[January 9, 2018] Those of us who have spent time in the U.S. military are in possession of something that gives a marked advantage over others in the civilian world. That thing we have is the notion that leaders have the responsibility to show us what “right” looks like.
Military folks and veterans have experienced learning by watching and imitating their leaders. It is, therefore, incumbent upon those leaders to set a good example of behavior by following proper procedures and focusing on doing the right thing. Nothing is more important for a senior leader than ensuring those who follow to know what right looks like.
It does not matter if it’s how to strip and clean a machinegun or how to build a computer or to cook a meal. Humans best learn from observing others; what others do right and what they do wrong and why. Yet what I have personally discovered is that most folks do not necessarily know what right looks like when it comes to leadership. This is especially true of junior leaders who are busy learning the professional trade of their choosing.
This is where good leadership steps in. All of us think we know what is good and right but given the gray areas surrounding most human social interaction, it is best when someone with more experience and authority shows us what is best. We will always be in a learning mode, so best to learn from the experts as long as they are ethical in what they do.
There are several very specific ways good leaders ensure everyone knows what right looks like. They:
1. Ensure there are clear lines of communication.
2. Specify all levels of authority and responsibility.
3. Confirm that everyone is knowledgeable about all key aspects of the physical part of the organization. This is especially important in manufacturing.
4. Clarify all formalized licensing, certifying, and other qualification requirements.
5. Establish formal, written procedures.
6. Demonstrate the need for proper maintenance of physical and social entities.
“Remember that the junior Soldiers in your unit, both officer and enlisted, will depart your unit thinking they have seen what right looks like. Your responsibility [as the commander] is to ensure they have.” – U.S. Army Major General Larry J. Lust
General Lust is on target with his comment that the duty of leaders is to ensure those who follow are shown what right looks like. There is never an excuse for failure when it comes to taking care of others by making sure this happens.
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