Love, teamwork, leadership, failure and learning from a military leader
Spoiler alert: It is all about LOVE, taking care of each other on a daily basis.
I have been a long-time fan of Simon Sinek, ever since I read his book Start with the Why. I often dip back and listen to some of his podcasts and found this one particularly inspiring and insightful. Simon talks to Brigadier General Michael "Johnny Bravo" Drowley aka JB, who I was happy to learn started as an engineer.
Listening to this podcast, I couldn’t help thinking about how it all applies to leadership in the civilian world, even though the stakes aren’t as high as the military situations of life and death. There are many lessons here that I think we can apply to our teams and companies. The discussion is full of wonderful nuggets, and breaks down myths about leadership, culture, and what real heroes look like.
Simon notes at the beginning of this podcast:
In the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to sacrifice others so we may gain.
Wow! What an observation. While I don’t think this is true in all companies, it is true in far more companies than desirable.
Simon also notes later:
If you ask people in the military what makes them willing to sacrifice themselves for each other, the answer may surprise you. It’s not God or country… it's Love. In business we have colleagues and co-workers, in the military, they have brothers and sisters. Bonds like that inspire people to do remarkable things for each other.
At one point JB asks Simon this interesting question:
Will people leaving the military and go into the private sector find something that they had in the military - the level of trust, camaraderie of brothers and sisters? Is it out there in the private sector? That magic ingredient…
Simon responds by saying that there are precious few companies that have that. He also said something that I have shared with my teammates several times.
Companies say “we are like a family”. But they are not. You can’t and don’t ask family members to leave.... In the private sector, we are more like a team. Sometimes, players get cut... There are some of those teams that care about their teammates, see their priority as building a great team and winning comes second.
Wise words. Interesting note - Netflix is clear about this in their culture deck — they say “We are a team, not a family”.
Some more notes follow.
The word "Love" is used a lot in the military. Why do people sacrifice themselves to save others? It is because of love. At the end of the day, the primary job is to take care of your team member.
Leaders have a responsibility to care for the people - assignment, opportunity, family, spouse - JB makes a powerful statement: how can I give you back better than I got you. The leaders are judged by how they take care of their team. For companies to say to employees, regardless of how long you stay with us - you will leave our company a better version of yourself than when you joined us because of your time with us - is an incredible standard.
Leadership is not "I will get the mission done" no matter what happens to the people and burn your team.
A leader should make sure that the team is ready for whatever it is that they will face. Do that by taking care of you as a person - develop skill, improving leadership skills, family is well taken care of, managing the talent, etc.
In the private sector, prioritizing the shareholder or stock price is the primary objective - but you can't do that without a good healthy vibrant team.
Having leadership skills and a sense of "this is bigger than me" and how do I give back is going to serve the leaders well.
On vulnerability, failure, and learning:
When people make a mistake, instead of berating them, JB frames the screw up in "service terms" - when you screw up you are letting the team down, and how much you are hurting others and probably yourself?
It is more important for leaders to share "what I screwed up" — it is a more powerful lesson. If as a leader you told their team member all the stuff they got right, then it feels unrealistic to the team member and they get out.
Practicing — humble, approachable, and credible. “I am not perfect, I have messed things up, I want you to learn things from that.” This also establishes the level of vulnerability — you see the real "me" — scarred up, and you embrace your scars too.
On COVID/Remote Work:
Loss of non-verbal communication in the digital world makes it hard to know how someone is doing, hard to say they are "doing OK", hard for others to tell if "I am doing OK".
COVID is a trauma that everyone will face — some sooner than others — but everyone will have to face it and deal with it.