Doug Dickerson is an award winning columnist and director of Management Moment Leadership Services. He is the author of the new book, Leaders Without Borders: 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders. Visit www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com to learn more.
I would rather have a Medal of Honor than be President of the United States.
- President Harry S. Truman
Not long ago I had the privilege of visiting the Medal of Honor Museum aboard the USS Yorktown in beautiful Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Showcased in this museum is a moving tribute to our military heroes who served our country with honor, valor, and bravery.
What caught my eye was recognition given to the youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor, William “Willie” Johnston. Born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont in 1850, Johnston was a drummer boy in Company D of the 3rd Vermont Infantry. His service in the Seven Day retreat in the Peninsula Campaign was exemplary.
During the retreat many of the men threw away their equipment so they had less of a load to carry. Johnston retained his drum and brought it safely to Harrison’s Landing. It was there he had the honor drumming for the division parade. He was the only boy to bring his instrument to the battlefield. Upon receiving word of Johnston’s bravery, President Lincoln suggested he be given a medal; a Medal of Honor.
Heroic acts by leaders like Johnston cause us to reflect on our motives and how we might better serve those we lead. An 11 year-old drummer boy on a battlefield 163 years ago teaches us three leadership traits worth emulating.
Leaders carry their own weight. While the other men in the infantry threw away their equipment, Johnston held on to his. So often during difficult times, the leader is not the one who discards the weight of responsibility but carries it on his shoulders. Think about it - how many people in your organization are shirking their responsibilities and how many are stepping up and being responsible? See a disparity?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” At a tender young age, Johnston exemplified leadership beyond his years of understanding. As a drummer, he reminds us that it is not about rank or role within the organization, but heroes in our midst can be found in unlikely places if we dare to look.
Leaders know how to stand alone. At the conclusion of the retreat it was only Johnston who returned his drum from the battlefield. And it was only Johnston who had the honor of drumming for the division parade. When others exempt themselves from the bravery of the moment, they exempt themselves also from the honor that follows.
It’s been said, “When you are forced to stand alone, you realize what you have in you.” When you march to the beat of your own drum you do so knowing that there are certain places where only few leaders go. When others choose the path of least resistance, you can cast your lot with the company of the brave. Those ranks may be few but there are worse things than standing alone. By standing alone today you will lead the parade tomorrow.
Leaders summon uncommon courage in uncommon times. By shedding their gear, the other men did what was expedient. By holding on to his drum, Johnston did the exceptional. C.S. Lewis said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” What is your testing point?
Testing points come and go, but the enduring qualities of honor, sacrifice, and valor shine in unexpected ways from unlikely persons. This 11 year-old drummer boy distinguished himself among men and earned a medal from the president.
Consider the ranks of your organization. Who are the ones that stand out by their service, sacrifice, and dedication to the organization? These are the ones who march to the beat of their own drum- called to stand out, not to blend in. They may not have the title, but are leaders worthy of respect.
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. – Winston Churchill
The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.”
The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.” It was not until the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Bewildered, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
For leaders, there is nothing quite as important as listening. In fact, according to a report in Business News Daily (http://bit.ly/ABntlJ) it ranks as one of the top reasons why employees hate their bosses – they do not listen. To be sure, there is a time and place for leaders to step up and speak up, but the truly effective ones know when to be quiet and listen. Here are three tips to becoming a better listener and why it matters.
To be informed, listen with your ears. This is the most basic form of your communication as a leader. Listening for informational purposes is primarily to receive information that one needs to perform a task or make a decision. It has little to do with anything beyond what is communicated at the time of delivery. And in some cases this is perfectly acceptable and appropriate given the circumstances.
But as a leader if this is your primary form of communication then you are not engaged with your team and are likely experiencing some form of deficiency with respect to how they view your leadership. Listening to be informed is necessary at times, but if you want to lead on a higher level you will have to step up.
To connect, listen with your heart. Informational listening is appropriate at times, but to lead on a higher level you will have to listen on a higher level. When your team members buy into your vision, when their passions are your passions, and when your goals become theirs goals – then listening to your team takes on a whole new meaning. And it is when you listen with your heart that you connect with their heart.
As a leader there is nothing more powerful than the ability to connect with those around you. Be it your staff, clients, or shareholders. The most meaningful and effective way of doing that is found when hearts are connected. Whatever the challenges you face or the goals you have if you have made that connection then together you can face it and together you can achieve it.
To demonstrate (listening), let your actions show it. Listening in some ways can be like paying lip service. You can go through the motions of listening but at the end of the day nothing changes. The same problems exist tomorrow that existed today and the levels of frustration only worsen. But as a leader who has made the connection with his people, the ultimate show of respect is given when you follow up with your actions.
To be sure, not every idea and not every proposal is going to be a fit. But the respect you show by listening builds your credibility as a leader and fosters a culture of respect. The greatest thing you can do as a leader is to create the climate in which ideas are welcomed and everyone has a voice that is heard.
Are you listening?
When you have got an elephant by the hind legs and he is trying to run away, it’s best to let him go. – Abraham Lincoln
A well-known story in some sectors of coastal communities such as where I live is that of the crab mentality. It is used to describe selfish or short-sighted people whose thinking bends toward the notion of, “If I can’t have it, neither can you”.
The crab basket mentality says that if you have a pot of crabs and one is climbing out in an effort to escape then the others will pull him back down rather than allow it to go free. The other crabs had rather share the same doomed fate than allow another among its ranks to climb out.
As a leader you may find yourself in a crab basket with others who have the same intentions for you. You get the raise or promotion and inevitably someone is jealous and you feel that subtle tug. You landed that coveted new account and strangely now begin to feel the claws of others around you. Every time you make an effort to move up and better yourself you have to resist the tug of those who would like to pull you down and hold you back. But you have to learn to let them go. Here are three things to consider as you climb out of the crab basket.
Let go of your past. Before anyone in your present can restrict you in a negative way you must lighten your load and let go of negative things from your past. So long as you hold on to past defeats, mistakes, or bad attitudes you will never climb to the heights you desire.
Your climb to the top of the basket begins when you make peace with your past and place yourself in a position to climb unencumbered toward your goals and dreams. When you let go of the past you can create your future. Your climb up begins here. You may have to forgive others; you may have to forgive yourself. But you will not move up so long as you allow your past to hold you down.
Let go of bad people. This is perhaps one of the hardest things to learn as a leader. But if you are ever going to climb your way to the top of the basket and live above the level of mediocrity you will have to separate yourself from those who want to hold you down.
It may be hard because up until now you may have seen these crabs as your friends. They have been colleagues; you have enjoyed happy hour together, and thought of them as allies. But keep this in mind - good people do not try to sabotage your success they celebrate it. Good people do not try attempt to pull you down and but had rather climb up with you. As a leader you have to wise up and recognize that not everyone in the pot with you wants to see you succeed. Be strong enough to acknowledge it and have the courage when necessary to climb alone.
Let go of small dreams. In the bottom of the crab basket there is not much room for growth and the view is always the same. The way out is up. It’s when you fix your eyes on larger dreams and possibilities that you begin to realize that life in the basket is never going to change. The road to your improvement begins with the choice to climb out.
It’s been written and asked many times but I will share it again here: What would you attempt to do if you knew that you could not fail? What are you dreams? I don’t know what’s in your heart but I do know this to be true – until you let go of your past, and let go of bad people, you will always have small dreams. It’s time to let go of every bad attitude, toxic relationship, and negative influence that would attempt to pull you down.
Your way out begins with by taking the first step. Let go and start climbing!
Circumstances don’t make a person; they reveal him or her. – Richard Carlson
The story is told of two hunters who came across a bear so big that they dropped their rifles and ran for cover. One man climbed a tree while the other hid in a nearby cave. The bear was in no hurry to eat, so he sat down between the tree and the cave to reflect upon his good fortune.
Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the hunter in the cave came rushing out, almost ran into the waiting bear, hesitated, and then dashed back in again. The same thing happened a second time. When he emerged for the third time, his companion in the tree frantically called out, “Woody, are you crazy? Stay in the cave till he leaves!” “Can’t,” panted Woody, “there’s another bear in there.”
It’s certainly not uncommon as a leader to be in tight spots from time to time. Like the two hunters you can find yourself in a bear jam that can alter the course of your day in a hurry. And when you take into consideration the way stress impacts your team members then it is important as a leader to put it all in perspective.
Research conducted by businessknowledgeresource.com (http://bit.ly/11Kaa6Y) cited some of the top causes of stress at work that include: no appreciation, no feedback good or bad, unclear policies and no sense of direction, random interruptions, and lack of control to name a few. If these causes or any other infringe on the daily demands of your leadership then the necessity for perspective will be even greater.
We learn from the example of the hunters four lessons to consider when you find yourself up a tree, in a cave, or otherwise stressed out by the demands of your job.
Don’t panic. The first mistake the hunters made after discovering the bear was to drop their rifles and run. They immediately gave up any leverage they had by making a hasty decision based upon their assumptions.
When your first inclination as a leader is to panic without gathering all the facts you place those around you in compromising positions. Not every problem is as bad as it may appear at first glance and if you stay calm under pressure you can make smarter decisions.
Stick together. Each hunter reacted in a way that seemed right at the moment. One climbed a tree and the other ran into a cave. Now instead of being united in strength they are divided in weakness and have multiplied their problems. By doing their own thing they limited their options.
Sticking together and working together is a Leadership 101 principle. But when you consider the predicaments you can find yourself in when you ignore it then it makes the reminder worth repeating. John Wooden said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” And in this case it can make the difference between sitting atop a tree as a meal-in-waiting for a bear and using your leadership skills to your advantage. Play it smart and stick together.
Consider the big picture. In the heat of the moment the hunters did what they thought was best. We all do.? But unfortunately they failed to keep the big picture in mind. Ultimately, it was not the bear they could see that was the problem but instead it was the one in the cave they didn’t see at first.
Having a clear understanding of the big picture of your organizational mission and values is an essential element of your leadership. It’s through the prism of the big picture that the smaller ones are put into context. Don’t allow your immediate short term problem to change your long term view.
Run in the right direction. Out of fear the hunters ran. One ended up in a cave and the other in the top of a tree. Each had a perspective that was created by the direction they ran and where they stopped. While their problem (the bear) was stationary their approach was scattered.
Moving in the right direction is essential to solving the challenges you face as a leader. Having everyone on the same page is important. While differing perspectives is valuable it will not do you any good if you are not working in harmony.
It’s as you refuse to panic that you succeed. It’s as you stick together you win bigger battles. It’s as you consider the big picture that you stay focused on your mission. And it’s as you run in the right direction you solve the right problems.