Rep. Watson: Capitol Hill Review
Thursday, November 15, 2012
- by Rep. Eric Watson
First of all, I want to say that I am humbled by the outpouring of 17,300 votes of support from you all. I will stay committed to our conservative values while doing all I can to jumpstart job growth in our region and limit government interference in our lives. I appreciate this vote of confidence. Over the past few weeks, I have been asked about leadership and what leadership means to me.
Leadership is a trait that many profess to have, yet few display when the pressure comes to bear. It is now necessarily something you are born with. It is something you learn and earn. Whether as part of a team or on the inside of a agency, or company leaders emerge because their peers need it or the times demand it. John Kenneth Galbraith perhaps said it best when he stated, “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”
Where are leaders needed? On the battlefield. In the classroom. In public policy. Certainly, in the workplace.Often times, people will confuse managers with leaders. But there is a very large difference between the two.
Managers work to get their employees to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper. Leaders, on the other hand, know where they'd like to go, but understand that they can't get there without their tribe, without giving those they lead the tools to make something happen.
Managers want authority. Leaders take responsibility. The fact is: We need both in the workplace. But we have to be careful not to confuse them. And it helps to remember that leaders are scarce and thus more valuable.
Leaders are able to take a vision, navigate the complexities of the private market, and revolutionize whole industries. When I think of the term “leadership,” I cannot help but think of one accomplished Tennessean who was told his idea would never work. When he was at business school, Fred Smith developed the idea for a logistics and shipping company that would serve the world. He was told his idea would never work and that, even if it became a reality, no average citizen would ever use the service he would provide. Fred struck out on his own; determined to make it work. Today, FedEx is one of the great American success stories of our time. Headquartered right here in Tennessee, last year its total revenue exceeded $39 billion. Obviously, Fred Smith is a leader.
Perhaps some of our most vivid images of leaders come from American history. Whether it is our Founding Fathers—a collection of leaders who came together to create a new nation founded on Christian principles and the rule of law—or Tennessee’s own Davy Crockett—who decided to conquer the American frontier—it seems all the individuals who helped shape this nation exuded a certain quality about them that made them leaders. One recent leader who displayed a lot of character during some very trying times, was Condoleeza Rice. She was the 66th US Secretary of State and the first African American woman. Dr. Rice was asked about her thoughts on leadership.
She gave a very insightful answer. “The defining characteristic of a true leader,” she said, “is that he or she never accepts the world as it is, but strives always to make the world as it should be.”
One of the great institutions that cultivates true leaders is the United States Armed Forces. Any of us who are veterans or know veterans can attest to that fact. What is it the military does that molds and forms the leadership characteristics in our service members? Well, let’s go straight to the source. Here are the eleven principles of leadership utilized by the US Navy. They are presented here in a universal context that can be applied to both the corporate and military environments.
1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement. In other words, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. An accurate and clear understanding of yourself and a comprehension of group behavior will help you determine the best way to deal with any given situation. Make an honest evaluation of yourself to determine your strong and weak personal qualities. Seek the honest opinions of your friends and superiors to show you how to improve your leadership ability.
Learn by studying the causes of success or failure of other leaders. Develop a genuine interest in people. Have specific goals and definite plans to attain them. Have a systematic personal reading program that emphasizes not only professional subjects but also includes topics to help you understand people, both as individuals, and in their functioning groups.
2. Be technically and tactically proficient. Demonstrate your ability to accomplish the mission and be capable of answering questions. Maintain a high level of competence in your occupation and specialty. Your proficiency will earn the respect of your people. Know what is expected of you, and then expend time and energy on becoming proficient at those things. Form an attitude early on of seeking to learn more than is necessary. Observe and study the actions of capable leaders. Spend time with those people who are recognized as technically and tactically proficient. Learn as much as you can from them. Seek feedback from technically and tactically competent people concerning your own performance. Be willing to change. Seek opportunities to apply knowledge through the exercise of command. Good leadership is acquired only through practice. Prepare yourself for the job of the leader at the next higher rank.
3. Know those who work for you and look out for their welfare. You should know your people and how they react to different situations. Knowledge of your people’s personalities will enable you, as the leader, to decide how best to manage each person and determine when close supervision is needed. Put the welfare of the women and men for whom you are accountable before your own welfare. See the members of your company or division, and let them see you, so that every one of them may know you and feel that you know them. Be approachable. Let them see that you are determined to fully prepare them for the accomplishment of all missions. Know your company’s mental attitude; keep in touch with their thoughts. Ensure fair and equal distribution of rewards.
4. Keep everyone informed. Informed employees perform better and, if knowledgeable of the situation, can carry on without your personal supervision. Providing information can inspire initiative and will ensure your people have enough information to do their job intelligently. Whenever possible, explain why tasks must be done and any pertinent amplifying instruction. Arrange to get sufficient feedback to assure yourself that immediate subordinates are passing on necessary information. Be alert to detect the spread of rumors. Stop rumors by replacing them with the truth. Build morale by publicizing information concerning successes of your team. Keep your unit informed about current policies and initiatives affecting their pay, promotion, privileges, and other benefits.
5. Set the example. Set the standard for your employees by personal example. Your employees will watch your appearance, attitude and personal example. If your personal standards are high, then you can rightfully demand the same of your employees. Show your colleagues that you are willing to do the same things you ask them to do. Be physically fit, well-groomed and correctly dressed. Maintain an optimistic outlook. Conduct yourself so that your personal habits are not open to criticism. Exercise initiative and regard the spirit of initiative of your subordinates within your unit. Avoid showing favoritism to any individual. Delegate authority and avoid over-supervision, in order to develop leadership among subordinates.
6. Ensure the task is understood, supervised and accomplished. Before you can expect your employees to perform, they need to know what is expected of them. Communicate your instructions in a clear, concise manner, and allow your people a chance to ask questions. Check progress periodically to confirm the assigned task is properly accomplished. But, avoid micromanaging your people or the task. Issue every directive as if it were your own.
Use the established chain of command. Encourage everyone on your team to ask questions concerning any point in your instructions or directives they do not understand. Question subordinates to determine if there is any doubt or misunderstanding in regard to the task to be accomplished. Supervise the execution of your orders. Exercise care and thought in supervision. Over-supervision hurts initiative and creates resentment; under-supervision will not get the job done.
7. Train your unit as a team. When training or instruction is necessary, train your employees with a purpose and emphasize the essential elements of teamwork and realism. Be sure that all employees know their positions and responsibilities within the team framework. Study, prepare and train thoroughly, endlessly. Encourage unit participation in recreational and company events. Do not publicly blame an individual for the team’s failure or praise just an individual for the team’s success. Ensure that training is meaningful, and that the purpose is clear to all members of the team or organization. Train your team based on realistic conditions. Insist that every person understands the functions of the other members of the team, and the functions of the team as a part of the unit.
8. Make sound and timely decisions. Rapidly estimate a situation and make a sound decision based on that estimation. There is no room for reluctance to make a decision. Should you discover you have made a wrong decision, revise it. Your employees will respect the leader who corrects mistakes immediately. Develop a logical and orderly thought process by practicing objective estimates of the situation. When time and situation permit, plan for every possible event that can reasonably be foreseen. Consider the advice and suggestions of your subordinates before making decisions. Make sure your people are familiar with your policies and plans. Consider the effects of your decisions on all members of your unit.
9. Develop a sense of responsibility among your teammates. Show your employees that you are interested in their welfare by giving them the opportunity for professional development. Assigning tasks and delegating authority promotes mutual confidence and respect between the leader and the team. Operate through the chain of command. Provide clear, well-thought-out directions. Give your colleagues frequent opportunities to perform duties normally performed by senior personnel. Be quick to recognize individual accomplishments when they demonstrate initiative and resourcefulness. Correct errors in judgment and initiative in a way which will encourage the individual to try harder. Give advice and assistance freely when it is requested by your colleagues. Let your people know that you will accept honest errors without punishment in return. Resist the urge to micromanage. Be prompt and fair in backing subordinates. Accept responsibility willingly, and insist that your co-workers live by the same standard.
10. Employ your team or organization in accordance with its capabilities. Successful completion of a task depends upon how well you know your group’s capabilities. Seek out challenging tasks for your organization, but be sure they are prepared for and has the ability to successfully complete the mission. Avoid volunteering your team for tasks that are beyond its capabilities. Be sure that tasks assigned to colleagues are reasonable. Assign tasks equally. Use the full capabilities of your unit before requesting assistance.
11. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions. Actively seek out challenging assignments for your professional development. Seeking responsibilities also means that you take the responsibility for your actions. You are responsible for all that your team does or fails to do. Stick by your convictions and be willing to accept justified and constructive criticism. Learn the duties of your immediate senior, and be prepared to accept the responsibilities of these duties. Seek a variety of leadership positions that will give you experience in accepting responsibility in different fields. Take every opportunity that offers increased responsibility. Perform every task to the best of your ability.
Stand up for what you think is right; have courage in your convictions. Carefully evaluate a subordinate’s failure before taking action against that individual. In the absence of orders, take the initiative to perform the actions you believe your senior would direct you to perform if present.
Let me leave you with some final thoughts on leadership. A smart man once said, “Leading is establishing direction and influencing others to follow that direction.” But this definition isn't as simple as it sounds because leadership has many variations and different areas of emphasis. It doesn’t reveal itself when a big project is due or during a crisis. Leadership is something our society craves on a daily basis. It’s needed in the home, at church, in our schools, and any other place people come together. And it is needed now more than ever. A famous author wrote a book about the decline of America. He believes it is due to the declining rate of leadership displayed by Americans.
I tend to agree. But I also believe we can get this country back on the right track if we all come together and exhibit a little bit of leadership in our daily lives. Americans are inclined to lead—let’s start doing just that.
Rep. Eric Watson