Three Keys to Collaboration

When we enter the workplace, many of us want to take ownership of our position and its inherent challenges. But any successful leader will tell you that working alone will get you nowhere. If you truly desire your personal success to be transformational and have a greater effect, then you need to be willing to work with others, develop a team, and share both the successes and failures.

These three concepts will help you understand how to develop collaboration within your organization. Making sure you and your colleagues “play nice with each other” and work toward a common goal is the best way to achieve a desired goal.

Trust

It does not always matter what a person’s motivations are; that’s not for you to discern. What you need to be concerned with is moving the project and the organization forward. If you can engage and excite, you’re winning half the battle.

If you have a decent team, then nobody working in it wants the organization to fail. They may have different skill sets, experiences or competencies, but everyone at their core wants to succeed and be part of a “winning” team. Entrust and build onto that foundation, which can be extremely powerful — but be strategic and identify who are the key members of your team for the task at hand.

Communication

Invite others into your world of ideas. Tell them what you are working on, and don’t try to jealously guard it. It is within this initial communication that you can learn quite a bit about opportunities to collaborate to produce a more powerful product. It is also through communicating a concept that you are able to develop and mold an idea.

But you also have to listen. The person you have shared with might have some powerful and appropriate feedback for your project. They may even be working on something quite similar, and so it is worthwhile to sit silently and hear what another party thinks — because, again, you both are interested in the organization’s success.

Professional Empathy

Effective communication also creates something that is vital to continued effective collaboration: professional empathy. It allows you to understand what other people’s jobs and skills are, even if it isn’t in your wheelhouse. This allows you to identify key colleagues for you to work with depending on what your current project is and also makes it easier for you to understand how to work with different individuals.

Be considerate, kind, and willing to do the work and you will successfully move your project forward and be a transformational member of your organization.


Dr. Jeffrey McCausland, Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership & Strategy, LLC is a retired Army Colonel with over 30 years of unique and challenging leadership experiences. As a retired military officer and veteran, Jeff’s work has taken him all over the world serving in a variety of command and staff positions in places such as the on National Security Council Staff, U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA, and the Pentagon.

Leadership Lessons from the Alamo

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The Alamo fell after a 13-day siege March 6, 1836 — 182 years ago this month. All of the defenders were killed, though many historians believe that a few survived the fighting and were later executed on the order of General Santa Anna. These included Jim Bowie, William Travis, and Davy Crockett. The total number of Mexican casualties is unknown. Santa Anna claimed only 70 of his men were killed, but there are a number of accounts by other soldiers and inhabitants of the city that suggest over 400 were killed in the fighting. Susanna Dickinson (the wife of an Alamo defender), her infant daughter, as well as Colonel Travis’ slave Joe survived and were released by Santa Anna.

There are numerous leadership lessons/insights that can be taken from the siege and battle but let me provide five:

The importance of the leader’s vision. Every organization needs a vision that defines where the organization is going. One of the most important tasks of any leader is not only to articulate his/her vision but also to emphasize it when speaking to the members of his/her team. An effective vision must provide clarity of purpose and be communicable, comprehensive, and transformational.

Stephen Austin is in many ways the father of Texas. He arrived in 1822 and accepted a land grant from the Mexican government. He fulfilled the requirements to become a Mexican citizen and guaranteed the same for the other immigrants that accompanied him. Over the next decade he would encourage other Americans to settle in Texas and would become a leader of independence. Later in his life Austin would say:

“The greatest consolation I ever expect to derive from my labors in the wilderness of this province will arise from the conviction that I have benefitted many of my fellow beings, and laid the foundation for the settlement of one of the finest countries in the world.”

How do you identify future leaders? This is a real challenge for any leader. The leaders at the Alamo and for the entire Texas revolution were somewhat surprising. Jim Bowie had been accused of being a land swindler and being involved in the slave trade. It is alleged that he was a friend of Jean Lafitte’s — the pirate! William Travis had abandoned his wife in Alabama and fled to Texas. She would later follow to divorce him. Davy Crockett was a famous frontiersman and Congressman, but prior to coming to Texas in 1836 Crockett would lose a reelection campaign. Prior to leaving Tennessee, he allegedly told some of his constituents, “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas!” Sam Houston was not at the Alamo but would lead the Texas revolutionary army to success at the Battle of San Jacinto. Houston had been governor of Tennessee but resigned after his wife deserted him. He became an alcoholic and returned to live with the Cherokees where he had spent time as a boy. He had come to Texas to make a new start in 1832 and after the success of the revolution became the first President of the Republic of Texas.

The selection and development of the next generation of leaders in any organization may be the most important task of any leader. Most organizations depend on resumes and interviews that are largely focused on what an individual has accomplished in their career to that point. But the Alamo suggests that Peter Drucker, the internationally renowned management consultant, was correct when he said, “experience only matters if you believe the future will look like the past.” The hiring and promotion process must include some consideration of individual competence, but it also must include an examination of potential, interest, drive, ethics, etc.

Critical thinking. Effective leaders should always challenge the implicit and explicit assumptions of their organizations. He/she must constantly be reminded that critical thinking is important to the success or failure of the organization. This is the leader’s ability to receive information, evaluate the information, recall prior relevant information, assimilate the information by comparing differences and determining cause/effect, and evaluating the information in order to make timely decisions and solve problems.

The Texans assumed Santa Anna would not lead an army into Texas until late spring. But the Mexican president surprised them by leading his army across 300 miles of difficult terrain during a bitter winter. Colonel Travis, commander of the Alamo, ignored reports from his Texcano scouts that the Mexican Army approached. Santa Anna might have totally surprised the Texans had a rainstorm not bogged down his advance a scant eight miles from San Antonio. All leaders must keep in mind that despite their best plans and efforts their competition or opponent also “gets a vote.” As you make decision and adjust your plans, they can do so as well.

Diversity on the team can be a strength. We often think or talk about the defenders of the Alamo as “Texans.” This is inaccurate. Half of the 180 defenders came from the southern portion of the United States and twenty from the North. 29 were from Tennessee. Many were not Americans including a number of Texcanos (Mexicans who had chosen to fight for independence). Forty came from Great Britain (eleven of them were Irish). There were a few Germans and one Dane.

Successful leaders realize that there is strength in diversity. But diversity is often times not just ethnicity or race. It also includes the number of men and women as well as sexual orientation. Diversity can also be considered for the various generations that are on the team from the Baby Boomer to the Millennial. Diversity allows an organization to draw on differing perspectives and insights. Furthermore, diverse organizations frequently have an advantage in terms of innovation and new ideas. But this requires leadership that, beyond underscoring the importance of diversity, emphasizes the requirement to help members of the team learn both the importance of diversity as well as the need for team harmony in order to be effective.

The power of communications. Communications is fundamental to leadership and is a skill that leaders can develop. Modern leaders must deal with multiple forms of communication — written, oral, telephone, email, social media, etc. The effective leader must decide which is appropriate for each situation. At a minimum, the leader must frequently communicate the organization’s mission, vision, and values to all of the members of his/her team.

By February 24, 1836 Colonel William Travis realized that the situation at the Alamo was becoming increasingly desperate. He sent a famous letter to the convention of Texas patriots that were meeting at Washington-on-the-Brazos. In the letter Travis describes the mounting threat the overwhelming Mexican force poised to the defenders and requested reinforcements. He concludes the letter with the famous line “Victory or Death!” A rider departed the Alamo under the cover of darkness that evening and delivered it to the convention. By March 16 the letter and Travis’ final words had spread across Texas to New Orleans and from there across the United States. It would become a rallying cry for Texas independence.

On March 6, 2018 I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on this famous battle that occurred nearly two centuries ago, the men who died, and the lessons we can learn. Some historians argue this was one of the most important battles in the 19th century. The Battle of the Alamo allowed time for the Texas Army to prepare and eventually defeat Santa Anna at San Jacinto roughly a month later. This resulted in the creation of the Republic of Texas that would join the United States in 1845. The subsequent war with Mexico ended not only with an American victory, but the United States expanded its territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This relatively small battle and the efforts of the 180 defenders of the Alamo set the stage for the establishment of the continental United States.


Dr. Jeffrey McCausland, Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership & Strategy, LLC is a retired Army Colonel with over 30 years of unique and challenging leadership experiences. As a retired military officer and veteran, Jeff’s work has taken him all over the world serving in a variety of command and staff positions in places such as the on National Security Council Staff, U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA, and the Pentagon.

A Personal 25-Cent Bastion of Immortality

There are approximately 31.5 billion quarters circulating throughout our nation’s economy at last count, give or take several million. That is a lot of exposure for the person whose face appears on the “heads side.” Wouldn’t it be nice, even gratifying if our picture was on a quarter: A personal 25-cent bastion of immortality?

George Washington has held the place of honor since 1932. Today, among Americans, that name is almost cliché. Nationally, we are0_zps62325776 so accustomed to his generic description, “Father of Our Country” that we eclipse what the man, the icon, did to get on the quarter. Here’s a hint: You must be good before you become an icon. You must be extremely good, perhaps even sublime, to get on a quarter.

There is a recipe for making it on money, which requires three ingredients. First, live during a crisis period for America. Second, be a leader who can tame the crisis and bring the country through the period better than it was before. Finally, possess fortitude, which surmounts complacency, when complacency is the easiest most risk-free answer to the crisis.

Time we cannot control. If we are lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to live through a desperate crisis, we check off this ingredient of the formula. But, that is the easy part. It’s nothing more than fate and a birthday.

Strong, visionary leadership is the key precious quality, the rare second ingredient. What makes Washington human is he did not possess these leadership qualities when he became the commander of the Continental Army. But he developed as a leader, learning from his mistakes and from others.

So what is it Washington did that a hundred other leaders who lived through the American Revolution did not do equally well? Let’s convert his situation into one that makes sense to us now. Imagine George Washington is alive today and owns a franchise fast food restaurant: McDonald’s, Arby’s, Burger King—whatever. He has 20 employees. One morning when he opens up, only three employees show up for work. The same day, he learns a major competitor is building a restaurant directly across the street. Making things worse, George finds out his manager is going to work for this new competitor.

A month later, three of his missing employees come back to work. He must accept them back because good help is scarce. Now he has six people for all shifts. George’s staff is a far cry from his normal 20 employees and can barely keep his doors open for business. He promotes a new manager, but this person does not like work and spends the day reading newspapers in the break area.

Compounding Washington’s troubles, the franchise home office wants to pull his franchise rights and give them to one of his ex-employees. Finally, the black coup de grace: The bank will not extend credit so he can replace his worn out kitchen equipment.

Pretend for a moment we are George Washington, sitting in his office late one night, reviewing the present crisis. What would we think? What would we do? The natural inclination is, “This is hopeless!” Perhaps a “For Sale” might appear in front of the restaurant?

This is exactly the kind of situation George Washington faced entering the winter of 1776. Yet George took the crisis and converted it into a fifty-store powerhouse: the United States. Washington’s Army around New York numbered roughly 20,000 during the summer of 1776. By Christmas, his force was just over 3,000. He had limited supplies, few supporters within Congress and no financial backing. Others were machinating behind his back to replace him. His British foe outnumbered him more than 3-to-1. The situation was desperate. Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River is more than a quaint painting. It is the defining moment in American history.

By strength of will alone, this one man saved the American Revolution. This is not a gross simplification or exaggeration. It is fact. Without a leader of Washington’s mettle, we might still sing “Rule Britannia” before sporting events instead of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Best case, America would still be sending teams to the Commonwealth Games. Washington was the embodiment of the Stocksdale Paradox: “Retain faith that you will prevail in the end while confronting the most brutal facts.” This kind of unique, intense commitment gets your face on a quarter. It also results in two terms as president, and the title “Father of Our Country.”

Most would quit when faced by seemingly insurmountable odds. Not George. He possessed a vision for America, a dream he held more dearly than money or his life. He was not about to mortgage that dream cheaply.

The final ingredient for our recipe is willingness to lead when others defer. Washington was a wealthy man, a self-made businessman. He could easily have sat out the American Revolution and kept his portfolio safe. But his vision allowed no room for complacency. He gambled his property, his career and his life by leading the American army. Had the Revolution failed, Washington and dozens of patriots would surely have paid with their lives. Complacency was the easy answer, viewing the risk/reward equation. For George Washington, there was never a question. He placed country above self-interest and partisan posturing…imagine that. Others that aspired to usurp Washington ultimately showed their mettle was far inferior to his. We are indeed fortunate for his perseverance. It made Washington the indispensible man in American history.

Rarefied people like Washington exist today, poised and waiting for the next generation quarter. God forbid, a national crisis should provide the forum needed for greatness. Unfortunately for most, crisis usually means suffering and sacrifice. When it ends, all earn a share of glory once the country emerges on the “other side,” made of stronger tempered steel. But, in the end, the person who leads us to the other side through the crisis, gets their picture on a quarter.


J. Mark Jackson is the Territory Manager for the state of Florida, a writer, leadership consultant and trainer, and a veteran of the War in Afghanistan, where he provided training and mentorship to 350 Afghan soldiers.