Friday, January 23, 2009

Leadership 101: Build Broad Shoulders

Note: This post really dovetails with the prior one “Foster Success with Small Victories”, and might even be the same concept but spun differently. Regardless, I wanted to call it out separately…

I never thought twice about it at the time, but at the age of 20 I was a single point of failure for a radar system responsible for protecting a lot of human lives and critical targets in the Persian Gulf. I ran and maintained the radar and transponder systems in flight on E-3 radar surveillance planes, and during the 1980s I was part of aircrews monitoring the Iran/Iraq war. Occasionally planes or boats from one side or the other would go try to blow up things like oil tankers, ships, or ground targets in countries other than Iran or Iraq. Our radar planes monitored those bad guys and vectored in good guys to keep people and things from getting blown up.

If I didn't do my job right, the radar wouldn't be available to find the bad guys, things might explode, and good guys could die.

On a less dramatic but more cheerful note, during my non-flying times I was also responsible planning annual budgets for a fairly large set of computers, radios, and other equipment. I was responsible for several thousand dollars worth of equipment, and had to plan an annual budget between $50K and $100K. I needed to understand budgetary cycles, equipment phase out schedules, future requirements, and a lot of other fairly complex concepts.

Both of these things were part of my regular work day all right around the time I was first able to legally drink alcohol.

I had a lot of responsibility heaped on my shoulders at an early time in my career, and I never thought twice of it. There wasn't a big deal made of it, and I got solid guidance and help along the way. That said, at the end of the day, it was my name on the dotted line for equipment, and my hands on the equipment keeping the radar alive to keep the bad guys at bay.

Dealing with responsibilities is just like exercise: you need to build up your muscle to handle it and do it well. Help your team grow by giving them ownership of and responsibility for tasks. Furthermore, don’t shy away from putting large amounts of responsibility on them. Do it in an escalating manner, and monitor things as you go to ensure you’re putting the right level of responsibility on the right shoulders.

Finally, do this as early as possible in your subordinates' careers, because it dovetails right in with the concept of fostering success with small victories.

Learning to take on responsibilities for significant things is an important part of your team members’ career growth. Help them build up the strength to shoulder those responsibilities.

Update: Find links to this series of posts here.

1 comment:

Marty Adams said...

The military is great at giving people an incredible amount of responsibility at a young age. Not the least of which is the responsibility to take another human's life during times of conflict.

Sometimes we (the public) don't realize how much responsibility we put on these young men and women.

These are great experiences that we don't give much thought to at the time, but looking back at it, hopefully we appreciate it.

I think it usually makes us better people and for people like me, it helps me keep things in perspective.

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