Leadership for Tomorrow's Military Workforce

ASSE - March 2012
By: Shawn M. Galloway
Printable Version

Final accountability for the organizational culture lies with senior leadership: past, present, and future. When recognizing unsatisfactory performance, the problem rarely lies with those being led. If leaders do not drive for new results, can we really expect the followers to follow?

Check Your Six & Remember What You See
Past generations may argue they had it worse than the leaders of today. It was indeed harder to work safely without the rules and regulations present most everywhere today. What was accomplished over the past several decades has created a safer world and work environment. However, what we did to accomplish this result will not continue to provide further improvement.

We must never forget that rules, policies and procedures are there for a reason. A common Navy adage reminds us, "Safety rules are written in blood." Yet, as we move forward to identify new ways reduce exposure to risk, we must remember that obeying the rules will not cover all exposure to injury opportunities.

It is critical that we never forget from where we have journeyed. Even more vital, we must realize that the innovations that allowed us to advance will not allow us to gain additional grounds. We need to think differently to produce different results.

Command and Control to Situational Collaboration
After proudly serving in the U.S. Armed Forces and working with some of our nation's top leaders in both private and public sectors, it is apparent that there are both exemplary leaders as well as some appalling ones. Regretfully, hierarchical, paternal command and control is the most common leadership style found among organizations exhibiting average safety performance. Anyone can attempt to command behavior. Great leaders choose to inspire others to act, a fundamental cultural indicator of performance excellence.

Top-down chain of command worked to bring our society out of the state of uniform risk-chaos we found ourselves in decades ago. Moreover, this style of leadership works well when there is uniform deviation from accepted safety practices. Command and control is quite effective in moving bodies, but it rarely moves hearts and minds.

Great leaders do not just prompt behavior; they inspire the intrinsic desire of others. In every organization there comes a time where the only path to transform results is to involve those typically left out. Collaboration becomes a necessary leadership style for further results. Becoming an accomplished leader cannot be learned solely through books; it comes from the experience of successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully leading others. Moreover, teams achieve greatness when they are made up of leaders, not followers.

Those that have achieved world-class safety performance have performed an about face from Henry Ford's famous quote: "Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?"

Dress Right Dress but Ready Front
Organizations of all types are on a perpetual search to see what others beside them are doing in safety. We compare, we benchmark, and we search for other best practices created by other groups. While it is always important to ensure alignment, a decision needs to be made: do we want to follow or lead the way? Every group will be different from others, even those in close proximity. Trying to compare yourself with another group can result in a demotivated team.

If you desire transformational results, you will not find it among the average. It will be found through a hyper-focused and aligned search for a newer, better, more effective and efficient way. Certainly, Dress Right Dress. Compare to ensure you aren't missing anything. Seek other perspectives, approaches and lessons, but Ready Front. Keep your attention focused forward.

Commander's Intent: A Repeatable Goal
If someone can't repeat your strategy, then you have not effectively communicated your goal. When a commander's intent (CI) is shared, the subordinate receives a clear vision and purpose with expected behaviors and results. What is your CI in safety? Is it defined by what will be accomplished or what will not be accomplished?

Imagine if the following CI is shared: The troops will move in an undefined direction for a year's time, resulting in zero casualties. Is this not as ambiguous as a stated vision of zero accidents? The CI cannot be stated in what not to do (get injured); it must be stated by what will be accomplished, and how, with some room for autonomy as the order is cascaded.

Communicate SITREP for Measureable Progress
Great leaders ask: Are our amazing results the consequence of what we're doing, or are they occurring in spite of what we are doing? Leaders who are surprised by results are ignoring important indicators. A situation report (SITREP) is a communication tactic that conveys many important things, including an overview of a unit's current activity. This report allows for communication of vital information both up and down the reporting structure.

Consider how powerful leveraging a SITREP could be if we applied the same strategies to safety communication. Organizations with world-class safety performance do not only measure and communicate the results, but focus on the performance required to achieve it as well. Just as many metrics should focus on the desirable as the undesirable if we want a group working to celebrate achievements (100% safe, 100% of the time) rather than fewer failures (zero injuries).

Lead By Not Leading
A leader is nothing without followers. Without them, a leader's organizational value decreases substantially. One of the elements of a great leader is the ability to check your pride at the door and let others shine. There is no greater reward in leadership than seeing those you once led receive praise for their demonstrated leadership. Organizations, regardless of industry or military branch, will achieve greatness when inspired by great leaders, not when pushed or manipulated by them.

A great leader can stand in front of their followers and convince them to move their feet. Tomorrow's leader will need to move their hearts and minds. When this occurs, feet move at a much more effective pace. As Thomas Paine, the American writer who influenced the Revolutionary War once wrote, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." The difference has been, and will continue to be, leadership, for this is where final accountability lies in recognizing transformational results.

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