Tuesday, August 16, 2011
As many of you know, I just spent 365 days in wonderful Afghanistan. Twelve months is a long, hard, grind. We worked 7 days a week, probably logging around 15 hours per day -- day after day, no weekends to recharge, no sleeping in. And if I can be honest, I think I had it pretty easy! I won’t even begin to try to compare my pace to what so many of our Troopers were dealing with every single day on the front lines!
Nonetheless, it was a demanding routine, one which certainly challenged my skills as a leader. It was physically and mentally exhausting. Yet, people were looking to me for guidance and inspiration. No matter how tired I might have been, I had to be on my game at all times. I couldn’t postpone decisions until I was better rested, I couldn’t delegate key organizational issues to someone else to figure out. And with people’s lives literally in the balance, the pressure to perform only further heightened the stress and added to the drain on leaders like me throughout the combat zone.
Toward the end of my deployment, one of my subordinate leaders asked how I was able to stay as positive and energized as I was throughout our time together. He wanted to know how I did it. I shared several thoughts with him, which I layout below. But be sure, it’s no accident that he recognized this characteristic. This is how I try to operate, no matter where I am and regardless of what arena I’m in. I think it is critical to bring positive, inspiring energy to everything we do. In fact, I think it is one of THE most important leadership characteristics I look for in people that I hire or those I promote. I definitely see it as Leader Business.
Here is what I told my teammate as to how I kept up my energy. First, I believed in what we were doing. (We were managing a $5B+ reconstruction program focused primarily on the Afghan Security Forces) It is certainly easier to sell a product when we believe in its merits. I definitely believe in what we were doing. I enjoyed the work, I loved the people I was working with, and despite the daily grind, I thought it was fun and certainly was energized by what we were doing. In other words, not only did I bring energy to the job…but the job gave energy to me! I know what we were doing mattered and I was pretty sure that my contribution to the team and our mission did as well.
Second, I told him that in my approach, leaders can’t have an off-day. When I wasn’t feeling it, and there were plenty of those days, I’d fake it. My bad day or personal problems were not going to trickle down to those whom I knew fed from my energy. When we are in leadership positions, people are always watching. We have to keep up the high level of energy even if, like I said, we have to fake it. In my experience, there is no room for being negative, cynical, or depressed if we are going to lead. Thoughts like that should be kept to one’s self. They tend to bring down the team and drain organizational energy. Instead, leaders must stay positive and be a source of energy for others.
Third, I found it critical during a one-year deployment to stay balanced. I tried not to get too high on the highs or too low on the lows. I tried to be consistent and not let the emotions of the moment drain me. The adage of deployment being a “marathon versus a sprint” certainly applied. I’ve seen far too many high-energy leaders who react radically to good or bad news, especially the latter. They are the red-faced yellers, the angry bosses who personalize everything and are one negative report away from a “coronary!” We can’t get like that. Instead, I think we have to maintain a steady, positive, balanced attitude that brings people up as opposed to tearing them down. Stuff happens and we are charged with dealing with it. People needed to know they could bring bad news to me without fear of losing their head…or their job! Staying positive and energetic, no matter the situation of the moment, kept everyone focused on our mutual goals and objectives, focused on helping each other, and ready to deal with any situation…with the necessary energy to do so.
Finally, I tried to stay fit. Even with 15-hour days, I tried to start each morning with an investment in my spiritual and physical fitness. I can honestly say that both were a source of my energy each day. It is a fact that those who are physically fit have more energy. Well, it doesn’t come without an investment. No excuses. Even with early morning commitments, it was not a question of IF I was going to exercise but how early I’d have to get up! Similarly, I have found that daily time for reflection keeps me grounded and sustains my energy. For some it is a quiet walk or yoga or prayer. For me, it was a chapter a day in my Bible. Both areas of fitness are worthy of consistent investment in order to sustain a high level of energy.
So what about you? Are you a source of deliberate (on purpose!), inspirational, and sustainable energy that makes people want to follow you? My friends, it matters. To lead effectively, we MUST have this leadership trait. If it does not come naturally (i.e if you are an engineer like me!), learn it. Fake it if you must! Whatever it takes, if we want to be truly effective, we need to be the sort of leaders that people willingly follow. That only comes when we can bring our A-game to every situation – 24/7 and 365 days per year. Trust me…I tested this theory and it worked. I’m positive!! That’s Leader Business!