Take The Risk

An interview with participant, Danielle Calero, 6th grade history teacher

At what point during your Diamond6 workshop did you have a “light bulb moment”?

On the third day of the workshop we were at the Army Heritage and Education Center and we heard Dr. Chris Maxwell
’s presentation, Lead Like a Guide. One of the things he talked about was taking risks. At the end of his presentation he asked us to write down what resonated most with us from his presentation. In my spiral notebook all I wrote down was, “take the risk.”

The day went on and we were meeting with our small groups. That is when it all really came together for me. I was in this group with so many established people in my school district. All week long I had been thinking, “I’m just a classroom teacher, I’m just a classroom teacher.” My colleagues definitely weren’t making me feel that way at all. It was more the feeling that I want to do more. There’s more that I can do to help my school site, my students, and my coworkers. But, the idea of taking the risk was something that I was always afraid to do.

Where did the letter to yourself come into play?

When Jeff asked us to write the letter to ourselves. He explained that we were to write down the one thing that we intended to do when we got back to work. We then sealed up the letter, returned it to him and he would mail them to us just around the time when school year would be starting up again.

The only thing I wrote down was “take the risk.” Nothing else. I put a period at the end and put it in the envelope.

What happened when you got home?

When I got back I had so much to share with my husband and my coworkers. The more I started talking through everything it became clear that I needed to take the risk.

I’m not ready to be out of the classroom yet. But, an end goal for me has always been to take on an administrative position. I’ve wanted to explore that avenue more.

I happened to be talking to one of my coworkers who came on the Diamond6 trip to Pennsylvania with me and she told me she applied for the Administrative Credential Program. Through this program I would get my preliminary administrative credential and it would allow me to take on positions like an assistant principal or principal job, student advisor, teacher on special assignment – it gives me a more options to leave the classroom when I’m ready but not completely leave education.

And so I thought about the program a lot. Should I do it? Should I not? My kids are still little. I don’t have enough time. All the excuses that I’ve been using for the past 5 years!

I talked it over with my husband and realized that my kids of course aren’t going anywhere, the busy schedule isn’t going anywhere. What happens if an opportunity arises and I’m not ready or I’m not prepared? So, I scrambled to get my paperwork and application together and literally got it in the day before the applications were due in August.

When did you receive the letter you wrote to yourself?

I came back to work to start the school year and got all the papers from my work mailbox. I saw the letter but I didn’t want to open it yet. I knew what was in it, but I didn’t know yet if it was worth it. I hadn’t heard back from the program so I didn’t know if I had been accepted or not.  

So I brought the letter back to my classroom. I sat down at my computer, opened my email and there was the email saying that I had been accepted into Administrative Credential Program. And then I looked at my letter and I was ready to do this, I was ready to open it!

Those two things happening on the same day made it all clear that the next year and a half might be a struggle, it might be busy, I might get stressed out but it’s worth the risk. I just can’t be afraid anymore. I can’t be afraid because opportunities will pass you by.

Like I said, I’m not ready to be out of the classroom yet. But, when the right opportunity comes along in two or three years I don’t want to be thinking, “I should have taken the risk and gotten that certification.”

Are you taking risks in other ways?

I’m very comfortable talking in front of my students but it’s hard for me to talk in front of my peers. So, over the last few years I’ve been taking on more leadership positions at my school site. The leadership seminar through my school district and the week with Diamond6 really gave me the confidence I needed to start this next journey.

What keeps you motived at work?

I see the potential in our school, in our students, and in our staff. I’ve been learning a lot in this Administrative Credential Program about the importance of school culture, relationships and trust building. That keeps me motivated to keep doing what I’m doing, to stay positive, with that end goal in mind.

 


 

We’d love to hear about your risks! Share your leadership stories with us.

Leading Up

How to lead your boss and be a boss who wants to be led.

It’s hard to believe but, bosses are people too! They are human and they can make mistakes. For the sake of this article I’m talking about good bosses. People who genuinely care about their organization and the people who work for and with them. Not bosses who are incompetent or unethical. (Check out George Reed’s book Tarnished: Toxic Leadership in the U.S. Military for those kind of bosses).

Every Boss Needs Somebody

Even good bosses will not have the right information or aren’t seeing it from someone else’s perspective. They may be tempted, for one reason or another, to make a questionable decision or miss an amazing opportunity.

This is where you have the opportunity to lead your boss! Think of yourself as your boss’s mole. You are their eyes and ears, their boots on the ground. The person who can provide them with a different perspective and insight they don’t have or simply can’t have because of their title and responsibilities.

I’m going to even take this to the next level. I believe it is your ethical obligation – to your boss, your organization, and yourself – to walk into your boss’s office, close the door and tell them when they are about to make a huge mistake or are going down a path that could lead to a major collision.

By leading your boss, you not only have a great opportunity to make an impact on your organization, you can make yourself a great asset to your boss and team. This takes courage from both sides!

Be a Boss Who Wants to Be Led

We have this cultural belief that when you have been appointed as a boss and a leader you must be the smartest person around. You are all knowing. You are always five steps ahead of everyone. That’s a lot of pressure, even for the smartest and most confident leaders!

During my career I have been part of many great organizations, and a few that could have used a little help. Those that are successful and doing great things are led by bosses who are willing to listen and be led.

How do they do it?

First, they surround themselves with smart people. You don’t want to let yourself be led by someone who could possible walk you right off a cliff!

Second, they have built a climate of strong relationships and a sense of trust with their team. The people who work for these bosses know that the boss has their back and will go to bat for them.

Lastly, these bosses welcome new ideas and ask for honest feedback from their team. This doesn’t mean they follow every idea or are pushovers. In the end they are the leader and they have the final say. But they have earned respect from their team by allowing them to be heard.

Be Brave to Lead the Boss….and Let Yourself Be Led

The idea of leading the boss and being a boss who wants to be led is not a given. It doesn’t come naturally or easily to most employees or bosses.

Employees may be afraid they are offending their boss or questioning their intelligence.

Bosses may think that creating a culture in which they seek out input makes them look weak and uninformed.

To break this stalemate both sides must be brave and find the courage to take the first step.

As an employee you must get to know your bosses comfort zone. What are his/her values? Where have they come from? Does your boss appear supported or lonely? Is he/she genuinely secure? What appears to be their failures, fears, or aspirations?

It is your goal to stay within this comfort zone and then work to expand it, slowly but surely.

Knowing HOW to present problems to your boss is critical. Don’t waltz into their office, drop a problem on their desk and walk out, wishing them good luck as you close the door. Leading your boss means you come with problems AND possible solutions. This will help you gain their trust and be in influencer in your organization. In other words, a leader!

As the boss you must create opportunities for people to share their ideas, thoughts and recommendations. Be curious about their personal and professional goals and do what you can to support them. Have a 5-minute brainstorming session at the beginning of every meeting and the only rule is that all ideas are welcome and respected. Hold post mortem meetings on activities, projects or events to discuss what went well and what could use improvement.

 

How have you led the boss during your career? Or, how have you created a culture where you allow yourself to be led? Share your stories with us!

 


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.

McCausland’s Laws: Leadership and Critical Thinking

In my talks on leadership I frequently point out that the one thing that makes leaders different from everyone else is that THEY DECIDE! Though the effective leader wants to be open to input from as many perspectives as possible, the leader is the ultimate decision maker and must also decide when he/she is going to decide! As a result critical thinking is essential if a leader is going to make the best possible decisions in today’s complex and ever changing world.

Obviously, that begs a very important question – how do we define critical thinking? While there are various definitions, the one I like is as follows:

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively receive information, recall prior information, assimilate information by comparing differences and determining cause and effect, and evaluating the information to make decisions and solve problems.

This has to be done in a timely fashion to insure sound execution by the team. Leaders must seek to develop their critical thinking skills, and there are numerous historical examples where it was not done well. Here are some illustrations:

The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty…a fad.
— President of Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company in 1903.     

I dont like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out….
— Decca Record Executive on turning down the Beatles

Video wont be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.
— Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox Studios, on television in 1946.

How then does a leader develop critical thinking skills and what pitfalls are there? In reality, the best approach is to consider the scientific method. First, identify the question and associated problem. This may sound easy, but in reality it is both fundamental and hard. It is fundamental because failure to do so may move all of the organization’s analysis in the wrong direction. Taking the time at the outset to really ascertain what is the real problem and associated question is key. Second, formulate a hypothesis. Why are things occurring in this fashion that presents our team with a problem? Third, seek relevant data. This can also be difficult because we now have so many means to extract data. Consequently, it is essential to question whether or not the data is valid. How was it gathered? Is it a representative sample? What definitions were used? What are implicit and explicit assumptions associated with the data. Fourth, test the hypothesis and evaluate the results. Finally, from the analysis, draw reliable conclusions that are appropriate to your organization while carefully considering your mission, vision, and values.

Based on my experience in the military, government, academia, and business I have formulated the following list of McCausland’s Laws that may be helpful as you develop these critical thinking skills:

  • Never assume logic plays a role, particularly when dealing with bureaucracies.

  • For every problem, there is a short-term seemingly easy solution that is often the worst thing you can do in the long term.

  • When explaining how something happened, do not neglect the possibility that your opponent/competition just screwed up.

  • Long range planning may only be tomorrow afternoon for your organization, BUT it is still really important and somebody needs to do it.

  • If two people agree on everything, one of them is not thinking at all.

  • Facts are important but placing them in the correct context is REALLY important.

  • Don’t forget that your opponent/competition can influence your strategy and decision.

Leaders in the 21st century would be wise to consider the words of Alvin Toffler, a futurist and author of the book Future Shock. Toffler observed, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”


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.

How Leaders Set the Tone

The Success of the Thai Soccer Coach

For two weeks people around the globe were glued to their television and computer screens searching for updates about 12 boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach who were trapped deep inside a cave in Northern Thailand. Finally, on July 10, the story that captivated and stunned the world came to an end when the final members of the soccer team exited the cave alive and well.  

“We’ve rescued everyone,” said Narongsak Osatanakorn, the former governor of Chiang Rai province and the lead rescue official. “We achieved a mission impossible.” 

And it certainly was an impossible mission. Divers and rescuers from all over the world came to help guide the young boys through narrow passages, in pitch dark, weighed down by heavy equipment. Each grueling trip took between nine and 11 hours. Some of the boys had to learn how to swim while waiting to be rescued.

The Thai Navy SEALS summarized the rescue well in a Facebook post that read: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what.”

What is most miraculous about this incredible rescue is the physical and mental health of the young boys when they emerged. Aside from being tired, hungry, and having lost some weight from weeks without proper nourishment, the boys were considered to be in good health after a short hospital stay.

While the rescue certainly required extraordinary feats in cave-diving expertise and medical know-how, it is steady leadership that played a significant role in helping the crisis come to a happy conclusion. The officials in charge of the rescue operations, the medical doctors, and the Thai SEAL divers were critical in pulling off the actual rescue, but it is the soccer coach who played the most critical role.

Having already gained their complete trust, Ekkapol Ake Chantawong, a former monk, kept the boys calm and focused and kept up their hopes that they would be found and rescued. It was his ability to set the tone in the cave that ensured rescuers would be able to get them out alive. If he had not done so successfully, the divers may have had to rescue boys who were dangerously anxious, panicked, or deeply traumatized. Not a state of mind you want someone to be in when you’re rescuing them from a life-or-death situation.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to set the tone for your team or organization. It is your actions and reactions that your team will follow during challenging situations and crises. However, you don’t have to wait for an epic crisis to start practicing setting the tone. Consider these three concepts during day-to-day operations to set you up for success in trying times.

1. Build Trust

We instinctually know that we will not follow someone we don’t trust, as it can be dangerous— physically, to our careers, or to the future of our businesses. Building trust takes time and effort on the part of the leader, and it can ensure that your team will follow you through thick and thin. But don’t forget! That trust can be lost in an instant if promises are broken or ethics are violated.

2. Check Your Optimism

I often say, “Nobody is going to be more optimistic than you are!” Be it completing a new project, overcoming a financial challenge, or getting through a crisis, if you shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, not sure how this is gonna go folks!” you just massively decreased your chance of success. Plus, you’ve lost trust and you will have a hard time being taken seriously in the future. Be an optimist and your team will be optimistic they can complete any task that comes their way!

3. Never Let Them See You Sweat

As a leader, you have to be steady, calm, and keep your cool under fire. Losing your temper in staff meetings or having a public emotional breakdown during a crisis will put you on a path to disaster. You will appear unapproachable and unable to lead with confidence and grace. Be honest, stay composed, and have your emotional moments behind closed doors.

When faced with a challenge or extreme crisis, it is the leader’s responsibility to set the tone. Your reactions will decide what direction a simple challenge or crisis will take – the road headed towards complete disaster or the road that will most likely lead to a positive outcome. But, don’t keep these steps in your back pocket for that worst-case scenario. Start practicing today so you can have success when challenges and crises arise.


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.

Resilience 101

“Resilience” is a new buzzword I’m seeing these days in a many different contexts.  We need to develop “systems resilience” to deal with potential cyber attacks. We need more “resilient communities” to prepare for tragedy and the unexpected. The government is creating programs to help develop “family resilience” to better cope with the stresses of military life. And the military seeks to develop “resilient soldiers,” less susceptible to traumatic stress disorder, better prepared to positively respond to stress and change.

Resilience is clearly a good thing. So what exactly is it, and how do we get some?

Like many things, resilience is both simple and complex. In essence, it seems to come down to an ability to cope and to respond well to adversity and stress. The opposite of resilient  might be ‘fragile’, ‘rigid’, ‘delicate’, or even ‘sensitive’. Persistence is usually, but not always, associated with resilience.

When we talk about people being resilient, we really have to define the context, since resilience manifests itself differently in different contexts. Different contexts may demand physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, or other types of resilience – or some of each –  to respond to different types of adversity. Being resilient in one context does not assume resilience in another. We’ve all seen people who may be mentally and physically very resilient in combat or high-stress environments (physical/mental resilience), but who emotionally over-react or are unbending with their families and friends (emotional/social resilience).   My graduate students are very successful in their personal and professional lives, but sometimes have views of the world that are quite rigid. Graduate school seeks to develop ‘intellectual resilience’ by forcing students out of comfortable mental models, to try on different viewpoints and different ways of thinking.

So how does one become more ‘resilient’?

Aristotle said that if you want to become courageous, you need to do things that require courage. He would say the same thing about resilience. One must be willing to get out of one’s comfort-zone and stretch one’s ability to adapt to a different environment, if one wants to develop greater resilience under stress or adversity. In other words, one must subject oneself to the stress of not being comfortable. In today’s culture, there is a temptation to find a comfortable niche, settle into a ‘comfort-zone’ and fight never to leave it. We commit to career, marriage, family, community, mortgage – what one young friend of mine called  ‘the whole catastrophe’. We seek stability, predictability, and… we get comfortable.

To stay nimble and resilient, we must occassionally force ourselves into endeavors and environments where we are not in complete control – and force ourselves to adapt. We must be willing to at least consider, and accept with some equanimity,  the possibility that the things we count on can be taken away – our job, our money, lifestyle, health, friends, loved ones, our title, and our reputation. And we must be willing to ask ourselves that ‘existential’ question:  What is left, and who are we without those things?

To step out of our comfort-zone, we risk failure. Only by trying and failing, and trying again, do we develop the resilience to deal with things happening in a way that does not suit us. Without learning to deal with failure, there can be no resilience. Not getting what we want means to suffer, and, as the Greeks believed, wisdom only comes through suffering.

In dealing with difficulties and discomfort, we frequently use something called ‘self talk’ as a psychological tool to help ourselves deal with  difficult circumstances. Self-talk has been shown to actually change the way we think, behave, and perceive our environment. “I can do this.”  “This too shall pass.”  “This is my opportunity.” “This is God’s will (or this is my fate).  I must deal with this as best I can.” “I am strong.”   “I am confident.” Prayer is a form of self talk. A wise person once warned against asking God to give us the result we want, recommending instead that we pray for the strength (resilience) to deal with what He gives us.

My old friend Master Chief Will Guild suggested two essentials to resilience:  a sense of humor and love.  A sense of humor gets us outside of ourselves and our own ego-driven self absorption. It can deflate the pressures of fear, anger, panic, and resentment. Love likewise gets us outside of the immediacy of our personal anxiety– loving others, in spite of their failings, and loving ourselves, in spite of our failings. Indeed, Aristotle saw self-love, or ‘proper pride’ as a fundamental virtue.   Maintaining our self-respect and personal sense of dignity, when all is going wrong, is essential to a resilient response to challenge and adversity. Without self respect and ‘proper pride,’ collapse in the face of adversity is predictable.

SEAL training is very much about developing physical and mental resilience to respond to adversity in battle or special operations.  SEAL basic training creates a somewhat artificial adversity in a controlled training environment that serves as a crucible to develop the resilience needed to respond well to the real fear and adversity of combat.  Master Chief Guild used to teach SEAL trainees four key techniques for developing the resilience necessary to succeed at their baic training, and by extension, in combat. These are variations on what sports psychologists teach to professional athletes to help them perform their best under stress and pressure.

Maintain a positive attitude

Believe in yourself, keep your sense of humor, and use self-talk to stay positive.

Learn positive visualization

Visualize and believe in your own success, whatever that looks like. Positive visualization prepares us mentally for the challenge at hand, and for what it feels like to succeed.

Practice segmentation

Break the challenge you are facing into bite-size goals -– this event, this day. Set simple, achievable, short term goals. Don’t look beyond getting through the challenge of the moment, the event, or the day.

Learn arousal control

Learn techniques to calm yourself when fear, panic, and anxiety seem ready to overwhelm you.  These techniques include meditation, deep breathing, heart-rate management.  And again, self talk.

The best literature I’ve read on resilience is from the Roman Stoics and from Viktor Frankl in his classic short book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Vadm Stockdale wrote extensively about how Stoicism helped him survive seven years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Stoicism divides the world into two spheres – things we can control, and things we can’t.  The Stoic believes that we develop psychic resilience (and serenity) by learning to accept fate’s dictates, assuming full responsibility for our actions and attitudes, and developing the “wisdom to know the difference” between what we have to accept and what we can affect. Viktor Frankl’s book is about the resilience that comes from having a purpose for living – a goal for one’s life. This greater sense of purpose provides the strength and motivation to overcome life’s challenges.  Man’s Search for Meaning is about how Frankl found meaning in his suffering in a German concentration camp and how his belief in his own life’s purpose was key to his survival. Both Stockdale and Frankl would argue that a strong will to adapt, survive, and prevail is essential.

In conclusion, there is much that can be said and written about resilience. It is key to success and survival in dynamic, stressful, and rapidly changing environments.  As with leadership and character, resilience seems to be at least partly innate – some people are naturally more resilient and adaptable than others, and some people seem to be born with a stronger will to succeed. But as with character and leadership, resilience and strength of will can be improved through experience, training, and education. We can intentionally develop more flexible mental models, a broader perspective, and we can learn to imagine things as different than they are. It can help a lot to have a resilient and inspiring teacher, leader, or mentor who believes in us.

It is useful to remember that Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection put a very high premium on resilience.

 


Bob Schoultz is currently CEO of Fifth Factor Leadership, which applies a Navy SEAL and Special Operations perspective to dilemmas faced by leaders in business and other public and private sector enterprises. Bob graduated from Stanford University in 1974, and completed Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in Coronado California in the summer of 1975. He then served as Naval Special Warfare officer for 30 years, with numerous extended tours overseas in a wide variety of commands.

During his career he served all over the world, and commanded SEALS and Special Boat personnel at all levels up to Commanding Naval Special Warfare Group Two in Little Creek, Va. His last assignment in the Navy was as the Director of Leader and Character Development at the US Naval Academy, from which he retired as a Captain on 1 July, 2005. From Oct 2005 until Nov 2011 he served as the Director of the Master of Science in Global Leadership in the School of Business Administration at the University of San Diego. 


Never Waste a Good Crisis!

What leaders can learn from the Volkswagen scandal

In September 2015 the Environmental Protection Agency made a discovery about VW cars being sold in the U.S. that was quickly dubbed the “diesel dupe”. It was a crisis that opened investigations worldwide into the legitimacy of its emissions testing. Furthermore, they recalled over 10 million cars, shares fell by about a third, many company leaders stepped down and they lost loyal customers.

The definition of a crisis is an “unstable situation of extreme danger”, “a crucial stage”, “a turning point”. Using a crisis as an opportunity is a very effective yet often underutilized tactic in crisis management.

This is the tactic that Volkswagen is utilizing to restore their business and earn back the trust of world leaders and customers. Much like a phoenix rising from the ashes, VW has turned this cheating scandal into a business opportunity to look toward the future and leave behind diesel for electric cars.

Matthias Erb, VW’s chief engineering officer in North America, told NPR that, while the scandal was terrible, it “supported and accelerated those conversion processes in the direction of electrification”.

Making a sharp pivot, like Volkswagen is doing, can be particularly helpful when dealing with a crisis of this magnitude; one where the company’s image is on the line, where deep trust has been broken, and continuing “business as usual” will be detrimental rather than helpful. This kind of re-branding may be what is necessary to keep a business afloat.

However, before changing the direction of your organization to deal with a crisis, consider these three important steps:

1. Conduct a post mortem

All crises, big and small, must be closely analyzed with a post mortem. Only then can you learn where the problem truly began, how the crisis manifested itself and how to move forward. A post mortem can help uncover decisions you may have to make, bringing us to step 2.

2. Decide and act

Leaders must have tremendous courage, particularly in a crisis. You will have to make some very difficult decisions such as having to let someone go or possibly step aside yourself. Martin Winterkorn, former executive for the Volkswagen Group, resigned as a direct result of the scandal. It is important to consider your “true north” when dealing with a crisis – what is the moral and right thing to do in this situation? Before making any decisions however, be sure to consider step 3.

3. Consider the consequences

You may have come up with the perfect pivot for your organization to come out of this crisis. But, have you considered the consequences of this plan? VW, for example, will not only be investing in the research and development of new technology for their electric cars. They will also have to spend millions of dollars to build out an underdeveloped charging infrastructure in the U.S. Think about the long-term effects this new direction may have before moving forward.

As a leader you WILL be involved in crises – large and small. Just remember, never waste a perfectly good crisis! Knowing how to turn a crisis into a business opportunity may be the only way to save 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.

‘Lead by Example’: An Interview with Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield Jr.

Are people “born leaders” or can it be developed?

My observation is that leadership comes from upbringing, mentoring influences, and the demands of exigent circumstances.  Historians have wondered if Presidents Washington, Lincoln, and F.D. Roosevelt would have gained such reputation and stature had they not faced extreme challenges and overcome them.  Personal characteristics such as self-confidence, ability to maintain focus, and high social aptitude – among qualities that can often be found in leaders – are very likely developed from infancy.

What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned? 

Lead by example.  One cannot be perceived as shirking workload or acting unethically and at the same time motivate others to assume heavy work burdens and uphold the highest ethical standards.  When one’s organization is criticized for its work product, a leader should accept full responsibility, demonstrating pride and commitment in the entire workforce, and thereby motivating them to strive for better results.  When wrongdoing is found within an organization, the leader must act swiftly to introduce a fair and just process to assure that no one is wrongly blamed, due process is followed, and the full workforce is positively counseled and reminded, by the leader, of the laws, rules and standards that all must uphold.

How has your leadership style evolved?

My learning has been shaped by a series of leadership roles in student government, running a graduate school journal, and being a ‘boss’ at a young age in a partnership with younger employees.  I have participated in two different kinds of partnerships – one a creative enterprise, the other a business – in which I learned ways to persuade peers without having any advantage of rank.  In government and out of government, I have held a succession of leadership positions where I have become increasingly comfortable with the role expected of me, to help set agendas, run meetings productively, and execute the business of the organization in a manner that would withstand close scrutiny for propriety and productivity.  In today’s world of individual empowerment, the leadership style most likely to be productive, at least in the civilian world which is my only frame of reference as a non-veteran, is one setting a collaborative, mutually respectful tone rather than an authoritarian or coercive tone.

What leadership concepts do you consider during your day-to-day?

The job of a leader is to help engineer the organization’s output, so on a day-to-day basis, “job one” is seeing to it that the job gets done.  Related to that is an ongoing consideration of how to address possible weaknesses in the organization, including staffing issues, productivity, or the need to increase outside knowledge of and support for the organization.  All of these require motivating others, and part of that is to demonstrate one’s own commitment and contribution to the effort, as one way of spurring others to respond to the leader’s call to action.

What are the most important ideas a burgeoning leader ought to consider?

Picking up on the wording of that question, the “most important ideas” may in fact be ones generated by people other than the leader.  We sometimes hear that a leader likes to be ‘the smartest person in the room’ or be the one to produce ‘the answer’ to problems being considered.  This is a telltale sign of weakness in a leader.  A strong leader not only has no fear of highly intelligent and innovative subordinates, but should actively seek out skillful analysts, experienced operators and creative problem-solvers to share in the burdens of setting a course of action.  I worked for Vice President Dan Quayle, and admired the way he would bring in top policy officials and let them air their disagreements on key issues, vigorously debating right in front of him for 5-10 minutes, giving him a rich understanding of various options and their merits; we only knew which arguments had persuaded the Vice President when he later sat down in official meetings and stated his views.

What leadership skills or competencies do you look for when hiring? 

Like any boss, I look for an intellectual and emotional steadiness in someone with whom I and others will need to be working day to day. Job applicants tend to be on their best behavior, signaling reliability and willingness to take direction.  Beyond that, however, I look for intelligent self-confidence, meaning one who will think for himself or herself, even while operating within the constraints and discipline of the organization.  For more senior positions, I learned from Colin Powell that the most important characteristic is not necessarily an exquisite knowledge of every detail of the organization’s work; any smart person can learn that.  General Powell’s main criterion can be described by the question, ‘If I give responsibility for running this organization and managing all its issues to this person, can I walk in the other direction knowing that he/she can handle the task well?’  In the end, while a good understanding of the organization’s work is important, general qualities of competence, character, and yes, ‘leadership,’ can be the true keys to success in an organization.

 


Ambassador Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr. (Harvard, a.b, cum laude, Government, 1974; Fletcher School, M.A.L.D., 1980) is Chairman of the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, DC. He was the President’s Special Envoy for MANPADS Threat Reduction from 2008-2009, and Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, as well as Special Representative for the President and Secretary of State for Humanitarian Mine Action from 2001-2005.

Start Your Mentorship Off Strong

What makes some mentorship pairings take off, quickly becoming transformative developmental relationships, while others simply wither
on the vine? This question often vexes mentoring program organizers. Even when a mentor and mentee appear ideally suited on paper, even when both claim real interest in the relationship, perhaps even sitting through a mentorship training session, some relationships never get off the blocks. Although most people report a preference for organically evolved (informal) mentorships, informally-developed relationships are less frequent. Organizations have learned that simply waiting for “nature to take its course,” for pairs to form informally, results in lower rates of employee mentorship. Therefore, more organizations attempt to launch mentorships through some formal strategy for pairing, training, and supporting mentor-mentee pairs. When a mentoring relationship has a formal “start date,” there are a few things effective mentors do to insure that those connections succeed. 

Here are two of the keys to starting your mentorship strong.

Be There

Once the initial buzz and excitement of a formal mentoring program’s launch begins to fade it is easy for both parties to get sidetracked and bogged down by the tyranny of busy schedules and deadlines. As weeks slip by, well-intended mentors forget to reach out to mentees. Scheduled mentoring meetings get canceled or pushed-back by the latest emergency. Mentees may feel reluctant to “bother” their busy mentors and so resort to passive waiting for the mentor’s initiative.

There is a striking and consistent finding in research that compares the distinguishing characteristics of successful versus unsuccessful mentor matches in organizational mentoring programs: Those pairs that actually get together frequently during the first several months of the program tend to connect, hit it off, and go on to develop productive and enjoyable mentorships. This finding supports a fundamental principle from decades of social psychology research. When two people see each other and interact frequently (proximity) they grow to like each other more and increasingly enjoy their interactions. In other words, mere exposure to your mentor or mentee is likely to fuel your relationship during those precarious early months. Proximity and exposure help mentors and mentees bond.

You may get together in-person (ideal and preferred), or via some combination of face-to-face meeting, teleconference, or phone conversation; whatever your communication modalities, the secret it to make those meetings a top priority. Mentors, be sure to reach out reliably and consistently! Your mentee may feel like an imposter—somehow unworthy of bothering someone of your stature in the organization. Silence or absence on your part may erroneously communicate disinterest or disappointment on your part. Mentees, be sure to reach out reliably and consistently! Your mentor may be swamped, scattered, and/or new to the mentor role. Put aside your concern about being a “pest” and get on the phone or send an email. Prompt your mentor to schedule that next meeting or ask a question about your career or the organization to get the mentor thinking about you again. Engaged mentees—squeaky wheels—do get more mentoring.

Discern The Dream

In addition to being there, excellent mentors understand the critical importance of working early and often to understand their mentee’s fledgling career dream. In a famous study of adult development, psychologist Daniel Levinson and his colleagues determined that young adults in any profession or discipline begin to formulate a still-hazy sense of who they may become and what they might achieve in their lives and careers. Levinson called this underdeveloped and vague sense of self in the adult (professional) world the dream. The dream may have the quality of a vision or an imagined possibility that generates excitement and vitality in a mentee. It is the early career mentor who must nourish this dream in the mentee and set the mentee into creative flight, affirming the exciting possibilities while tempering idealism with the wisdom of experience.

Mentors, one of the more important things you can do for your mentees is to “listen” for hints and clues to your mentee’s fledgling aspirations. Remember that your mentees’ career/life dream may feel fuzzy and shapeless, even to them. Mentees need us to take time to get to know them, to ask the right questions about what they love doing and where they imagine their career might take them. They need us to listen carefully, to gently paraphrase what we hear, and in so doing, help them give form and bring clarity to their dream.

To make the job more challenging, mentees are often reluctant to give voice to career aspirations that may feel grandiose and unreachable. Most of us feel anxious early in our careers, often questioning our own competence, feeling like an imposter among accomplished senior colleagues. Yes, we imagine thrilling career trajectories but we also harbor hidden doubts about whether we have what it takes. When a mentor asks us what we’d like to do in our careers, we can freeze up, feeling self-conscious and reluctant to risk embarrassment by revealing ambitions that sound farfetched even to our own ears.

Mentors: It is your job to help your mentee overcome these barriers to forming, articulating, and pursuing the dream. Take time to meet with your mentees and when you do, listen carefully to discern their unique talents, inclinations, and interests. When you decipher glimmers of the dream, help your mentees express it in their own words and then affirm their vision like crazy! When a mentor both communicates and demonstrates faith in the mentee’s ability, the mentee is more likely to trust the mentor and believe the dream may be within grasp.

Mentees: Use your mentoring relationship to actively explore and then discuss your ideal—“perfect world”—career dream. If everything in your personal and professional life were to come together seamlessly, how would it look? What jobs might you have along the way? What would the dream job look like (at least, from your current vantage point)? Be bold and think through these questions out loud and in the presence of your mentor. That’s what mentoring is for!


Brad Johnson, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at the U. S. Naval Academy, a Faculty Associate at Johns Hopkins University, and an expert on mentoring relationships. His latest books include Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women (with David Smith); The Elements of Mentoring (with Charles Ridley) and On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty.

Leadership is all about interaction: an interview with Dr. Jeff McCausland

Are people “born leaders” or can they be developed?

I definitely believe that leaders can and must be developed. Still there are certain personality characteristics that may help someone become an effective leader. People who are extreme introverts and find it uncomfortable around groups can become leaders, but it takes a greater effort. This is not unlike high performing athletes who may have better eyesight, height, strength, etc. as part of their physical makeup giving them an edge. Still, in both cases the individual has to devote both study and effort to continue to capitalize on those inherent advantages.

What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned?

I have learned that most people want to do well and be part of a high performing team. I do not believe people go to work each day seeking to fail. But leadership is an art and not a science. Consequently, relationships are key. Leadership is all about the interaction between human beings. A leader has many jobs, but let me discuss three.

First, define a vision for the organization and then seek to convince the members of his team to follow that vision. This often requires work.

Second, the difference between leaders and everyone else is “the leader decides and he or she decides when they are going to decide. Consequently, the leader must manage the organizations time. How much time do we have? When do I have to make a decision so that my team has enough time to explain to those working for them what their goals or objectives are? How much time do I have to seek consensus before deciding which direction we are going to take?

Third, the leader must seek to invest in his or her people and develop a high performing team. The ultimate goal of the leader is to make him/herself irrelevant. The true test of any leader is how well the organization performs once the leader departs. Did he or she develop a team so even if they were missing the organization continued to climb?

How has your leadership style evolved?

I continue to be amazed by how little I know. I have learned an effective leader must continue to develop in two ways. First, an effective leader must continue to develop his or her competence in his or her profession or occupation. Second, they must continue to think and develop themselves as a leader. Furthermore, I have learned that building organization consensus and cohesion is key. The leader cannot simply announce the vision for the organization and then expect everyone to immediately buy in and move out in the direction defined.

Chris Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Corporation, once observed that when he took charge of Hilton he spent nearly two years traveling throughout the corporation which has 150,000 employees worldwide. He said he was convinced that everyone was “pulling hard on the oars” but they were often pulling the oars in different directions

Finally, I have found in my work with many, many organizations that most are willing to invest millions in new technology or capital investments. But they are only willing to invest pennies in their most important resource — their people.

What leadership concepts do you consider during your day-to-day?

I try to think hard on what I need to invest my time in and what is best done by others. Empowerment is key to the success of any organization. So I frequently ask myself, “Am I getting in the way of one of my employees who is anxious to take responsibility for something?”. I seek to spend time thinking about the future of my organization and not get buried in day-to-day decisions, which can be handled by others. Finally, am I learning something new today that will make me either more competent or a better leader?

What are the most important ideas a burgeoning leader ought to consider?

What makes you happy and what do you enjoy? I cannot imagine you could do well leading an organization if you are not enjoying the experience, either in terms of its intrinsic rewards or the position working for you and your family.

Next, what is the vision I have for the organization? Can I galvanize the resources and build the consensus right now to move the organization in that direction? Finally, what is my assessment of my team? Are they ready for the vision? Do I need to do more teambuilding or do I need to add new team members and perhaps remove existing team members?

What leadership skills or competencies do you look for when hiring?

You want to ensure that the person is intelligent and has passion for the organization and its aims. It will not work to hire someone who is very intelligent but cannot work effectively with others—that can be a disaster for any team. Finally, do they have a desire to learn, improve themselves, and a desire to be innovative and “make things happen”?

I often use the example of Coach Dean Smith, University of North Carolina. He was at one point the winningest coach in NCAA basketball. A sportswriter once asked Smith what he looked for in basketball prospects. Smith replied, “I look for players who are fast. I can teach someone how to shoot, rebound, read plays, pass, etc. I do not know how to teach them to be fast….” In similar form I believe I can teach anyone who wishes to learn how to be successful in the organizations I have led. I just don’t know how to make them innovative or “make it happen” when they do not receive specific directions.


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.

The Mileage of Failure– Why Leaders Shouldn’t Fear to Fail

There is great “mileage” in failure as it from the moments where we experience setbacks that we may learn the most.  Most people have been taught that failure is a bad thing, but in reality it can also be incredibly instructive. While it is essential to remember philosopher George Santayana’s adage, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” it is okay to make the error yourself sometimes — especially if you choose to learn from it.

I am a great baseball fan and so often use metaphors from my favorite sport.  Assume you were a major league baseball player who got a base hit every third time at bat BUT struck out the other two appearances at the plate.  What happens to you five years after you retire from the game?  You would go to the Hall of Fame even though you failed two out of three times…. Strong leaders know that they will fail at times but still acknowledge the “mileage” such setbacks offer.  Failure makes you humble, aware, and should fill you with determination for the next “time at the plate”.

With that in mind, here are three reasons why a leader should never fear failure.

It Humbles You

While failure can be bad for your ego, it can also help you reevaluate your current situation. Chances are you aren’t the greatest leader to grace the earth, so it’s good to remain modest. It will make you a better listener, a greater teammate and a more empathetic figure. Leadership is largely about communication, and those who do it best understand that — while confidence is great — an inflated ego can be the biggest roadblock to success.

It Shows You Your Weaknesses

A leader worth following is one who understands his or her own faults. That allows you to entrust people to pick you up where your own natural talents might be lacking. It’s okay to be bad at something, but you still need to be aware of those gaps. How else will you fill them in? By doing this, it also allows you to be more considerate toward others. It will make you more aware and provide new possibilities. After all, most mistakes are teachable moments and opportunities for coaching and mentorship.

It Emboldens You

Failure is a useful tool because a series of rejections or mishaps can help push you forward to the next opportunity. It’s likely that your ideas will be shot down — a lot — throughout your life, but it’s the strong leader who dusts him or herself off and pushes forward. Always carry that misstep, mistake or rejection with you because it’ll make success feel better earned. It’s understandable to feel an emotional low, but never wallow. Find the determination to fight another battle, and another battle after that.

 


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.