As we prepare to begin phasing back into work, I’ve asked myself what I might focus on if I was planning to return to a new normal in my own company. I see an opportunity for a restart in many regards. This unexpected time out, whether we like it or not, provides us with an opportunity to rethink strategy, process, prioritize. It’s also an opportunity for introspection. Are you the leader you desire to be? Are you the leader your employees deserve?
Many of you have heard my litmus test. For many years, I’d tell my own direct reports, “Those young men and women are willing to die for you.” Then I’d pause to allow that to sink in. “All they ask is that you be worth dying for.”
Today, when I share that with business leaders, I follow it up by challenging leaders to, “Be the leader you would desire your son or daughter to work for.” Is that too much to ask?
I’ve always espoused Coach John Wooden’s definition of success. “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.” There are many things we can’t control. We can’t control how our competition performs. We can only control how we perform.
Under the direction of my dear friend and longtime archery coach, Rod Jenkins, I was fortunate to win the IBO World 3D Archery Championships and the IFAA Indoor World Championships twice. Day in and day out, Rod emphasized that the only thing I control is the shot process. “You can’t control the score and you can’t control what others shoot. You do your part – shoot strong shots – and the score will take care of itself,” he’d counsel.
Rod never worried too much about the score. In fact, in practice sessions he told me to stop keeping score. Instead, he had me keep score of perfectly executed shots. After each shot, I noted if it was a “strong shot” as he says. Increase the number of well executed shots and the score will naturally rise.
So how does this apply in business? When we develop our objectives and key results, don’t overemphasize results. Instead, focus on those actions that an individual must take in order to achieve the desired results. We often say increase sales by 15%. Instead, we could direct that they spend 20% more time with customers, make six more phone calls per week, or take a course in public speaking or one to improve presentation skills.
This is not who we are though. We are competitive by nature. We want to know if that last arrow was a 10 or an 8. Did we win or lose? But, as Coach Wooden oft said, “We’ve won some we should have lost and lost some we should have won. All I ask my players is that they give their very best each game.”
That’s all we can truly ask our employees, because that’s all they can ever truly give – their best. And we should strive to do the same.
And so, success if found in the running of the race – our preparation, planning, practice, our effort and desire to become the best version of ourselves possible. Winning or losing – performing or not performing – is a by-product of that effort. The quality of our preparation matters. This is why our leadership matters. What do we owe our employees?
As strategic leaders in our companies, we must “get the big ideas right” as General David Petraeus likes to say. The strategy must be sound. Our priorities must be clear. Our unity of effort is a result of good alignment. We must set the table for success.
Then we strive to follow the admonition of Jim Collins – get the right person on the bus, in the right seat, and with the right portfolio. Then and only then will we feel comfortable to trust and empower our subordinates to execute with disciplined initiative.
As an air cavalry squadron commander preparing for combat, I like to think I spent my time wisely. I spent countless hours trying to shape the way our cavalrymen thought, how we approached the problems. Pitiful at times, I did my very best to share my vision of success with them. I then did the one thing that I feel took more courage than anything I’ve ever done, including six operational deployments. I trusted and empowered them to use initiative on the battlefield – to make decisions and assume risk on my behalf.
At the end of that year, Task Force Pale Horse became the first unit in history to receive both the Ellis D. Parker Aviation Unit of the Year and the Army Aviation Association of America Combat Unit of the Year in the same year. Our cavalrymen received the Aviation Unit Trainer of the Year, Aviator of the Year, Air/Land/Sea Rescue of the Year, Aviation Technician of the Year, Aubrey Red Newman Leadership Award, Flight Medic of the Year, Flight Surgeon of the Year, and more. Why? Not because Jimmy Blackmon turned a single wrench or pumped a gallon of gas or rendered lifesaving aid. All I did was create an environment where they could be the best versions of themselves possible. They already had that potential. It was my job to help them realize it.
These are challenging times. Many have expressed to me that they are crawling out of their skin. I am sure many of you share that sentiment. I would encourage you to return to work with a plan, with clarity of purpose, and with a desire to be the best leader you are capable of being. That’s all we can really ask, because that’s all you have to give.