Who’s Got Your Six??

As the leader of your team, who’s got your back? Are the people who work for and with you watching out for you, or do you find yourself covering your six to keep from being stabbed in the back?

A few years back, the “Got Your 6” campaign launched to unite nonprofit, Hollywood, and government partners to “create opportunities for our military veterans to successfully convert their leadership and operational training into positive civilian roles.” They had some great public service announcements that explained how “got your six” means we’ve got our veterans’ backs as they transition from military service to civilian life.

The PSAs also reminded me of lessons I learned in pilot training about how to keep the enemy from maneuvering to my ultimate position of vulnerability: my six o’clock position – the blind spot directly behind me where I wouldn’t recognize I was about to be killed. Translated into office politics: the blind spot where someone is about to make us look stupid or incompetent without us realizing it.

“Covering your six” is what pilots have wingmen for. In aerial combat, wingmen fly behind and above (or below) their lead to make sure no one sneaks up on them. Pretty easy to apply that as an analogy in the corporate world: who’s going to watch your back in the dog-eat-dog of self-sufficiency and watching out for yourself?

Your teammates, that’s who. The ones you’ve built trusting relationships with and know you have their backs as well.

When leaders are intentional about creating an environment of trust and collaboration in the office, coworkers watch out for each because they want the organization to succeed, and they don’t want to see someone they care about get hurt. It’s much more difficult to blindside an entire group of people watching out for each other than it is an individual outside the circle of trust.

I think it’s harder today to build trusting relationship in the workplace. Not impossible, but certainly more difficult than in the past. Because we all have so much information available about EVERYTHING, many have lost trust and confidence in historically reliable institutions like the news media, government, politics and popular culture. As we regularly question others’ ulterior motives (and others question ours), creating an environment of trust can be quite challenging.

Trust = integrity x compassion x competence

You build that environment of trust by having non-negotiable integrity and demonstrating you both care more about your employees than you do yourself (compassion), and you can and will use their efforts for the good of the organization (competence). You instill trust only if your actions are consistent with your words – assuming you have good intentions, of course.

“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it here. If you’re one who talks about others behind their backs, you can assume you are also being talked about. If there is even a hint that you might sacrifice a coworker for your benefit or to avoid blame, you’re headed for a Julius Caesar ending.

By now you’re thinking I must have grown up with rainbows and butterflies all around me. Far from it… I know competition can be fierce, and insecure or power-hungry people backstab from a variety of motivations. And I’ve certainly worked in places where the motto was something like “it’s not enough that I succeed; others must fail.” But in my experience, not having someone you trust to cover your six can be fatal to your career… figuratively AND literally.

Creating a culture of trust isn’t a passive activity; you can’t focus on helping your employees achieve great things if you’re always sitting in the corner with your back to the wall. If it’s not already a habit, you have to be intentional about getting out there and doing your best to make others successful, trusting them the way they trust you, and having their six.

So, who’s got your six?

It’s up to you, leaders.

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Don’t Tolerate Bad Behavior…

…or you’ll see a lot more of it!

Have I told you about the time I got fired? I was a 25-year-old hotshot, fighter pilot wannabe stuck in west Texas as an Air Force instructor pilot. I’d had three bosses in 18 months and was still in the process of breaking the new one in.

Yes, this is me.

I was sure he was coming around when he made me his right-hand man, but apparently, he thought being in a leadership position meant I was supposed to be a good example for others. He expected me to – get this – be at work on time.

I mean hey, if it was that important, my other two bosses would have said something. But this guy told me that if I was late again, I’d have to find a new job, and he wasn’t kidding.

After three decades of reflection, I can clearly see my part in the career-altering episode. You have to ask yourself though, “why was I late so often?” The answer is simple:

They let me be.

I tell you this because I was recently facilitating a group discussion for some developing leaders and asked the question, “what are you biggest people-related challenges?” They enthusiastically started describing their problem employees much faster than I could write them on the white board.

I didn’t think “useless, clueless excuse-makers” really got to the heart of the problem, so we drilled down a bit. It turns out they were challenged by people who: didn’t do what they were supposed to do, took advantage of their boss’ good graces, had their priorities wrong and had no sense of urgency, and were dishonest. These people were bad apples who were negatively influencing their co-workers.

Yes, I admitted, those kinds of people can be a challenge, and I asked them why those people had such bad behavior. They couldn’t come up with an answer and were truly taken aback when I pointed out the obvious.

Because they let them.

Oh, the protests! “Not us,” they insisted. “We can’t do anything about it.” “HR won’t let us fire them.” “She’s too good at her job to let go.” “I just have a big heart.” “My predecessor let him get away with it.” “She’s protected because…”

I threw the bullshit flag at them with just a short factual statement: “What you tolerate, you endorse.”

Plain and simple, if you have some bad actors on your team, you have to honestly see the part you’re playing. We can blame HR all we want for restrictive disciplinary policies, but HR also has policies about attendance and integrity. Know the policies and enforce them… or change them. We do a disservice to our good employees when we let bad ones “get away” with bad behavior.

Oh, and if their priorities are screwed up, they’re probably not to blame.

Does that mean everyone’s a nail that needs to be hammered? Of course not. Conventional wisdom may say treat everyone the same, but I’ll throw the BS flag on that, too. I’ve got a twist on the Golden Rule: treat them they way you’d expect to be treated under the same circumstances.

Ask yourself how you’d expect to be treated if you got caught lying to your boss. Or falsifying your timesheet. Or stealing from the company. Or increasing the workload for others because you partied too hard the night before. Or taking the morning off because ‘the company owes you’. You get the idea.

And don’t let the bad actors whine about you letting others get away with the same thing you’re disciplining them for! Simply remind them you’re not there to talk about anyone else’s behavior but theirs.

My mother will tell you that I had a bit of a rebellious streak. I refer to it as ‘a problem with authority’, which probably wasn’t the best character trait to join the military with. Why did I push the envelope my entire career? Because they let me. The military has a tendency to hold the boss responsible for the sins of the soldier/sailor/airman. My early experiences helped me lead those who also had ‘a problem with authority’ and help them back to the road to success, but I certainly came at it from a harder direction than I had to.

I learned to treat performance and behavior problems differently, and while I didn’t have an HR department to intimidate me, I arguably had more procedures and personnel processes to be knowledgeable of and navigate than most corporate firms.

Getting rid of bad behavior isn’t easy, but it’s not rocket surgery either. Tolerate it, and you’ll see more of it. Address it when you see it, and you’ll see less of it. Way back when, I was never concerned about losing my job. That was my error. If your bad actor isn’t concerned about losing their job, that’s on you.

It’s up to you, leaders.

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Integrity Isn’t Flexible

I wrote about this a couple of years ago, but it seems like things are getting worse, not better. I’ve had a number of conversations with transitioning military veterans recently, and a common issue among them is adjusting to the perceived lack of integrity out in the “civilian world.” I’m not going to get all preachy and start throwing stones, but I can honestly state that I’ve run across more liars and cheaters outside the military than in.

Or maybe I’m just more sensitive to it because integrity-bashing is so pervasive in our media today. It seems like in business – and politics – we tend to throw the word ‘integrity’ around without giving much thought to what it means. Probably because it’s obvious to us if someone has it or not.

If you’re thinking, “Gosh, the blinding flash of the obvious is hurting my eyes,” take just a minute to write down the definition of integrity.

Not that easy, huh.

You see, integrity has as many definitions as leadership, and that’s as many as the number of people you ask. Integrity, like leadership, is in the eye of the beholder. To quote the late Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.” (He was, of course, referring to hard-core pornography, but whatever).

Among the many definitions of integrity found via the Oracle (aka the internet), honesty and strong moral and ethical principles are most often used. The problem is that morals – the principles of right and wrong – are individual and depend on a person’s belief system. And ethics – principles of good and bad conduct – depend of the group or culture they attempt to govern (i.e., bribery is not unethical in some parts of the world).

My point is that, as a leader, your integrity is judged by others, and they use their own definition. And what’s most important to one person isn’t necessarily that important to someone else. Honesty and truthfulness are obviously part of integrity, but so is following through on commitments and doing what you say. And uncompromised principles and consistency of actions and values. Having integrity is a character trait, and while you might think you have it, if it’s not demonstrated so people can see it – through your words, actions, decisions, methods and outcomes – you will be judged by others as not having it.

TRUST = INTEGRITY X COMPASSION X COMPETENCE

We know that trust is a product of integrity, compassion and competence; if any of the three are missing in our leadership, we won’t be trusted. We can be forgiven for occasionally being less compassionate than usual, and our infrequent screw-ups don’t necessarily make us incompetent. Integrity, however, is black and white, all or nothing, so having flexible integrity – like situational ethics – makes a person untrustworthy, and that’s a death knell for leaders.

2019. New year, new you. Integrity is demonstrable. If you think you have it, you need to be intentional about displaying it. Be intentional about what you say, how you behave, and how you make decisions. Make sure they reflect your values and beliefs.
And most importantly, recognize the impact of how you display your integrity has on others. They’ll know it when they see it.

It’s up to you, leaders.

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The (not so) Great Communicator

In her book Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott writes, “The fundamental outcome of most communication is misunderstanding.” That’s never been truer than in today’s multi-generational, multi-cultural workplace. It’s a subject that is as old as the Tower of Babel itself, but a couple of recent miscommunications reminded me that I am not the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan was. (more…)

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You better develop your own leaders… because HR’s not going to do it.

I was reminded (again) this week that just because someone says it’s a priority doesn’t make it so. True across the board: politics, government, military, and from the C-suite on down.

This reminder was about leadership development, of course, because that’s what we do. Do you think development is important in your organization? One quick way to tell: who’s in charge of it?

I’m re-plowing old ground here, since we’ve been over this time and again, but you leaders are wasting time and money on developing your younger leaders if HR is in charge of your leadership development program(s).

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against HR. Some of my best friends are HR professionals. Okay, not really, but there are some that I like and respect a lot.

It’s not that HR doesn’t have a role in your development program(s); it’s just that leaders develop leaders, not personnel, EEO or benefits specialists. I do appreciate when a senior HR leader develops others in his/her organization – if they’re not, they’re doing the organization a disservice – but you can’t develop leaders by telling them what color(s) and letter(s) they are.

If the C-suite doesn’t actively participate in the development of leaders in their organization, don’t count on it happening at any level below that. There is no way to reinforce and hone leadership skills without someone above being part of the effort. How else can a developing leader (and aren’t we all one) take risks without fear of paying for failure with their jobs? How else can they try new skills and measure success without someone who is involved to help them gain clarity about what’s working and what’s not?

You can teach people about supervision (reinforcement) and management (process), but leadership (people) development is a hands-on process that HR can merely facilitate. Don’t try to pin accountability on HR, though; the results are up to you leaders.

We can all wear buttons that tell others that we’re green until we get red under stress. Knowing I’m a type C or A or an STBJ doesn’t actually help anyone know what motivates me or makes me feel appreciated. How will you know if your team feels like they’re doing worthy work if you don’t ask them? HR sure isn’t going to tell you.

This week’s reminder was a CEO lamenting about how his senior directors needed development. Turns out neither he – nor the CxO – was particularly engaged in the last effort. They left it to HR and never considered the coincidence that all the senior directors had the same problems.

Hint: if you have a problem with a direct report, it might be them. If you have the same problem with all your direct reports… well, if everything around you smells like shit, you should check your own shoe.

If you leave developing your team to someone else, you might as well expect them to teach your pig to sing while they’re at it. You won’t be happy with the results in either case.

How about you? Who’s leading your team’s leadership development efforts?

It’s up to you, leaders.

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