How do the pros look at Leadership? 11 Principles

photo by US Army via Flickr

photo by US Army via Flickr

Great leadership is critical for business success, but it’s rarely a matter of life and death. Which is why it makes sense to look to the US Armed Forces as an inspiration for leadership ideas – in the Army, not only is leadership the key to long term success…it’s also the driver for survival in enemy territory.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the US Armed Forces takes leadership study very seriously. In fact they go back to 1948, when they first published the Field Manual on Leadership, which is built around 11 key Principles that were uncovered in all sorts of real world situations.

What is surprising is how timeless those principles have turned out to be.  According to this great summary by Tom Deierlein of Combat Leaders those same 11 principles are still taught to all levels of the military today…despite being consistently reviewed every couple of years at the highest levels to determine if they are still valid or if they’re missing anything.

These principles have held up for over 60 years and are used to grow strong leaders in life and death situations…I suspect they might apply to your business as well.

11 Principles of Leadership (US Armed Forces)

1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement

Before you can lead others you must be able to lead yourself…which means you MUST understand your own strengths and weaknesses. It’s equally important that you are continuously looking for ways to improve yourself. Success isn’t a snapshot in time, it’s a journey and the most successful people are getting better every single day.

2. Be technically proficient

This one is interesting and pretty much shatters the concept of a ‘professional’ manager. People respond to competence and if you can’t do what you’re asking your team to do, then you’re likely going to struggle with leading them. You don’t have to be the best, but you need to be up to date and be able to appreciate what it takes to succeed from a skills / technical perspective.

3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

Being a leader isn’t about being given a title…it’s about making things happen. This principle also highlights a very strong belief of mine – Leaders never play the victim role…things will go wrong at some point, but a leader isn’t going to blame others (or the economy, the weather, etc.). Instead a leader takes responsibility for the situation, analyzes it, takes corrective action and moves on.

4. Make sound and timely decisions

Although it’s important to think through challenges and issues, it’s even more important to make a decision and keep things moving. Nothing will shut down an organization like the inability to make a decision.

5. Set the example

Hopefully your team is listening to you, but you can be sure that they are watching you.  And if you aren’t ‘walking the walk’ at all times then it won’t matter what you say. Leadership is especially challenging because it requires you to live as a leader and take on the burden of role model and it’s 24 x 7.

6. Know your people and look out for their well-being

Have you ever seen a master mechanic or craftsman with shoddy tools? They know the formula for success includes taking care of their tools. A leader understands their role is to SERVE their team – understand what they want, what their strengths are and creatively find ways to help them grow. If you take care of them, they’ll take care of the work that needs to be done.

7. Keep your workers informed

Good communication is critical. In battle everyone has a specific role, but they’re also clearly told what the overall goal is as well. This becomes especially important when things break down and team members have to improvise on the fly. If they don’t understand the big picture and where they fit in, they won’t be able to reach your collective goals.

8. Develop a sense of responsibility in your workers

Contrary to a lot of management theory from the early 1900s, people want to take on responsibilities…and if they don’t feel any ownership for what they’re supposed to do, then you’re not going to get much out of them. The best teams own what they need to do and take responsibility for the outcomes. Your job as the leader is to help them figure that out.

9. Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished

It’s critical that you are communicating and measuring what you want done at a fairly detailed level, especially if it’s something new. I can tell my kids to clean the kitchen, but unless I’m specific in what that means, I’m not likely to get the result that I really want.

10. Train as a team

If you want to get the most out of a group, then you need to play to their individual strengths and they have to be able to work together. Pick your favorite sport and it’s obvious that players have specific roles and the whole thing works only when all of them work together. Your team has the same challenges and need to train together to develop the communication and understanding it takes to blend.

11. Use the full capabilities of your organization

A healthy team is continually growing but that growth requires the application of different skills over time. If you’re consistently just using your core capabilities, the team…and the team members aren’t going to be growing. Find creative ways to use all of the skills and capabilities in the team.

That’s the list – what do you think? Are there any key principles wrong…or missing? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach