“There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power and influence. Those who lead inspire us.”
“Act like you are in charge.” I am sure that you have heard this at some time in your career. What does it mean to you? Does it mean that you have to storm around the office using a stern, gruff tone? Does it mean that you are unreasonable and unpredictable because you can be? Should people scurry to their desks when you arrive or walk through? My experience says that you don’t have to “act like you are in charge”; you should just be “in charge.”
My experience says that you don’t have to “act like you are in charge”; you should just be “in charge.”
When I was coming up through the army reserve system, I observed many Commanders. When I was a senior 1LT, I was approached and asked to take command of a unit within the Battalion. I expressed my reluctance to do so. After many meetings with members of the Battalion staff about the position and my continued resistance, I was approached by the Battalion Commander. I knew the Battalion Commander from working with him at my civilian engineering job and had great respect for him. He reiterated the request and reminded me that it was a huge complement to be asked to take this position. I acknowledged the complement. When asked why I was not interested, I explained that I had worked for four Company Commanders and observed many others within the Battalion. I was nothing like these people. I had a different view on leadership that focused on training and organizational planning. I was not interested in or suited to lead though imposing my positional power that I had seen modeled and rewarded. He gave me a smirk of recognition then said something that has stayed with me until this day. He said, “Todd, you do not have to lead that way. There are other ways to lead and be successful.” Though I was encouraged by his comment, I chose to leave the Army Reserve and enter the Air National Guard as a staff officer.
…being “in charge” is a responsibility that requires attention, caring, and effective communication;
not a role that requires you to “act like you are in charge.”
After 16 years in the Air National Guard, I have recently taken command of a Civil Engineering Squadron. The unit is composed of engineering officers and NCO’s who are traditional guardsmen. This means that they are part-time and drill once a month and performed a few weeks of duty each year. Because of this, the unit is very unique and more corporate than most in the military. My selection to be the Commander was somewhat unexpected and I sought advice from some respected peers and superiors on how to assume command. Through these conversations, I was not only encouraged, but also recognized the emphasis of: You are the Commander, so be the Commander. As I thought about this further, I was able to reflect and consider what being the Commander and “Being in Charge” would look like. I decided that I would embrace my new position, create a plan to communicate my vision for the future of unit, and set up a structure for the administration of the organization I wanted to create.
It has been six months and things have gone well so far. Understanding that my views and leadership style may have to adjust, taking a collaborative approach where the expectation is that everyone has the best intentions has created an increase in communication and the flow of ideas. I have focused on communicating vision statements that frame the core values I want for our organization such as: operating with integrity and transparency, valuing a culture of community among unit members, emphasizing a culture of fitness, improving our mentoring and mission readiness through formal and informal interactions. My intent is to empower the unit members to pursue projects and present ideas that are consistent with these values. I have observed an improvement in culture through this approach and it has allowed be to be “in charge” without “acting like I’m in charge.”
I have realized that being “in charge” is a responsibility that requires attention, caring, and effective communication; not a role that requires you to “act like you are in charge.” With proper strategic communication and attention to the core values and vision you want to create, you can guide and lead without being overly directive and coming hence coming off as a boss who storms around the office and sends people scurrying away. As an example, I have taken the approach of framing required tasks as a request. One of my unit members said to me, “Sir, you can order us to do that.” I replied, “Why would I order you to do that when you will happily do it if I ask you.” Recognizing that we both know the expectations, regulations, and procedures and that they favor the leader when it comes to accomplishment of tasks, I can make the request without flaunting my rank or position while still maintaining the expectation that the task will be completed.
…maybe you could be more effective if you focused on communicating an effective vision with care and attention and allow you to just “be in charge.”
This represents a singular experience of an admittedly new Commander, but maybe there are some insights here that you can reflect upon. The primary message of this article based upon the premise that most organizations have a structure, expectations, and policies in place that support the leader’s authority. So, instead of focusing on emphasizing your position and rank and “acting like you are in charge” maybe you could be more effective if you focused on communicating an effective vision with care and attention and allow you to just “be in charge.” Wouldn’t it be better to have people in your organizations perform out of want and inspiration, rather than out of obligation or because they have been ordered to do? Where is your focus?