[August 26, 2014] There is a tradition in the U.S. military; the commanding officer always eats last. I’m not sure where the tradition started or how it developed but it makes a lot of sense. By eating last, the officer knows whether all the troops have been properly feed – whether there is enough food and whether it is wholesome. In their own way, the commander is taking care of people that belong to the unit.
In a lecture earlier this year a senior military flag officer told the crowd that of all the priorities for senior leaders, “taking care of people” was not one of them. Some gasps were heard and many in the small audience of military flag officers were a bit surprised to hear this coming from such an important and success leader. The lecturer went on to say they leaders spend too much time babysitting those in their commands. So much so, the lecturer noted, that people in military units are unable to think for themselves and become too dependent upon leaders helping by providing everything that is needed.
Up went a hand from a “baby flag” – a junior flag with one star and new to the most senior ranks. He said, respectfully, that he disagreed and perhaps there is another way of looking at the concept of taking care of people. The logic was simple, he noted. Taking care of people does not mean that we are giving them the resources they need to accomplish a task but it means giving them the right conditions to do the job. In other words, taking care of people means creating the environment that success can be achieved. These people can feel safe to be creative, make mistakes, and give their all without fear of punishment.
The point made was an important one. Many senior leaders, including the most senior flag officers in the U.S. military, are confused about the meaning of taking care of people. It does not mean that opportunities are provided but rather that circumstances are established where people can find opportunities. When leaders do this, the people that work for them gain independence, knowledge, experience, and will understand that it was the senior leader who made it possible.
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[Note] Earlier I wrote that a characteristic of senior leaders means to “take care of employees”. This is true and remains so. For my earlier perspective, the link is here: https://www.theleadermaker.com/characteristic-10-take-care-of-employees/