Be a Leader Who Knows His People
It was cold, wet, and rainy.
I was covered with grease, oil, and fuel. My fingers were numb (one was bleeding), and to top it all off, it was 1 a.m. and I needed to sleep.
Did I mention it was cold?
But even though I wasn’t feeling all warm and fuzzy, they loved every minute of it — and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. “They” happened to be a small group of mechanics ranging from 18 to 28 years old who were staying up all night to change an engine in an F-18.
“I” happened to be their leader. And, truth be told, I had been looking for an opportunity exactly like that.
In a typical Marine F-18 squadron, there are approximately 150 Marines who specialize in maintaining the unit’s 12 airplanes. About 30 of them work on the engines.
These were my Marines, and having just recently been assigned to be their officer in charge, I was anxious for an opportunity to show them that I was a real person who actually cared for them.
Although I knew that particular night would be long and I would be flying the next day, I purposely exchanged my good night’s sleep to spend it with my men, helping them change the engine. And while they did not need my help, what they did need was to know that their boss cared about them.
That night, I gave them my time, and in turn, they gave me their trust. As the hours went by, one by one, the men started telling me their problems. From marital difficulties to credit card overages; from sick kids to annoying girlfriends, I heard them all.
Then and only then was I able to guide them as a true leader — one who truly knew his men.
Perhaps you can relate to my story. You have people that are under your leadership, and you realize that you don’t know what makes them tick. Perhaps you have someone who works right next to you, and you don’t even know what his wife’s name is.
A simple method for taking your leadership from normal to dynamic is to know your people. The following three steps could change forever the way your people follow you:
- Get dirty. For me, getting dirty was literal. For you, getting dirty may be as simple as asking your colleague how her husband’s birthday party was or what she gave her son for Christmas.
- Ask questions. These include, but are not limited to, family names, interests, hobbies, etc. Be creative here, but avoid the obvious.
For example, my dad used to be an NBA referee. About four times a day, someone would ask him if he’d ever met Michael Jordan (and, yes, he did). That gets old quickly. Before you start asking questions, think about the obvious ones and reject them if necessary.
- Write down your findings. When I was in charge of our engine mechanics, I kept a binder in which I kept track of our discussions. I would occasionally use this log to refresh my memory.
So, for example, when I went up to Corporal Jones three months after our last discussion and asked him how his wife Jennifer was doing with her pregnancy, it gave him the distinct impression that I cared about him, and I did.
Knowing your people is a skill that takes time and dedication, but it can make the difference between being the kind of leader whose motto is “Follow me!” and the kind whose motto is “I’m their leader—which way did they go?”
Becoming a great leader is a process of refinement. Through my years in the military, as a business owner, and as a business coach I have learned the “dos” and “don’ts” of leadership.
In my Monthly Miracle Membership I teach my members the leadership skills with the most impact so they can run their business more efficiently and empower their teams to make the right decisions on their behalf, even when they’re out of the office.
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