the sausage grinders and loading docks.
Zappo’s gets a lot of credit and kudos for its fantastic customer service, but it’s the customer service reps that actually pull it off, no matter who has set the strategy. The folks working on the “front lines” of your business are the ones who are getting the job done (or not).
Without their efforts, you won’t have a business. Don’t forget it.
Keep It Simple
“They [the Oakland Police Department] were looking for someone to do supervisory training for newly promoted Sergeants. I did a needs assessment, determined that I, in fact, could do some things that would be helpful, and wound up getting the contract. I assumed that there would be plenty of good written material on what makes a good Police supervisor. That’s another time that I was wrong.
In fact, there was next to nothing. The books, at the time, were either weighty academic tomes, filled with theory and little else, or “This is how I did it” stories of experienced supervisors. If I was going to do good training, I couldn’t use those and I’d have to come up with something different.
That turned out to be a good thing. As I developed the training, I also embarked on a multi-year research project to define what great Police Sergeants do that sets them apart from their peers. In the training world, that's called “Competency-based Training.”
The principle is pretty simple. You find out what top performers do. You train others to do what they do, and they become top performers, as well.”
We can do a lot of research on leadership. There are innumerable blogs, books, websites, consultants, coaches, and philosophers to read, study, and learn from. We can do this for years and years and years, arriving at elaborate models and approaches involving many factors and detailed playbooks designed to handle every possible situation.
Yet, I cannot help but wonder if this is a case of “analysis paralysis”, or the hype of people looking to make a sale.
Sometimes it is wise to Keep It Simple. There is a lot less to distract, deter and derail your efforts.
Explore New Territory and Embrace Change
“In about 1982, I discovered online discussion groups on CompuServe. I wound up selling some of my books there. I was one of the first people in the world doing what we now call e-commerce. People began asking me to talk and write about what I did.
That led to a book contract or two, and I caught the opening wave of interest in what was then called The Information Superhighway. For several years, that was my main business focus.”
It’s easy to look back from the present day and believe that our interconnected, mobile world was inevitable. Yet not too long ago it was very difficult to get online and get around. It was a serious investment of time, energy and resources, with an uncertain payoff.
The willingness to explore new territories allows you to move your team to where the opportunities are happening. Doing everything just like you did yesterday will take your group down the road of obsolescence.
Wally’s Takeaway
“Leadership is an apprentice trade. You may learn something about it from books and in the classroom, but you learn about it mostly from other people.
Most of the written material out there talks about theories and about the difference between managers and leaders. Different authors and pundits use different vocabulary and definitions. While a lot of that is good and helpful, it's more important to understand that leadership is about behavior.
Leadership is using the behavior you can control (your own) to influence the behavior of others in a group so that the group moves toward an objective. Learning about leadership should involve learning how to do that.
Leadership is a lifelong learning project. You are never done because there are always techniques and skills that you need to master.”
Key Takeaways
Understanding the paths someone has been down, the choices they have made, and the lessons they have learned is often the best route to wisdom. Take time to listen to others and seek out their stories.
·       What leadership lessons, behaviors, or activities have you noticed in Wally Bock’s biography that have not been covered in this post?
·       Whose life history have you come across that serves as an example of leadership wisdom?  
Add to the discussion with your thoughts, comments, questions and feedback! Please share Treasury Café with others. Thank you!


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