“Be enthusiastic as a leader. You can’t light a fire with a wet match.”
It’s your stage, what do you do with it? As leaders, we are out in front of our organizations and they take cues from us. Our language, body language, and how we discuss and frame challenges can have a big effect on the culture and morale of the organization. I believe it is necessary for a leader to be able present themselves in a positive and constructive way, despite the challenges. Though this does not play a role in solving the challenges being faced, it inspires the people in the organization to keep aspiring to solve problems and meet those challenges.
As a young 2LT Army Platoon leader, I was taught a lesson that represented this way of thinking. We were on an exercise that lasted days and it was exhausting. I chose to “lead by example” and jump in to solve as many problems as I could and also lead. This led me to sleep less than anyone. Not very long into the exercise, I became exhausted. I was reprimanded by my Company Commander. Not for being tired, but for doing too much. He let me know that it was important that I made sure I got enough sleep to lead the platoon. The soldiers were there to do the work, I was there to lead. It is impossible to lead effectively if you are too exhausted to make sound decisions and plan.
The second lesson learned during these exercises had to do with interacting with the soldiers during the exercise. He emphasized that a leader should frequently visit the soldiers and make sure that the mission is being accomplished and to check on their welfare. He cautioned against showing my own frustration and exhaustion in front of the troops. He told me, if you have to “take a knee”, rest, or blow off steam, do it out of view of your troops. Come back when you are ready to lead and inspire them. At the time, this seemed a dishonest. But, over time, I have seen the value to organizations when leaders take this approach.
Most recently, I had the opportunity to work for two weeks at the Pentagon. The Pentagon can be a challenging place. Most days are spent trying to develop policy, plan, and publish doctrine for the current and future combat environment. The staffing of these plans is difficult, because there is no “correct answer”. Additionally, days, weeks, or even months of work can be nullified do to environmental or policy changes. When your task become OBE (overcome by events), it can become very frustrating. I was able to observe many areas of frustration while working the vault. This presents a leadership challenge.
I observed leaders at many levels within the division I was working with at the Pentagon. The senior leadership of the division was very good and effective at positively influencing the organization, despite these challenges. During staff meetings, personal interactions, awards ceremonies, and other presentations, the Major General and his SES (Senior Executive Service), presented a realistic but positive tone. At the events I observed, the members of the organization came away from the event with a more positive attitude about the challenges they were headed back to. I took notice that the effect was not based on the inspiring words of prepared remarks. It was based on the presentation – tone, body language, and enthusiasm.
How do you present yourself to your organization? In the face of challenges, are members or your organization able to draw inspiration from you? It’s your stage, how are you using it?