Jimmy Blackmon: The Four Bs of Leadership
My definition of leadership is very simple: to inspire human behavior. At the end of the day, every leader has a desire to inspire those they lead to maximize their own personal potential. We want them to work a little harder, play a little better, reach a little farther, stretch a little higher, and the list goes on and on. Leadership is verb business. It requires action. Sadly, some leaders don’t seem to understand that if it’s action they desire, then active they must be.
Leadership: Inspiring Human Behavior
We don’t inspire human behavior through memos, texts, or emails. True inspiration comes from meaningful human interaction. Now, before you get overly concerned, I assure you, I’m not saying that to become an effective leader you must deliver William Wallace’s freedom speech or Henry V’s plea at Agincourt. My advice to leaders is very simple. It requires nothing more than a little time and authenticity. Here are four simple actions - Four Bs of Leadership - that will improve your effectiveness as a leader.
Every Thanksgiving, U.S. Army leaders don their dress uniforms and serve their soldiers a bountiful meal. It’s a longstanding tradition in the Army, with the potential to have a powerful impact on those we desire to lead. It’s a means by which leaders can show their gratitude to those who willingly follow them. Once the meal is served, leaders roam about shaking hands, thanking soldiers for all they do, and asking them how they are doing.
Such a simple question. “How are you doing?”
I always made it a point to caution my subordinate leaders, “Your subordinates know if you truly want to know the answer to that question before you ask it,” I’d tell them. “Because of your daily actions, they already know if you care or not.”
Like countless other soldiers, I have been asked that question by leaders who I knew did not truly care how I was doing. We demonstrate care through our actions, but soldiers answer the question - does my leader care about me - in their heart.
Caring means we desire to know how our people are doing, because if they aren’t doing well, we want to do something about it. Caring is often demonstrated through genuine empathy. We put ourselves in their shoes and try our best to feel what they are feeling. I experienced one of the most powerful examples of empathy in my career when I was just a young lieutenant.
In the early 1990s, I served as the Adjutant (personal assistant) for our squadron commander. As was the case each fall, we traveled to the National Training Center in the deserts of Southern California to play wargames. Our exercise lasted four weeks, so each year a large portion of our soldier’s families traveled home to visit with loved ones while we were away.
It took us a full week to move the entire squadron – personnel and all equipment – from Fort Bliss, Texas to the National Training Center. Once we arrived, we began preparations for two straight weeks of wargames. Only a few days after arriving, our squadron commander, a lieutenant colonel in his early forties, walked into the operations center clearly shaken. I asked him what was wrong. He told me to gather all the troop commanders and primary staff together, so he could speak to them.
I sensed his urgency, so I quickly sent word for everyone to assemble behind the long line of helicopters that were staged at Bicycle Lake. As subordinate leaders arrived, they formed a circle, sitting on small folding campstools we each carried. Once everyone was present, I retrieved the colonel. As he approached the men, they stood. “Carry on,” he said, and took a seat in the circle.
Then, visibly upset, he told us that the wife of one of our young mechanics had decided to travel home to Arizona. Once the unit had flown away, she loaded her belongings into her car and departed Fort Bliss, Texas for Arizona. Along the way, she grew tried, fell asleep at the wheel, and wrecked. He paused to gather himself, clearly choked up.
Then with tears streaming down his cheeks, he said, “She was killed in the accident. That young soldier just received the worst news imaginable. Please keep him in your prayers.”
It was the first time I’d ever seen such emotion from a senior officer. It wasn’t that other leaders did not care – it was simply the first time I’d witnessed an open display of emotion by a military leader. He did not know that young soldier personally, but it shook him, broke his heart. I could sense his empathy for that young man.
I never forgot that moment.
Many leaders, particularly military leaders, equate vulnerability with weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the group of officers in the story did not already know it, we surely did after witnessing the Squadron Commander’s actions. After that moment, we truly believed that our squadron commander, our leader, cared about us.
Don’t listen to hear. Listen to understand. You can’t fake a desire to hear and understand what your employees have to say. Have you ever had a leader ask you what you thought about something, but before you could answer they were already distracted, clearly thinking about something else? Has a leader asked you a question, but cut you off before you could answer? They didn’t really desire to hear what you had to say anyway, right? How about this modern-day leader faux pas? Have you been in the middle of a conversation with your boss and he pulled out his phone to check a text or email as you spoke?
Leaders beware. This is one of the quickest ways to lose credibility and trust.
You may be surprised what you will hear in the workplace if you simply walk about and ask your team what they think. More importantly, you’ll be surprised if you listen intently to what they have to say. This practice will serve two purposes. 1) It will demonstrate that you care what they think, and 2) it will enable them to express their ideas or concerns.
I have made my rounds in the company area before, asking questions and talking with my team and not received much more than idle chit-chat. Other times, I have asked a question and received a twenty-minute diatribe about something I was unaware of, something that deserved my attention.
Carve out a few minutes each day to talk with your people. Ask them questions and listen intently to what they have to say. Treat your employees as trusted confidants. Make them feel important, their ideas and counsel desired and appreciated.
Finding fault is very easy. It seems as though we are predisposed to see the negative, to observe the error. Wise leaders develop a keen eye for positive behavior. Just like caring and listening, noticing requires leaders to get out from behind the desk and visit with their employees. Seeking the good should be very rewarding as a leader. If we desire initiative and innovation in our organizations, what better way to motivate that behavior than to notice those who demonstrate it and let them know you see it?
A word of encouragement, a pat on the back, goes a long way.
Noticing also provides an opportunity to recognize a change in behavior. Every leader has a handful of complainers and/or less motivated workers. As we desire to positively shape their behavior, we should notice when they demonstrate a change and recognize it immediately, which leads us to our final point.
Napoleon wisely said, “A man will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” For some workers, a simple thank you or a pat on the back will do. For others, public recognition is necessary, but recognizing a job well done goes a long way to inspire human behavior. Successful leaders understand how to motivate. They know who needs a pat on the back and who requires a public applause.
Be a leader!
Who Is Jimmy Blackmon?
Jimmy Blackmon is a retired Army Colonel, speaker, author, and leadership coach.Jimmy spent 30 years leading soldiers in the U.S. Army. He has six operational deployments including two tours in the Balkans, two tours in Iraq, and two tours inAfghanistan. In 2009, Jimmy led over 500 soldiers into eastern Afghanistan as they fought to successfully realign the U.S. forces footprint within the region where the attacks of 9-11 were planned and rehearsed. That historic year in combat is captured in his book, “PALE HORSE – Hunting Terrorists and Commanding Heroes with the 101st Airborne Division.”In 2014, he led a brigade in the famed 101st Airborne Division, three thousand, five hundred soldiers, back to eastern Afghanistan where they were responsible for all rotary-wing aviation support in eastern and northern Afghanistan.
Jimmy’s final assignment in the military was as the War Plans and Posture Division Chief on theJoint Staff in Washington, D.C. where he was charged with leading a select team ofDepartment of Defense strategists as they planned and prepared for our nation’s most complex and dangerous global problems.Jimmy is also a world champion archer, he was a member of a U.S. ArmedForces World Cross Country team, devoted father and husband.