Lead Boldly When No One Else Will

“Leadership without risk is Management, and we don’t need more managers on our team.” In this episode, I provide my thoughts on a recent event at work where I took bold actions to drive progress in my organization and encountered some resistance to my tactics when I rocked the boat. Some people are just not comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I’m not one of them. Like David Goggins says, “I’m not crazy, I’m just not you.” 

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We have a standard daily standup where our 3 star takes an ops update prior to a 4-star update where she has a speaking part. During the briefing, I asked how a certain priority made it to the list, of which the briefer didn’t know. I stated we needed to figure this out because the J3 wants to make sure this list is properly managed. I said we can talk more offline, but let’s get this squared away.

After the meeting, other peers were upset that I brought this up because they believed we wasted her time with stuff she doesn’t need to worry about. They reminded me that this event is prep for the 4-star briefing, not time to sync across the staff (which I disagree with because that is what should be happening at every stand-up, regardless of who is sitting at the head of the table). 

After further counseling, a peer asked me “What is your job?” I replied, “Take care of my people and execute the mission.” He replied “Wrong, your job is to keep your boss out of trouble.” I disagreed with him.

Like most leadership dilemmas, the true answer to this question is: it depends. In the context of this situation, I took action to call out a broken process in front of our 3-star because I wanted to see if she noticed the same problem and would pile on that this is a priority so we can solve this problem faster. We don’t need to hide things from our leadership, especially if teamwork is needed to get things right. 

This seems to be an event common on HQ staff: people afraid to take risks or show weaknesses/faults because they need always save face in front of leadership. Why? What is it about only showing the “bright side” of ops to leadership and hiding our weaknesses? 

Another perspective is how people define “taking care of your boss.” Taking care of people and executing the mission is taking care of my boss. I want to keep his plate clean so he can tackle bigger issues for us, but I can’t do that if problems are hidden. There are times where you need to call out the problems directly so they are properly addressed and fixed. If that happens to be in front of senior leadership, who cares? As long as we fix it, it doesn’t matter. It isn’t a secret when an organization is “building the plane while flying it” and there are bound to be steps that were skipped and need to be fixed. The problem is that many people are too afraid of “looking bad” in front of leadership and try to force conversations in bureaucratic processes instead of just fixing it. 

I actually told him “I’m pretty sure this is Gen Brown influencing me to go fast.” I saw the risk of my action but believed we needed to act with urgency to fix a problem that the whole staff would benefit from.

I stand by my choice and believe in it. I can see both points (notice I didn’t say he was wrong, I just said I disagreed with him) and will continue to take care of my people and execute the mission. My boss’s priorities will always be nested with mine so I’m not aiming off target. We need to stop acting out of fear of reprisal and just get the job done.