[October 4, 2017] My wife has me watching a British detective series called Inspector Lewis. It must have been successful because it went nine seasons. In this episode, while visiting a police officer in the hospital, Inspector Lewis gives an injured officer a box of chocolates but realizes she is allergic to them. Lewis asks why his Sergeant Hathaway didn’t tell him. Hathaway says he knew, of course, because he believes it’s important to know your people.
The show touches on an important leadership lesson; always know your people. As a military officer I always made it my business to know those who worked for me and their families. I learned this from the best military officers the U.S. has to offer. Taught at the beginning of officer training and reinforced throughout one’s career, this skill improves through advancement in rank and experience.
Leadership is about knowing who to put into which job and where a person can perform their best, providing the right motivation to the right individual, giving clear and correct guidance, and connecting with those around you. Only by knowing those who work for you, can you do those things required of successful leaders.
A common falsehood of leadership is that great leadership is about the authoritarian use of rigid orders and inflexibility. In this distorted view, leadership is seen through the application of robotic methods used on people we both do not know and do not care about. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth and a lesson to learn for junior leaders in all walks of life.
Authentic leaders take the time to know their people because they want to and because this is how a genuine connection is made. In the army we call it a “bond” and something we all strive for because it is what makes the leadership effort worthwhile for everyone. A similar, popularized phrase from William Shakespeare’s play Henry V, is a “band of brothers.”
As can be understood among those who have served together in combat or in extreme circumstances, there comes a time when people develop a significant level of comradeship. This concept is old as humankind and can evoke ideas of ferocious determination that goes beyond the struggle.
Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and courage are those qualities that flow from our connection with others. Such qualities are what effective organizations are based upon and are told in the greatest stories of our history.
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