[August 11, 2020] Leaders with authority should be aware of the image they project by what they do and say. Even the most beautiful women look into mirrors to see how they appear to others and take action to improve what they see in the glass. Similarly, leaders should be looking into the mirror of their minds to imagine how they appear to others. Seeing yourself as others see you is a skill not to be taken lightly.
Such imaginative introspection and empathy are necessary for visualizing how they look to others. And, they should work on improving what they see. This includes physical appearance, manner and bearing, demeanor, and competence. It also involves the realization in advance of what they do and of the orders they issue will be viewed by others.1,2
In an old notebook of mine from days as an Infantry Company Commander, I found an interesting entry that I had made about a field training exercise. My first trip to the field with 179 of my men was mostly uneventful, but what I said and did make an impression upon those Soldiers.
At dinner time the first night, my radio operator (who is always near me in case I received a radio call) brought me my meal on a ceramic plate and coffee in a porcelain mug. A metal fork, spoon, and knife from the mess hall were there for me also. At the time, Soldiers were lining up to get their food at the mess tentage that was set-up as the feeding area. I declined the use of my meal this way.
My radio operator was surprised when I told him that I would only eat after every Soldier was fed. Furthermore, I would only take my meal in the standard-issue mess kit and coffee in my canteen cup. As their Commander, I would not need to stand in line like other Soldiers, but I would otherwise take no special privileges.
I later learned that the men of my Infantry company gained considerable respect for me that evening. It was a glimpse into how my Soldiers saw me as their Commander.
A few comments:
- If a leader tries to impress others with phony grandstand plays, that is the impression you will create.
- There is no substitute for constant alertness to consider how you look to others.
- While there is reasonableness in the use of rank and position, there are times it can lead to abuse, as I have witnessed innumerable times.
- A leader cannot adequately supervise and lead if they are standing in line for chow or digging their own foxholes. The men know this. My experienced First Sergeant told my men that “We take care of the ‘old man’ and he will take care of us.”