The day was the start of the U.S. ground offensive in the Gulf War. It was Jan. 16, 1991, and I was the operations officer for the 16th Military Police Brigade Airborne. I was huddled with my staff in a large field tent on the Saudi Arabia side of the Iraqi border in the desert. We broke from an operations update with our brigade and four battalion commanders hours earlier. I provided them with the most current information on XVIII Airborne Corps’ immediate offensive plan and our mission in support of the operation. The charged atmosphere set the stage for one of the most noteworthy military successes in generations.
Iraq’s use of chemical weapons was well known and posed a real threat to U.S. forces. Before H-hour, air sirens blared, indicating the possibility of incoming chemical weapons, which sent my staff and me to don our chemical suits and masks quickly. My commander was not in the camp, so I directed the staff to remain suited until the “all clear” signal sounded. I was concerned over my commander’s whereabouts and contacted him by radio, asking for his location. He squawked back. He was with one of his battalion commanders several kilometers away doing his leader routine, which meant visiting his soldiers and inspiring them in the face of war!
Establishing leader routines, not management checks, are essential to the health of any organization. These routines form and sustain a flourishing organizational climate. I often write about the differences between leadership and management. Leaders inspire and create passionate and focused team members. Managers account for and make competent and productive employees. Leadership centers on emotional connections and the self-motivation of the team members to drive wins. Management centers on skilled employees efficiently and effectively performing workflow processes. Of course, you need both leaders and managers to create an exceptional company. However, we often confuse manager routines as substitutes for leader routines.
For example, manager routines often check performance against indicators, aptly called key performance indicators. Likely, the KPIs are a subset of “objectives and key results,” focusing on objective clarity, measurable goals and achievable results. The employee is a contributor to multiple systems that produce the results. If the unit is underperforming and not achieving the goals, the manager can perform a host of diagnostics to get the “system” back on track and the desired key result. Solutions to right the course may be a tweak of a procedure, clarification of a process, an overhaul of a system, or remedial training of an employee.
However, KPIs and OKRs don’t inspire nor create an emotional connection that motivates a team member to peak performance. A leader does. When coaching executives, one of the first questions I ask is, what are your leader routines? Here are their responses: I hold daily huddles or weekly meetings with my C-Suite staff where we go over KPIs and OKRs; I problem-solve with my employees and resolve pressing issues that are impacting our top and bottom lines; or I network with potential ideal clients by sitting on various boards and participate in Chamber of Commerce events. These are all crucial activities; however, they represent manager routines.
Leader routines are when you make an emotional connection by engaging with team members. Through conversation, you ensure they are aligned with the organization’s purpose, vision, and mission, and provide clarity and encouragement when they aren’t. You do this by showing genuine interest in their welfare and contribution to the team and inspiring them to achieve phenomenal results.
Leader routines require carving a few hours out of the workday, then visiting team members, meeting them one-on-one, and asking how they are doing. Other practices include scheduling monthly team brown bag lunches, discussing the organization’s values, visiting remote employees or field workers, inquiring about their families, attending team promotion or retirement ceremonies, and celebrating their contribution to the group. These are all leader routines that create emotional connections and inspire the team to peak performance.
Don’t undervalue the impact leader routines have on team members. Your hour visit, engaging, encouraging, and valuing a team member’s contribution to the company’s mission will be remembered far longer than the team member achieving a work-process standard. Making the emotional connection and inspiring your C-Suite executives to the newly hired administrative assistant to the craftsman in the field is how you align the team and achieve phenomenal results, knocking down goal after goal, on your way to exponential growth! This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now, let’s get after it!
Retired Col. Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. Paul and Lisa mentor and coach business owners on leadership and management principles in achieving and sustaining their business growth and profitability goals. He can be reached at [email protected].