What have you done, today, to earn the loyalty of those who follow you?
We see the salute frequently. Lower ranking officers salute higher-ranking officers. Enlisted troops and non-coms (non-commissioned officers) salute officers. We see it in the military, of course, but also in police and fire departments and other quasi-military organizations.
And, as those of us who served in the military know, the salute is not directed to the individual. It is directed to the rank.
In his autobiographical book entitled, The Unforgiving Minute, Craig Mullaney, a West Point graduate, Rhodes Scholar, and decorated veteran describes his education in leadership as an upperclassman at the United States Military Academy. He learned that leadership consists not of ordering others about but of example, that loyalty must be demonstrated from the top down, and that assumptions, intentions and complaining have one thing in common—all have nothing to do with leadership. He learned there is a price attached to a salute.
The price of a salute—of being a leader—is high. The cost never decreases. There are no bargains, specials, or volume discounts in leadership. There are no economies of scale. There are no days off. Your “On” switch is duct-taped in place. That is part of the price you pay as a leader.
I frequently work with young leaders at various levels. I am often asked for feedback. In that process I have learned to ask questions rather than deliver a point-by-point evaluation.
My questions focus upon assumptions. Leaders, whether elected or appointed, sometimes assume that everyone thinks the way they do. They assume everyone else, and especially their fellow organization officers, are equally motivated, equally inspired, and equally willing to do what must be done. They assume that because no one has vehemently objected, things are good. They assume “average” or “marginal” is the goal. They often assume because no one comments, everyone agrees. They assume that they are entitled to lead.
In consulting with these leaders I ask questions. Many questions. Questions such as:
- When was the last time you allowed another officer to lead the meeting?
- Were you listening to those delegates as they tap-danced around that sensitive issue waiting for you to pick up the hint?
- What is the elephant in the room?
- What assumptions did you make during the meeting?
- Do you think it is an effective meeting method to stand at a podium and lecture for 25 minutes?
I also ask, “What have you done, today, to earn the loyalty of those who follow you? To let them know that they are the important people in the room. That you serve them. That you are out in front but also by their side?”
The price of a salute—of leading—is high. It is constant. And it never decreases in value. One of the fallacies of hazing in organizations—indeed, perhaps the greatest fallacy—is that one earns membership once. No. You earn your membership, your leadership, your salute every day.
Early in Craig Mullaney’s service, a veteran officer shared advice as to how a leader reacts in combat.
You’ll be more scared of letting down your men than anything the enemy’s gonna to do you. And then you’ll lead from instinct and judgment. That’s the price of a salute.
Indeed. When leaders are more concerned with others than with themselves, that’s a start. The finish? That is in your hands, too. It comes with a price, but any successful leader will attest it’s worth it.
Image credit: The U.S. Army/flickr