In our Weekly Profile this past week, the most clicked article we shared was “Would Your Squad Leaders Come To Your Funeral?” published on the From the Green Notebook website. Written by Colonel Curt Taylor, a former commander of the Army’s 1st Striker Brigade, we shared this article because it provides what we think is a clear picture of success for leaders. Compared to other, more tangible skills that we often endeavor to develop, leadership can be something that people struggle to articulate their goals for, making it hard to measure progress along the way. Grasping the essence of positive leadership in a way that is both concise and that resonates with people is challenging, yet that’s what this article does.
But for new officers and NCOs in the military looking to make their mark on the unit they want to lead, defining the goal in this way of having your squad leaders come to your funeral is only the first step. Success will come from how those new leaders create and execute their strategy to achieve that standard.
The challenge of talking about strategy, particularly when it comes to leadership, is that there is no single right answer about how to lead a team to earn their trust and loyalty. For instance, if you were to define success in military leadership as your squad leaders coming to your funeral, some people might think this will come from being tough and demanding on their unit and setting a high standard. Others will think that earning loyalty comes from teaching and developing the abilities of each member of their team. And others will think this will come from caring about people and ensuring that they take on their fair share of the unit’s work. But when you think about how you will accomplish your goal as a leader, what you are considering is one of the elements of strategy: how you will allocate the resources that you have available to you in order to successfully navigate your way to success.
For new leaders in an organization, especially in the military, one of the hurdles that will need to be overcome is that you often have very few of the needed resources available to you. For example, if you’re new to a unit, you likely don’t yet have the social capital that you need to access resources that are held by people higher than you in the chain of command. Or you may not have the professional experience (yet) to train and develop members of your unit based on real life experiences beyond your own training. While those resources are things that can be gained with time, you can start putting in the work to build trust with your team (a necessity of leadership) immediately so that you can make the most out of those resources once you have them.
You can begin building trust with your team by demonstrating to them that you take each of their training opportunities very seriously. You can develop your ability to plan and execute projects before you join the military so that you can ensure events run smoothly and effectively.
You can develop practical skills that allow you to work side by side with members of your team in areas that they care about. You can learn how to use and troubleshoot radios and other communication technology. You can learn how to repair a car and fix minor issues on your own. Regardless of which military specialty you find yourself in, there is a good chance that it involves either communications or vehicles, so you can build your credibility by becoming capable of making contributions to the work your unit is doing.
While there are countless other ways that leaders can work to build trust with the members of your unit, you can think about these efforts in the same way you’d think about shaping the battlefield before a fight. How are you going to create the conditions on the ground that make it more likely that you’ll succeed? The same concept applies to developing leadership strategy. You need to be putting in the work to build your social capital and professional experiences as early as possible so that you both have more resources available to you and can start immediately improving your ability to connect with your team and build the trust required to ultimately accomplish your goals as a leader.
This article also appeared on Medium.