Welcome to the Mission-Critical Leadership Podcast! In this episode, we’re talking about three leadership lessons from the Civil War you need to learn on your journey as a mission-critical leader.
We’re all on a journey. We all face hardships. We all have shortcomings and difficulties. That’s a given. What’s not a given, is our response. We can choose to rise to those moments, see an opportunity instead of an obstacle, and choose to rise above.
We can shrink back, live in fear, and play small.
The American Civil War gave us insights into both. While there are thousands of lessons we could cover, today, we’re going to cover three.
Dr. Justin Hiebert works with mission-critical leaders to accomplish the unimaginable. Realizing that no leader has ever needed more things to do, he works with his clients to get the right things done. His clients rise above burnout, captivate their teams, and transform their communities. By engaging their hearts and minds, his clients unlock their full potential to be, do, and have it all. This affords them the ability to leave a legacy of influence and impact on the world. He is a husband, father, teacher, learner, and champion of joy. He resides in Bakersfield with his wife, four kids, two cats, and one dog. In his free time, he loves exercising, riding motorcycles, and doing anything outdoors.
As we emerge from quarantine and are reopening, our customers are facing problems. There are some new ones we can anticipate, some old ones that we can continue to meet, and there will be new ones we never see coming.
The victors will be those that adapt and overcome. Ulysses Grant, who hated the war life, once gave the philosophy that made him successful, despite his disdain for his occupation: “The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can and keep moving on.”
For our businesses, it might read something like: “Find the problem your customers have. Create a solution as quickly as possible. Implement your answer as best as you know how. Adapt. Repeat. Overcome.”
Together, Lincoln and Grant practice what I have come to call transformational teamwork. They built the vision and strategy, shared it with their team, and the tirelessly executed the plan. Transformational teams practice three key characteristics in all they do.
Clear Goals and Directions
The first requirement for transformational teams is to have clear goals and directions. Lincoln and Grant made their vision abundantly clear. For Lincoln, it was freedom for slaves and preservation of the Union. Grant implemented this through the term “unconditional surrender.” In fact, Grant would be known by this phrase so much that for a time people that U.S. Grant’s initials stood for “Unconditional Surrender.” The goal was clear: until the south abolishes slavery and lays down its arms without thought of picking them up again, the war has not been won.
We know the goals and directions we have for our businesses. As entrepreneurs, owners, or key stakeholders, we know why we get up every morning. We know what we’re chasing and the dream we are trying to accomplish. What about your employees or others around you? Can they articulate it clearly? Do they know, like Grant know how to implement the plan to achieve the goal?
The second piece required for transformational teams is effective communication. It is not enough to know the goals and directions we must communicate that information with our team. During seasons of stress, conflict, or failure, communication is often the first thing to go. Legacy Leaders know how important clear, concise, and effective communication is.
Effective communicate is done regularly. It seeks two-way feedback and establishes rules and norms. Clear Communication talks about not just what and how, but also why. It honors others, builds bridges, minimizes conflict, and restores relationships.
In times of stress or setback, good communication is often the first thing to go. People resort to perspective and bias. To preconceived notions about the way the world works. To overcome this, clear communication is a must. Anytime there is poor communication, issue an apology, and own your mistake.
As tension mounts, humility and the ability to ask for forgiveness keeps the team united and focused on what really matters. Create a culture of open dialogue, feedback, humility, and reconciliation and watch your transformational team thrive.
The final component of Transformative Teamwork is what I call 360-Coaching. More than normal feedback and assessment performance reviews, it is focused on real-time, growth-oriented feedback. Instead of backward reflection, instill future-focused development opportunities.
The official definition of coaching from the International Coaching Federation is this: “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
360-Coaching takes the whole person and seeks to develop them. Employers who care about both their employee’s productivity and their outside life, inspire confidence, instill loyalty, and extend grace. This is important because as much as we may pretend that our outside life doesn’t affect our work, that just isn’t the case.
Offering real-time feedback circumvents a chance for negative experiences or poor performance while opening up communication lines.
When high-performing leaders set clear goals, keep an open communication, and coach the whole person, a transformative team is born. A transformative team can conquer an obstacle and overcome any hardship.
This is an excerpt and adaptation of a business development seminar. To read additional excerpts, you can find part one here and part two here. To watch the presentation, go here.
Even as a young child, Abraham Lincoln was a person of unquestionable commitment.
As the story goes, he would sit in his parent’s parlor late at night listening to the conversation the adults were having. At the conclusion of the evening, he would go upstairs to his room. Instead of getting going to bed, he would instead pace his bedroom replaying the conversation. It bothered him that there were parts of the conversation he didn’t understand.
So he would replay it in his head. Over and over. Analyzing every detail until it made sense. Finally content, he could go to bed.
That was a skill that would serve him his entire life.
He became a lawyer because he understood the facts of the case better than anyone else, analyzing the details meticulously.
Widely regarded as one of the great orators of all time, he acquired that skill through his commitment to understand and effectively use words.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was no tactician. His peers included highly regarded West Point graduates and brilliant generals of considerable experience. Yet by the end of the Civil War, he was on par with any them when it came to military strategy. In fact, it was his policy that eventually won the war when adopted by Ulysses Grant.
In all matters of importance, Lincoln dedicated himself to study, master, and unquestionable commitment.
Our Own Leadership
Much could be said about this level of commitment to our own leadership. At least one report acknowledges that upwards of 49% of employees are disengaged, while another eighteen percent are “actively disengaged.”
Our people, those we have been called to lead, are showing up work in larger and larger numbers disengaged from the work they have been given.
The trend is troubling.
It needs to change.
Change starts with us.
What does our own leadership journey look like? Are we actively engaged in personal our own growth? Do we display the same level of unquestionable commitment that Lincoln did?
Lincoln spent time preparing. Whatever the circumstance or situation, he gave it his full attention. He committed himself to personal mastery and improving the outcome.
Change, personally and organizationally, starts in the mind of the leader. Our mindset, the way we approach not just our day but our every task will determine our ultimate outcome in life.
Those that watch us: family, friends, co-workers, direct reports, all will observe our actions and level of engagement and respond accordingly.
When our words and our actions don’t line up, they will always follow our actions.
Part of what we work on in the coaching relationship is showing up fully present. All areas of our lives must be accounted for. This means we pay attention to the following areas of health: spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, relational, and financial. When we show up, fully present, fully engaged, and unquestionably committed, we see great things happen.
Three Tips For Leaders
When you’re ready to bring an unquestionable commitment to all aspects of life, it can feel like a daunting task. To help you on that journey, here are things to do today that can start you on that journey.
1.) Eliminate Distraction
One of the greatest wastes of time and energy is mental distraction. Emails. Phone calls. Text message. Phone notifications. We live in a world that prides itself on distraction. Eliminate them. Close your email application. Silence your phone. Turn off notifications. Better yet, put your phone in another room for a full sixty minutes. Give the task at hand 100 percent of your focus. High-achievers always operate by this principle and it’s what allows them to get so much done in so little time.
2.) Focus On Strength.
When interacting with fellow employees or direct reports, focus on their strengths. As Don Clifton revealed in his StrengthsFinder book, the chances of being ‘actively disengaged’ in work drops to 1% when we focus on our strengths. Eliminate distraction. Then, focus on strengths. This is true for your own, and those of your employees. Improve performance and by focusing on strengths.
3.) Expect Mastery
Expecting mastery is different than expecting perfection. We don’t expect perfection. We do expect progress. From ourselves, our employees, and from those we lead. Create a plan for intentional growth. Make it clear and compelling. Then make it inspiring and motivating. Expect to master a subject. In short, you gain unquestionable commitment by practicing unquestionable commitment.