Organizational leadership and leading “up”

Littlehendrick

Newbie
Network Support I
#1
What is it? How does the “bottom” of the workers create/influence/shape the work environment and our peers and superiors?

Army job positions tend to fall into two categories, leadership and staff. As I am finally adjusting to my first real “staff” job after 5.5 years, I have been challenged with the idea of “organizational leadership.” Previously, I was always fortunate to have the chance to serve/lead Soldiers, both directly, and indirectly at most removed as an XO. Now I am in a shop, where I am the low man on the totem pole, and everyone I work with is either a peer, or outranks me.

I have come to realize this is probably a very common situation for folks within P&S. You may have folks you are responsible for, but many may not. And part of P&S is making not only ourselves, but our organizations better.

So how do we do that? How do we influence our bosses and peers when we lack the authority, and in many ways have different ways of influencing them?

My questions are:
1) How can we shape culture, especially when you are not in the “leadership” role?
2) How do we help our leaders/bosses?
3) How do we balance providing feedback, versus directly accomplishing the task? (Very personality driven, and that is worth talking about!)
4) What do you do when your boss is wrong? From little things on how a process is done, to blatant lies? How do we approach peers and bosses (especially ones who have significant impact on future jobs and evaluations)?
5) How do we balance the risk of mistakes/developing others when we often work in a “no failure” type of organization? If we are truly attempting to develop folks, mistakes are bound to happen.

What follows I hope is a discussion starter, as I said before, I am a bit under 6 years in and have much to learn, especially now working the “staff” side. Please feel free to tell me where you disagree with me.

1) Be a good follower. In the end, we have to follow all lawful orders, even if we disagree with our bosses (toxic management may branch into another topic some day, as it seems to be a bigger issue than I expected). Doing our job to the best of our ability allows us the ability to build credibility within our group.

2) Professional research and knowledge. Be the source folks go to for what is the “right” answer versus “we always did it that way.” In the Army for where I am at, that means reading Doctrine (and training circulars), in order to speak the professional language, which I have found to help when talking between 1-3 ranks higher than myself.

3) Be honest. Provide feedback when asked. Propose solutions to a problem set when presented. I feel that this “honesty” is one of the largest sources of friction in organizations. I see this develops from the leader feeling “attacked” that someone disagrees, or has another idea. Clearly, some bosses are more open to this than others. So how do we remain tactful/professional while attempting to help steer our organization towards being better?

4) Provide solutions when challenging the status quo. If attempting to change from “we always did it this way,” what’s the purpose of change? Were we blantantly wrong, or just possibly inefficient? Over time regulations, policies, and manuals change, with the 2nd/3rd/etc order of effect of changing processes, briefings, and SOPs.

5) Own mistakes, but move on from them. Demonstrate that you are part of a learning organization that will get better. Never be afraid to show where you can improve, and show how you have a plan for yourself to get better.

Thanks for reading if you had stuck around this long, I would love to hear your take on what “organizational leadership” is. It doesn’t have to be military based for it to work, as the civilian sector often has more chances of leadership from the bottom.
 
#2
My questions are:
1) How can we shape culture, especially when you are not in the “leadership” role?
2) How do we help our leaders/bosses?
3) How do we balance providing feedback, versus directly accomplishing the task? (Very personality driven, and that is worth talking about!)
4) What do you do when your boss is wrong? From little things on how a process is done, to blatant lies? How do we approach peers and bosses (especially ones who have significant impact on future jobs and evaluations)?
5) How do we balance the risk of mistakes/developing others when we often work in a “no failure” type of organization? If we are truly attempting to develop folks, mistakes are bound to happen.
I have a bachelor's degree in Applied Technical Leadership and a master's degree in Leadership Studies. However, I learned more about leadership from four active duty Marine Corps infantry years than I did all that silly college. I'll throw out some of my own opinion:

1) Leadership doesn't have a role, which I think you understand because you put "leadership" in quotes. A leader can be anyone in any role, at any time. The BEST leaders I've ever worked below are the ones who step aside when they know someone on their team is more knowledgeable or capable of doing something. The WORST "leaders" I've ever worked for are the ones who never say "I don't know" or think they have to do and know and be in charge of everything on every topic. So, culturally, leadership doesn't rest with just the person with the title in my opinion. The E-3 Lance Corporals can "lead" the E-5 Sergeant if they inspire the Sergeant to better himself and his leadership skills. Example: Some Sergeants may retire to the company office or their barracks room and hide out during down time, so the LCpls might see that example and do the same. But, if those motivated LCpls decide they want to go hit some pullups or go bang on the Sgt's door to ask questions and learn something, who is leading who? Then next time there is down time, the Sgt decides to teach vs. hide out because he knows his LCpls are motivated, bingo bango the leadership culture has changed for the better, due to the actions of subordinates. Go seek out higher ups and ask questions/demand knowledge/get to know their job and how your actions can make it easier.

2) Broad question, but applies to the above. Learn the job above you and the job above that. Then, when you are asked to do something you have a better idea of why and what end product can help your boss look good and make life easy for him. Or, if your boss knows that you are competent filling in for him, you look good when he goes on leave or is out of the office and returns to find you've taken care of business in his absence. Anticipate his needs and desires and execute them, it is better to be yanked back on the leash than shoved forward. If you KNOW there is a roster to be filled out or safety checks to be done prior to going on leave, why not get them done BEFORE the boss tells you? Then when the boys are ready to take off for the weekend, you can hand the roster over immediately instead of scrambling around like the rest of the company.

3) Do you mean providing feedback to your boss vs. blindly following orders? Know the time and place for feedback and when it is wanted and not wanted. You'll do yourself no good offering feedback every time you get a directive, you'll be labeled as the complainer/trouble maker/know it all even if your motivation is pure. Talk with your boss to feel out how much leeway you have to voice an opinion, a GOOD leader will solicit one when he is able to do so. A GOOD follower knows when to offer feedback and when to shut the hell up and follow an order. A good plan is often to do what you are told, and when you return to report that the task is completed, perhaps volunteer a suggestion at that time on how it might be better accomplished in the future. That way the boss may be more receptive because the task has already been accomplished as directed, vs. suggesting things up front. Also know when you can take the reins yourself WITHOUT informing the boss of your every move, using the lame "roster" example again: If you're told to find every Marine and verify their name/DOB/blood type/SSN on a company roster.... do you REALLLLLY need to track down 30 guys and get all that info? Or if you know you did exactly that LAST month, can you pull up the spreadsheet on your computer and bang the info onto the roster yourself, thus accomplishing the Commander's Intent? Know when an order must be followed literally and when you can go rogue. Rosters aren't going to get people killed, but going rogue when told "clear that house" isn't a smart plan. Know the diference.

4) Research your topic and sound it off peers before presenting to the boss. Seek out young guys and old guys to get diverse opinions, you may not now the true reasoning behind something. You don't want to go give a presentation and shoot holes in something that might have been your boss's baby back in the day when he created it, even if it sucks. Solicit peers that agree with you to present a unified front, it's much easier to approach a commander with three other section leaders at your side in agreement than it is to go solo, and then find out that the three other guys disagree with you. Conduct actual research with hard demonstrable data, don't just show up and say "I think this sucks because I think it sucks". ALWAYS have a solution to a problem you're identifying to anyone. Nothing is worse than the guy who says "well this is just dumb" and he has no idea how to make it better. Find out when an SOP or something was last updated, by who, and what the situation was then. Maybe an SOP was developed because equipment was inefficient or unavailable at that time, and now you have the equipment and knowledge to do it better. That's an easy point to make and takes very little effort.

5) If you're working in a no-failure environment, you may have your work cut out for you. Good leaders know that mistakes get made, because humans are humans. If you don't have a good leader, see the above and what you wrote for guidance. A good leader knows that successes belong to the team and his subordinates, failure belongs to him alone. Never let your subordinates take the heat from higher, and always accept the failure yourself while minimizing your team's faults. Read Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink/Leif Babin. Also read Leadership and Training for the Real Fight by Paul Howe.

SUMMARY: Leading from the bottom is not that different from leading from the top. Even if you're the very very bottom, you can be a "leader" and inspire others to do better. Leadership is a character trait, not a title, and too many people sit around waiting for the title before deciding to lead in all professions. If you have as few as one other person near you, you can be a leader AND a follower at the same time.
 

ggammell

Regular Member
Network Support I
#3
Start at the bottom. Instill work ethics and leadership. Then when it’s time for those to advance they take the leadership role and the fill the previous void.
 
#4
I'll echo what Lobsterclaw said above....
for background, I was in the Marine Corps for a little over 20 years (combat arms) and have a BA in Management and an MBA. I attribute anything I've learned about these topics to my time in the Marine Corps and the fundamentals of the leadership traits and principles.

With regards to this: 1) How can we shape culture, especially when you are not in the “leadership” role?

Enthusiasm, plain and simple in task/mission/unit/situation, whatever...That shit is contagious and is going to separate the leaders from all the others. You'll get pushback of course, be called a "lifer" or "suck dick"...whatever...at the end of the day these folks percolate up to the top and pretty soon they are the ones that subordinates turn to while the SNCO's go hide in the Company office.
To go along with this, pride and competitiveness.....pride in the unit/organization and its history and the drive to be the best at whatever it does no matter how mundane or stupid.
 

Fatboy

Established
#5
The Army phrase "Be, Know, Do" comes to mind.
Be the leader you want to follow.
Know your job, your subordinates jobs, and your bosses jobs. 2 levels in each direction.
Do what you expect others to do.

In other words, to be a leader you have to lead.
 

Littlehendrick

Newbie
Network Support I
#6
All,
Thanks for the responses, it is nice to see many things re-stated in different terms. As it is sometimes easy to understand internally, but being able to express it around to our peers sometimes is more difficult to put into words others can process.

As we have come back from our winter block leave, it is interesting to see folks settle back into the job again (nothing like starting off almost immediately with a 17 day rotation to get the juices flowing).

It will also be interesting to see as new folks come in, and I am transition to one of the more senior folks within the staff. I think that is a key opportunity to create the environment that we want, as well as help leave a lasting, positive impact, on the organization.

It is also interesting to be in a position where the person I work for is a job position that is roughly 5-7 years ahead of me. So when I move “up” I actually leave and go to another job. So there is a larger gap in experience in multiple ways.

One thing I failed to discuss before, and I think plays a large role is the previous experience of all parties. The mid-senior 04’s (Majors) have had a GWOT heavy life, while younger O3’s like myself have some GWOT indoctrination, but also have been brought up in the military that is starting to focus on large scale operations once again, driving a very different perspective of roles and how the Army should run.
 
#7
More from an LE perspective with the examples, but I'm sure you can pull from this and plug it into your situation.

1) How can we shape culture, especially when you are not in the “leadership” role?

Try to be that guy who "sets the standard." Be squared away in all respects. I hate dealing with making my uniform look good, shining my boots, etc. but I do it anyway, because I need to look respectable. I don't have mirror shined boots, but the leather isn't all shitty looking & they aren't caked with mud unless I just got out of a mud hole & haven't had time to clean up. You don't have to be the strongest dude, the fastest runner or the best shooter, but be near the top, and practice. And don't just practice all alone. Let the other guys see how hard you work from time to time. Nothing comes naturally. Don't let anyone have the excuse of "it's easy for him."

2) How do we help our leaders/bosses?

Be the go-to guy. Not a yes-man. This one is hardest for those bosses that are severely disengaged. I've worked for some that would read reports and shoot them back because they didn't like how something was written (not that the information wasn't in there, or that you sounded like an idiot) and for some who wouldn't read the reports at all. There is a good middle ground, and the ones who just don't care are the hardest to help without just doing their job for them. If you have one of those, be the guy that others can go to with questions, and be proactive about helping your people. Take some of the load off the IDGAF boss, and others will notice.

3) How do we balance providing feedback, versus directly accomplishing the task? (Very personality driven, and that is worth talking about!)

I take this as Joe needs to do X task, but he's all fucked up and I could just do it and get it over with, and it would be done faster and it's really easier than helping Joe anyway. Don't do that shit. Help Joe along. If Joe doesn't want help you can let him figure it out, but give him a few key pointers that will help his thought process along the way, or you can coach him through it. I'm big on the why of things so, for me, learning the why, helps me apply lessons from one situation to another instead of trying to create & apply rote solutions to all the different situations.

4) What do you do when your boss is wrong? From little things on how a process is done, to blatant lies? How do we approach peers and bosses (especially ones who have significant impact on future jobs and evaluations)?

Little things- sometimes you just have to play it out. For instance, I was tasked with writing a search warrant for a suitcase in a house, and there was no actual crime tied to that suitcase, but it was full of creepy shit we wanted to examine. I told my boss it was a weak warrant, and why. He still wanted it, so I did it anyway, wasted a couple hours doing so, and the DA's office shot it right on down. Make (and be able to explain) good decisions, enough times, and your boss will either be threatened by you, or trust you. How you explain them will create trust unless your boss is a toxic dude, in which case, good luck, but keep doing good work and others will notice.

Big things- do the right thing anyway, and be able to explain it. Have resources that you can hit up for support. For instance, I was told to take two of our fresh out of SWAT school dudes and search a trailer for a murder suspect. That's not how we roll. Barricaded murder suspects are a full team call-out. I explained that up the COC, and talked with one of the TLs who agreed with me. I was able to get the CDR to talk to the TL, and in the process it comes out that they're 98% sure said murder suspect isn't in the trailer & have him on video leaving & not returning. They just want a few SWAT dudes to do it instead of sending Patrol or Detective in to do it. That makes sense. My CDR was pissed at me until he gave me the whole story and listened to why I was trying to talk him out of doing something dumb from my perspective. I also learned that doing it over the phone is not a good idea. Next time, we're going to have a face-to-face so I can get all the info.

Lying, the same things apply. If it's something stupid, let it go, but keep that in the back of your mind for future interactions as something to be leery of. Big things, build a case, get witnesses & go over dude's head, especially if it's a safety/effectiveness issue. If he's taking credit for your work, people will figure that out pretty quickly.

5) How do we balance the risk of mistakes/developing others when we often work in a “no failure” type of organization? If we are truly attempting to develop folks, mistakes are bound to happen.

Depends on when/how the zero defect thing is applied. If we're talking drug use/DUIs are an instant Big Chicken Dinner, that's something that has to be dealt with before it happens. After the fact, it's too late. If we're talking Joe failed his PT test, so he's off the team, not getting promoted, whatever, there's usually a route to take back, and we need to help the ones that are worth helping. I can think of a few people at my organization that we'd be better off without. I'm not going to waste my time & efforts on them when I have legit solid performers that I want standing next to me who are also asking for help to get better. Try bringing people up so the things they face on the job aren't as hard as their training, or they're so well prepared for them that it isn't an issue. If you help them build a base of excellence, and they falter, that will be a lot more forgivable than someone who is a known shitbird doing the same thing. It might hurt (busted down rank, loss of pay, loss of a special unit assignment, whatever) but they'll still be around. When that happens, you need to be there to support that guy too. A good friend of mine went through something like that, with a relatively major mistake, and ended up better for it, and he's now the #1 guy on the Sgt. promotion list 18 months later. He took his punishment like a man, learned from it, did everything the command asked of him, and then some, and earned a lot of respect along the way. Another dude did something relatively minor, and because of his history, is probably on the cusp of getting fired for his next decent mistake.