[October 2, 2017] Leadership is ensured through the many traits of those in charge … but one which stands out – one trait that makes the very best leaders succeed – is the ability to understand and appreciate what motivates others. One of the first things we learn as a leader is that folks pay attention to those things you, as their leader, also pay attention to. In other words, the successful leader will inspect what they expect of others.
It has been said many times before that a large part of being human is not doing something unless we have to do it. Call it what you want but inside the personality of many is the ego that tells them to procrastinate and take the easy way out. While some people appear to have boundless energy and drive; the fact is most of us are not that way. We’re always giving excuses why we cannot get something done. We crave external motivation.
As a U.S. Army Lieutenant my Infantry platoon was to be evaluated on its ability to move tactically and set up a defensive strong point on a military training site. I gave that information to my Squad Leaders and spent my time preparing to give commands to them to ensure they adhered to the correct tactical procedures. The only problem was that two of our four armored personnel carriers broke down in route and couldn’t be repaired. We failed the evaluation because we could not get there on time.
What I had not done was inspect our vehicles to ensure proper maintenance was being conducted. This was a failure I was to never make again. Those mechanical failures would have been easily discovered if the drivers had simply followed the manual on pre-operation checks. Everyone, it seemed, was focused on the bigger objectives and had neglected the small things. If we had been in a real battle, we would have been defeated.
That‘s when I learned about the concept of inspect what you expect and it’s linkage to the human motivation factor. Telling people to do something is only a small part of a military leader’s responsibility, following up on it and checking to ensure what you’ve asked for is actually done is just as important. A mentor of mine, a retired Infantry Sergeant Major and Vietnam veteran, told me to “inspect every damned thing” if I wanted it done right.
By checking on things, leaders send the message that it is important. To be clear, this is not a matter of trust and confidence in those we have charge over. It’s about establishing the expectation that what a leader asks for actually matters. Sometimes it is just a reminder to a soldier (or employee) to meet an administrative suspense. But more often it means that a leader must physically go to those with responsibility and show them you care enough to devote your time and energy to support them and check their work.
In today’s world where the lack of respect is commonplace, this style of leadership will stand above the others. It will be more successful because it also demonstrates that success can only be achieved when respect is given and the discipline needed to achieve difficult missions is rewarded.
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