If the past few months have shown us anything, it’s that there are more hills to climb, more battles to fight and more questions than answers in the world right now. You can look at the global stage to see how divided our country has become or look no further than your local school board meeting to find turmoil. Everyone is scrambling trying to find their truth, trying to find answers to questions that will define our existence for the foreseeable future, of for somebody to show them the way and guide them through the chaos. The reality is everyone is trying to find a leader.
I have seen this phenomenon numerous times over the course of my career. In the heat of battle, I have witnessed young Marines with their eyes wide open, their hearts racing, anxiously searching for their platoon sergeant to tell them what to do next. I have seen this in the offices of Fortune 500 companies, as raw material costs surge, lead times destroy project deadlines and the sales staff is anxiously searching for answers from the leaders in production. I have seen it in school districts across Illinois, as each district administration and BOE has to carefully decide what is best for them, their staff and their students. They must make these choices that affect everyone while being confronted by a divided and passionate public and staff. Now is the time for good leaders to stand up and be the voice. The guiding light that helps their team through these tough times.
“Now is the time for good leaders to stand up and be the voice. The guiding light that helps their team through these tough times.”
In my previous blog, Strong Traits of a Leader: Part One, I discussed how everyone in the Marine Corps is exposed to the same training, yet somehow different leaders are created. I shared what makes some leaders better than others, what makes some more successful leaders and why others fail. Everyone had the tools given to them, but simply having a tool does not mean you have the skill. Anyone who has ever tackled a home improvement project can attest to the fact that having the correct tool helps, but without the skill to use it, you are still going to struggle.
Leadership is no different. That is why staff at all leadership levels need to take the time to hone their skills. Not because they forget different skills as time goes on, but because as your staff changes, so should your leadership style. It is always nice to have a refresher on the skills you already know but being reminded of how people receive your style is also beneficial. That is why the Illinois ASBO leadership Institute teaches you to understand the differing the personality and leadership styles, not just your own. It is important to understand many different preferences, not only so you can find where you fit in, but so you can understand how to interact with people who differ from you and still be successful. No two people will thrive under the exact same style of leadership because no two people will receive the information you are trying to give them the same way. As a new generation enters the business office, it is important to recognize how they prefer to be lead.
In Part One, I began to explore the 14 different leadership traits that the Marine Corps believes to be cornerstones for all great leaders. We use the acronym JJDIDTIEBUCKLE to remember justice, judgement, dependability, initiative, decisiveness, tact, integrity, enthusiasm, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty and endurance. I covered the first two traits previously, and this time I will address the next two: Dependability and Initiative. These traits could not have come at a more perfect time…These are the two traits that I lean on the most during tumultuous times and when every else is scrambling to find answers. All personality types could benefit from dependability, and initiative is something that some personality types will do better with than others.
This is one of the most popular and frequently used leadership traits. I am sure if you have been in or around the military or law enforcement, you have heard the phrase “Lead from the front”. This popular saying is often rooted in the fact that if you can demonstrate the ability to accomplish a mission or perform a task, that others will find you dependable, see you as trustworthy, and thus follow your lead. Most parents are also familiar with the phrase “lead by example”. This gets used frequently when parenting an older sibling about how to interact with their younger brother or sister and how they need to set the example for them. Countless parenting books reference setting a good example, being a good role model, and making sure your kids feel supported. Dependability is so important that even people using poor leadership styles like micromanagement, try to reference it as to why they have to “do it themselves” or “make sure it’s done their way” because everyone is depending on them.
There are some leadership traits, in order to be used successfully, require proper balance. Fortunately, when it comes to dependability, you can never have TOO much. There is no such thing as being too dependable in any situation. This trait enables your superintendent to delegate responsibility without feeling compelled to micromanage. If you feel you are being micromanaged, it can often be helpful to address the issue with the person but, from a place of curiosity. Ask them if they think you are dependable. If they answer yes, then you can let them know that their behavior or micromanagement does not make you feel like they find you dependable, that you don’t feel like they trust you.
Dependability allows your board of education to make tough decisions and know that the district’s best interests are being protected. It is how they can feel confident about introducing new programs or making the tough decisions to cut unsuccessful ones. If they know the information you are providing is reliable and they can depend on you, this makes their job easier. Dependability is what makes you the “go to” leader in the office, and what builds trust in relationships between you and your team.
This trait allows junior staff to feel comfortable taking chances, sharing new ideas, and testing the limits of what they can handle. If they know that they can depend on you to support them, to have their back if they take a chance, or to guide them to help them avoid making a costly mistake, then you will have their trust. You will have their loyalty. You will have earned several the other leadership traits, just by demonstrating dependability.
“Every day will take effort to improve your leadership, and you will certainly have setbacks, but remember to look back and analyze situations you have experienced to see how they might have been handled differently if you were using more initiative and you were being more dependable.”
I get a smirk every time I hear our next leadership trait. It makes me grin because of a popular phrase that I have heard and used throughout my career, “good initiative, poor judgement.” I have also heard this phrase with a slight twist saying, “poor execution”; but in both cases, the person using the phrase is trying to encourage further initiative, while simultaneously condemning the results or method of getting there. I grin because initiative is the leadership trait that I believe helps people grow the most. Without initiative, one could easily just come into the office, punch a timecard, accomplish tasks and punch out. There would be no thought about new ideas or opportunities. There would be no need to make changes to the system. You would just coast through every day doing things as is, because “That’s the way we have always done it.” The concept of performing a task, a process, or a job, simply because that is the way it has always been done, might be my biggest pet peeve. I will not allow my staff to use that as an answer, because it is inherently not an answer. The question of why you do things the way you do, should always be answered with a sound, logical reason as to why this is the “best way we know” to accomplish the mission. If we don’t feel it is the best way, then somebody needs to take the initiative to find a better way to accomplish the task.
I challenge you to keep this in mind whenever you are performing tasks at the office, no matter how menial. Ask yourself why you are doing it the way that you are, or maybe why you are doing it at all. So many times, in my leadership training, I have heard people talk about time management, and the increase in tasks required of the business office, the unfunded mandates that get handed down to school district and the reporting requirements that are completely unavoidable, causing long hours and extra work. In a world that is constantly asking you to do more with less time, I challenge you to ask yourself why you are performing your tasks the way you are and to find out if there might be a better way to perform them. Take the initiative with your staff and ask them if there are efficiencies that could be gained. Then most importantly, ask yourself if that task is even still necessary due to advances in technology or redundancy in the systems and processes. Perhaps you could eliminate that task all together. This would be the best use of initiative because you are eliminating extra work while saving yourself time and energy. Without initiative, nothing would ever be improved. Nobody would ever grow in their role. When growth is not occurring, you are slowly degrading your position and value.
I hope you can take these traits and begin implementing them in your everyday life. You can use them at home with your family, in your relationships with your friends and at the office with your colleagues and subordinates. You will see improvements in your interactions with people. You will see reductions in the use of negative leadership traits. You will gain efficiency in your daily life, which will in turn change your outlook and wellbeing. Every day will take effort to improve your leadership, and you will certainly have setbacks, but remember to look back and analyze situations you have experienced to see how they might have been handled differently if you were using more initiative and you were being more dependable.
By Stephen Chassee
Green Associates, Inc.
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