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About 1,000 years ago, when I was getting settled at my first big girl job, my dad sent me a list of advice from "an old Commander to a new Second Lieutenant." I treasured this list and read through it often. I know it's stashed in my desk somewhere still.
Just this week a long time friend is taking command of her own squadron and another asked me to officiate her retirement, and these two exceptional leaders have made me think a lot about what it takes to lead. What's on my list?
1. Be yourself. Trying to behave in a way that you think a good leader would, and not being yourself, will backfire on you eventually. It's hard to do when you are a bubbly personality (ahem) in a room full of stoic types, but soldier on. Corollary: It's far better to admit to your folks you are having a crappy day then leave them guessing that they've upset you in some way.
2. Don't pretend to be the smartest in the room (there is no way you ever will be). Leading an organization takes being on top of so many details, you won't know the answer to everything, and your people will appreciate knowing you trust them and their expertise.
3. Do the work...I'm sure you've heard "The Buck Stops Here." Sometimes things break down and some important task doesn't get done. You are the leader--you need to get it done. This is particularly true if the task has anything to do with taking care of your people (evaluations, awards, etc.)
4. ...but speak up when you need help. Yep, ultimately you are responsible, but your people are not mind readers. Ask for help early and often. Don't wait for it to become a crisis. And never become a single point of failure (aka, the only person who can sign or approve something).
5. Be there for your people...awards ceremonies, graduations, clean up days, holiday parties - make an appearance. Get away from the desk and visit all the work areas. Mingle and talk to the families too--their loved one spends a lot of time with you, be respectful of their support.
6. ...but not all the time. Do not fall into the habit of getting to the office early and staying late, and never taking leave. Extra long hours make you seem inefficient with your time rather than a super hero. Your people need time to work when you are not there, and you and your family will be much more resilient if you take time off from time to time. If the work is piling up, stuff it into your bag, go home, put on comfy clothes, have a nice dinner, a glass of wine, and then dive in to the bag.
7. Phone a friend. Find a peer not in your chain of command that you can call or go to lunch with from time to time. This is the person you share stories with about your most challenging issues (likely having to do with your own boss or a serious personal crisis for one of your people). Having someone(s) as a sounding board, a confidant, and who will call you on your drama is invaluable. This was often my husband, but also fellow commanders and those lifelong girlfriends that I was lucky enough to have.
8. Not all advice is good. Mine included. Be particularly leery of any advice that is "you must do X to succeed." It makes assumptions when every person and situation is different, and might keep you from outside of the box opportunities.
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