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NEWS | May 9, 2014

My leadership principles

By Capt. Timothy Sparks Joint Base Charleston deputy commander

Many leaders, both servicemen and senior civilian personnel, get wrapped up in the process of work and forget simple leadership aspects of their jobs. While the process and managing is important, if you lead a team, I suggest you step back and look at the role you provide to your team. It is simple; let them deal with process and managing the tasks of the day while you lead them.

This is not to say you are absolved from managing processes ... process is the foundation of an organization. This article is about my experiences in how to lead your people to execute your assigned mission or function.

Leading people vs. managing work.
Management consists of controlling a group of people or organizations to accomplish a goal by controlling process. Leadership refers to an individual's ability to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute toward the group or organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control. Managers have subordinates and leaders have followers; managers create circles of power while leaders create circles of influence. The quickest way to figure out which of the two you're doing is to count the number of people outside your reporting hierarchy who come to you for advice. The more that do, the more likely it is that you are perceived to be a leader.

I have always been guided by understanding when I am managing and when I am leading, which has helped get me where I am today. The seven principles of leadership that have defined my leadership style throughout my career are as follows:

1. Define Goals: When your people don't have clear goals, they muddle through their day. They can't be productive if they have no idea what they're working for or what their work means. They also can't prioritize their workload effectively, meaning that projects and tasks get completed in the wrong order. Use clear, challenging goals and commit yourself to achieving them. Get you team's commitment in achieving them. Provide feedback on goal performance. Take into consideration the complexity of the task.

2. Motivate the Team: Goals build a foundation for motivation. Do you know what truly motivates your team? Chances are, it's not just money! Many leaders make the mistake of assuming that their team is only working for monetary reward or time off. However, it's unlikely this will be the only thing that motivates them. Many are motivated by factors such as professional development, sense of achievement, extra responsibility, praise or a sense of camaraderie.

3. Make time for your team: When you're a leader, it's easy to get so wrapped up in your own workload that you don't make yourself available to your team. You always have projects that you need to deliver. But your people must come first - without you being available when they need you, your people won't know what to do, and they won't have the support and guidance that they need to meet their objectives. Block out time in your schedule specifically for your people so that you can be more aware of your team and their needs. Have a regular time when "your door is always open," so your people know when they can get your help. Once you're in a leadership role, your team should always come first; this is, at heart, what good leadership is all about!

4. Take and provide feedback: Feedback provides opportunities to clarify expectations, adjust goal difficulty and gain recognition. It's important to provide benchmark opportunities or targets so individuals can determine for themselves how they're doing. Conversely, actively listening to your team and taking their feedback is essential to the same opportunities. Providing and receiving feedback gives opportunity to improve performance.

5. Understand your role: Delegate and balance "Hands-On" and "Hands-Off" styles. Both styles of leadership have to be used. The trick is deciding when to be hands-on or hands-off. Delegating is based on the value you have in you people and the trust you display to your people. Trusting that they add value to the organization or project goes a long way in building workplace cohesion. Delegation does take a lot of effort up-front, and it can be hard to trust your team to do the work correctly. But unless you delegate tasks, you're never going to have time to focus on the "broader-view" that most leaders are responsible for.

What's more, you'll fail to develop your people so they can take the pressure off you. Some leaders don't delegate, they try to manage and control everything because they feel that no-one apart from themselves can do key jobs properly. This can cause huge problems as work bottlenecks around them, and as they become stressed and burned out.

Also don't be completely hands-off just to avoid the stigma of micromanagement. There has to be a balance based on the value you add to your own organization. Delegating lets leaders focus on creating value or generate value over and above that which the team creates.

An example is saying: "I'd like you to handle THIS while I deal with THAT," is as much a value-creator as his or her followers are. Leading by example and leading by enabling people are the hallmarks of action-based leadership.

6. Balance friendliness: Most of us want to be seen as friendly and approachable to people in our team. After all, people are happier working for a manager they get along with. However, you'll sometimes have to make tough decisions regarding people in your team and some people will be tempted to take advantage of your relationship if you're too friendly with them.

This doesn't mean you can't socialize with your people. But, you do need to get the balance right between being a friend and being the boss. Make sure you set clear boundaries so team members aren't tempted to take advantage of you.

7. "Walking the walk": You live in a fish bowl. If you make personal telephone calls during work time or speak negatively about your supervisor, can you expect people on your team not to do this too? Probably not! As a leader, you need to be a role model for your team. This means that if they need to stay late, you should also stay late to help them. Or, if your organization has a rule that no one eats at their desk, then set the example and head to the break room every day for lunch. The same goes for your attitude; if you're negative some of the time, you can't expect your people not to be negative.

So remember, your team is watching you all the time. If you want to shape their behavior, start with your own. They'll follow suit.

As I stated previously, these principles have helped shape my career success. It has always been the people who have worked with me who have made my success. I always strove to help them and enable them to do their jobs. Understand managing and process and take on leading the team as they execute the process of the mission. Guide and enable your folks to execute your mission and you will find you have happy, content and energized organization.