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K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.

On Leadership - Lead by Example

This is the second part of a leadership series I started with On Leadership - Lead from the Front. To recap the basic leadership lessons I learned and which I follow, here they are:


  • Lead from the front.
  • Lead by example.
  • Never ask your men to do something you aren't willing to do yourself.
  • Mission first, my men second, myself third.

One of the first things I learned at The Citadel was that you lead by example. If you expect knobs (freshmen) to have their uniform in impeccable order, yours had better be even better. We went to great lengths to make sure that even our standard duty uniform looked sharp, clean, and stood out. We did things like blitzing our brass down to where it was absolutely smooth, or using Pledge on our name badges so they shone when they caught even a hint of light, or using heel and sole to harden out belts (which had to be cut to size previously) so that they didn't fold over or look anything but stiff and crisp, or by drilling holes in pieces of metal, wrapping the metal in tape, and using that as backing for our name badges and other uniform items so everything was crisp and flat against the material. And between all that we still had to find time to eat, sleep, and study for our classes.

Why did we go to such extremes (and why do they continue to do so)? Quite simply, to stand out. One of the core goals of The Citadel is to produce the citizen soldier for the state of South Carolina, one who can lead, especially in difficult times. Part of that is setting the example. As a leader, how you look and act impacts how your personnel will look and act. If your uniform isn't in tip top shape, you send a message that the uniform isn't important to you. That may not be what you intended, but it's what you're communicating. So whatever is important to you had better be something you're demonstrating first, and demonstrating at the highest levels.

How does this apply at the workplace? If I expect my people to have great integrity, mine better be above question. If I expect my people to be ethical in their behavior, then mine had better be absolutely spot on. If I consider learning and investigating new technologies important for them, I had better be working hard learning and investigating the new technologies myself. If I am asking them to work long hours on a project, they had better see me in there, too. Maybe I can't do anything directly, but by being there, by being visible, I'm leading from the front, I'm saying it's important enough for me to give up my time, and they are important enough for me to be there, even if it's to make sure the coffee is fresh and ready for them when they need it.

This all means, of course, that I've sat down and thought about what is important to me with respect to my team. That's critical. I can't set the example if I don't know what the example should be about. And if I don't know, then my people won't know either. And that's another reason to set the example. It makes it clear to my folks what is really important. It sets the expectation of what I'm looking for from them. That means they know how to meet my goals. That also means that they have a better expectation of what I'm considering when putting together performance reviews. And that usually means less stress for them, which means they are more productive for it. Sure, setting the example takes time and effort. But the folks that work for you are worth it.



Comments

Posted by Martin Catherall on 8 April 2011

I especially think the point "Never ask your men to do something you aren't willing to do yourself" - having said that, when a whole raft of new technologies come along together, you have to be realistic and say its unlikely that a single individual will be up to speed on them all quickly. Knowledge sharing is important. If you - as a leader - share you knowledge with the team, you can expect them to share their's back again. But I guess that's leading by example :)

Posted by Geoff Johns on 8 April 2011

I do a bit of offshore racing, and one of the little mantras that I use for dealing with individual wants is to ask 3 questions: 1) Is it good for the boat ? 2) Is it good for the crew ? 3) Is it good for me. This reinforces the concentric model of mission / team / me.

Another area that one can lead by is by delegation and showing you trust the delegated team/person in their duties. As an individual if you know that the team's further progress depends on your work / input etc. then it doesn't half sharpen the focus & commitment.

Good management of delegation assures a successful outcome irrespective of the singular qualities/abilities of the delegated team / person.

Posted by sfh_8000 on 8 April 2011

excellent article, its a worth reading

Posted by juliekenny on 8 April 2011

I agree with "Never ask your team to do something you aren't willing to do yourself" (not all men here) but in response to the previous comment I would say if you expect them to pick up new stuff show that you will too - it may not be the same technology but requires the same attitude. But in IT new stuff is more often welcomed than shunned, it's showing your willing to do the mundane stuff when needed that really counts.

Posted by K. Brian Kelley on 8 April 2011

Martin and Julie, absolutely, you can't know it all. But your willingness to continue to learn, to continue to expand your knowledge sets your expectation that doing such is valuable. And it may not just be in technology. If your team sees you putting in the time to be a better leader because you're committed to learning how to do so, that can have just as strong an impact on the team. And Julie, I understand. I wrote them that way because that's the way I learned them and if you use "men" generically (which I do in this sense), then it sits up the repetition of sounds for the last one.

Geoff, yeah, I didn't cover delegation but that's a good point. It does get wrapped up into the first two parts of Mission first, because the more capable your people are, the better you're able to accomplish the mission, just like you said, and if you care about your folks, you want to see them grow, and helping them take on more responsibility is part of that. With that said, I've seen leaders who forget about the delegation part (or the follow up to ensure folks have what they need to accomplish the new responsibility and don't feel lost without feeling like you're micromanaging) and so perhaps that's something I need to work into the grouping that I have.

Posted by Jeff Oresik on 8 April 2011

I believe leaders should set an example and not feel like getting their hands dirty is beneath them, but a leader should not get so caught up in performing these tasks that it detracts from their primary duties. We need leaders to supervise and mentor others and use their authority to remove obstacles, but they can't do this if they prefer to hide in their office and do grunt work.

Posted by K. Brian Kelley on 8 April 2011

Jeff, no doubt. I'll talk more about that on the last point, because the mission is always the highest priority. If the mission requires a leader to do particular tasks and let those he or she is supervising take care of other tasks, than that is always the right answer. But on the same token, if the mission requires the leader to get involved in the "mundane" stuff, then that's the right answer. Case in point, when we cleaned up Maxwell AFB-Gunter Annex, AL after a hurricane went through, I saw my superior officers moving downed branches and cleaning up right alongside me (a 2nd Lt) and the enlisted corps. Why? Because the mission required that we get our duty stations back to operating order and that meant the more folks working the clean-up, the faster we accomplished the mission.

Posted by Brien Lay on 8 April 2011

Good stuff knob Kelley :-)  I took a course in the US Army while in the 4 ID at Ft Carson where we studied Colon Powell.  Here is an excellent link to his leadership philosophies - www.chally.com/.../powell.html  This is a must read and is brief.

Posted by Sean Josiah on 10 April 2011

Thank you for the reinforcement, its one of these things that when you observe others who struggle to command when they are simply clouded by elitism it is sad. Kelley, as important as delegation is that is indeed poorly executed most times, but for me the paramount aspect of knowledge share are the efforts towards cloning capabilities by the experienced to the inexperienced. Many capable leaders arrived there (in leadership) via time, attrition affects every organization, including the leadership, so every effort should be made to not just create drones, but potential leaders. This effort hits #1, #2 and inversely #3 as any teacher knows, the teacher learns from the pupil(s) as well.

Posted by Sean Josiah on 10 April 2011

Thank you for the reinforcement, its one of these things that when you observe others who struggle to command when they are simply clouded by elitism it is sad. Kelley, as important as delegation is that is indeed poorly executed most times, but for me the paramount aspect of knowledge share are the efforts towards cloning capabilities by the experienced to the inexperienced. Many capable leaders arrived there (in leadership) via time, attrition affects every organization, including the leadership, so every effort should be made to not just create drones, but potential leaders. This effort hits #1, #2 and inversely #3 as any teacher knows, the teacher learns from the pupil(s) as well.

Posted by C. Grant Anderson on 11 April 2011

I read a news report back in the Desert Storm era about the Iraqi general sent to surrender to General Schwarzkopf.  The general refused to believe that the man he was presented to was General Schwarzkopf because he wasn't in a bright shiny uniform.  Rather he was in standard BDUs.  The Iraqi general said that this could not be the general as his shoes weren't even shined!  I think that this says a lot about reality.  Give me a capable, efficient, combat effective person with dirty boots any day over someone who dresses to just impress.

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