“Greatness Flows from The Top Down”
Great organizations happen because of great leaders. For the last five years in my career I have been fortunate enough to work directly for and/or with senior leaders. Due to this, I was always the lowest ranking professional in the room by 6 to 8 General Schedule (GS) grade levels. This gave me the opportunity to see how distinguished leaders think, work, and communicate. Watching and listening to these senior leaders shaped my view and gave me a platform for success. In my most recent position with an outstanding organization, otherwise known as IMCOM, I worked for the Garrison Command Group. Each one of these top leaders utilized various forms of communication and employee engagement to enhance the workplace, drive strategy/innovation, and promote professional/personal success. I took time off from working to focus on my startup/secure certifications (as a solopreneur I am gradually building my business). However, I will be going back to working with my favorite organization soon (the week after next) but in a different position.
Now, I know that there is no perfect organization or leader. I have experiences in that subject matter as well – but that’s for another time. However, I would always say yes to working with them because I know that they fundamentally strive to create a better quality of life, for the entire military and civilian community, starting with their workforce. Therefore, I am sharing some of my experiences for organizations and other professionals in leadership positions to take into consideration of how important communication/engagement with their workforce really is.
“I Understand the Big Organizational Picture”
Installation Management Command (IMCOM) is one of my favorite organizations because they utilize an all-inclusive communication strategy. To give you a personal example of this, I took a picture of my first “Blueprint for Success Book” (that was what I called it). It was important to me because this guidance came all the way from the White House/from senior leaders whose pictures I pass while walking in the corridor. I carried this little book around with me all the time in my black business portfolio. I printed it to size, so it not only was a perfect fit but was also legible immediately without using my glasses (my eyesight was better then). You can see that I added my own tabs to my most frequented sections (yes, I am one of those people who loves pens, pencils, sticky notes, colorful office supplies). This is weathered and outdated. There is probably a new version available, but I want you to understand that this book was available to all employees.
It did not matter what job they held or what civilian/military grade or rank level they were at. Everyone received and was able to access IMCOM Higher Headquarters’ (HHQ) vision for the future and their guidelines on how to achieve it. I used this as a “Big Picture” guideline of what needed to be accomplished/the path to achieve it (I used it when writing out core values/goals in my appraisals/now called DPMAPS). This was the whole picture that I looked forward to celebrating when accomplishing victory as a team. Now, I had the big picture, but I needed subject matter expert guidance on the best way to get there based on my location/garrisons’ strategic mission that supports the big picture.
“Distribute to All/Widest Dissemination Possible”
The Garrison Commander (GC) is the epitome of “A Leader of Leaders.” He embraces inclusion, empowerment, and transparency. I know you are saying: “that’s why he’s a commander – duh.” Ok, I get it, but not all commanders are the same. He would send me emails with the first line stating, “Distribute to all and/or Widest Dissemination Possible.” These emails contained his guidance to us either in informal bullet points that had his insights, directives, encouragement or a formal quarterly report that included a PDF attachment. So, for the leaders who already practice this you can just skip this part. However, for those of you who don’t and still send out your guidance only to your directors/top line leaders for them to disseminate; please keep reading and consider my viewpoint. Let me illustrate, the Blueprint from IMCOM HHQ was like the dressed dinner table with all the food/drinks displayed on beautiful dishware/glassware. You can stand around and look but you cannot really get the most enjoyment from the meal until the designated host invites you to the table. A commander’s guidance is when you are invited to the table. It is the actual meal, the beef brisket, potatoes, asparagus, gravy, great beverages, and even cake. I would compile/save his guidance (one reason being that I managed all of Command’s hard copy and virtual files) because it gave me abundant information/tools to accomplish the garrison’s mission/his mission. I used his guidance in my DPMAPS as well (see picture below).
I directed my actions to Command’s vision. Based on what the GC/Command group said I would be able to identify what and how I needed to take action. Some of the concrete/implied information it contained was:
• What my role was in accomplishing the mission/where can I step in to make it happen/to deliver.
• Who are the operators that I needed to engage to secure the product(s) and/or command requirement(s)?
• When did the directive/tasker need to be accomplished and what were the negative impacts across the board if it was not accomplish on time?
• Did I need to go up the chain for guidance/backup in accomplishing the mission?
• The What Would Command Do (WWCD) Principal was revealed so I was able to tailor my language/drive tasker due outs/close outs to reflect command’s vision in any meeting or interaction that I was involved in.
Imagine if he didn’t communicate. I would still probably be able to navigate but it would not be seamless, and I might have been spinning my wheels on something that was not as critical to the mission because I would have lacked his pinpoint direction. Having eagle eye precision is critical in a fast-paced organization with lots of moving parts. Having that kind of precision takes practice.
“Let’s Walk, Talk, and Observe – Professional Development on The Go”
The Deputy to the Garrison Commander (DGC – it is like the Mayor of a large city) would take me with him as he walked the halls. During this time, I learned a lot because he would talk to me as we walked. I was able to listen to him engaging or being engaged by his people/members of the community. He is always well dressed (known as the man in the pinstriped suit), and super funny with a sharp eye. He is always giving strategic/guiding insights and posing poignant analytical questions. He made the garrisons focus clear, aiding me and others in the path we needed to walk. One of his most important communication to me was that superior customer service encompasses every aspect of professional success. Taking care of customers, people, and the community is a top priority. The word customer means every person we encounter, and their viewpoint is valuable in total success. I worked to identify what they may need next even before they knew it.
With his guidance I was able to start being strategically critical in favor of how a project or action would impact the customers/families. I began to routinely ask myself and others the tough questions: Are we making customers go out of their way? How can this be more efficient? Are the pictures hanging in the facility at the correct eye level for customer enjoyment? Have we created an aesthetic and productive environment? We would walk into a room and he would ask me what was wrong/out of place. I began to have a keen eye for picking out what was not right. Examples of what I mean are the following questions: Is the seating arrangement for the meeting strategic? What are the hours of our customer facing entities/are they conducive to maximum usage? What is the message that visitors get when they enter our facilities? Is the current space usage functional? I learned to look for possible issues and ensured they were actioned accordingly. Anything that could go wrong was blocked or mitigated because I engaged the operators/entities responsible for the issue/possible issue to confirm resolution/close out.
“Encourage Success with Accountability”
The Garrison Command Sergeant Major (CSM) had the best chairs in her office, probably because she would always have people in there. It was a hub for professional guidance/empowerment. Military and civilian professionals would stop by Command while visiting from another garrison just to say hello. While they were waiting, I would listen to them recount how she positively impacted their professional career. This was no surprise to me as she impacted mine as well. One of the lessons (among many) that she imparted to me was not being afraid to expect the best/hold people accountable. If you remember, I told you all earlier that I was the lowest person in the room. Well let me put this into perspective for you – I was the lowest ranking person in the Command building. Why is this tidbit significant? Well, because there were times that I had to get information from higher ranking individuals who may not have wanted to give it to me because they didn’t start working on it in a timely fashion. I had to push through the emotion of fear to get what I needed for my leadership. This was not always easy.
I remember one time I went into her office and sat on one of her comfortable chairs. I was down because an entity’s tasker was past the suspense date and I would have to highlight it in red during the next morning’s meeting (for those of you who don’t know – Command/Leaders despise red). She looked at me and let me know that there are going to be many more times that I will feel down, but I must remember there is a greater mission at stake. She said, “Your position is the bulldog. You hold people accountable even though its uncomfortable so get used to it because accountability drives ingenuity.” From that day on I would walk the halls (little me by myself) visiting people to gather what I needed. The more I did it I learned that I had a right to ask people to do their best, not just for them but for us, for the team. Also, she was correct about accountability driving ingenuity because entities who were notoriously late began to figure out ways to become more efficient in closing HHQ/ command taskers/RFIs on time.
“Do It – I Have Your Back!”
The Chief of Staff (CS) I used to work for is a high-flying pilot and sky diving genius. Who knows, he might have been wrestling lions after work on his way home to his family. I mean nothing phased him. He would be cool as a cucumber when fires were popping up all over. Everyone loves to see him because he always has a solution. One of the greatest lessons I learned from him is to let the workforce be inquisitive, creative, and innovative while also being available if they need help. He let me launch all kinds of innovative ideas that I thought would streamline efficiency as well as let me expand my knowledge in other areas by leading and/or participating in working groups. When I would get frustrated because I reached a blockage he would step in and encourage me to dig deep. He would smile and say there’s more information out there – uncover it. I learned from him that higher level leaders love ideas. Wait, let me be clear, I am not talking about “pie in the sky” ones from the “good idea fairy.” I am talking about strategic innovative ideas that have been thought out, founded on proven HHQ best method/practices, that are “positive impact” quantifiable, and that drive workforce engagement without throwing too many “new rocks” in their already overflowing ruck sacks.
Also, he really did have my back. He would always call me at the top of the morning so I could brief him, and I remember one morning I was updating him on an issue that I was worried about. I had gotten ahead of myself on one of my garrison move efficiency projects and I had to tell him that I think I sent the Commander’s desk to the wrong site (the Commander wanted his old desk to go to one of his offices on another site in his footprint). I was so stressed, but he laughed and said, “What Stacie – you lost the Commanders desk?!” I remember saying, “Sir, I am so scared, but I am going to have to face the Commander and tell him the truth – he is going to kill me Sir.” Once the CS finished laughing, he said, “no, let me tell you the plan.” Just like that the day was saved/I was relieved. He told me exactly how to solve the situation. I went to the hanger, recovered the Commander’s beloved desk, and quickly corrected the shipping information. As of today, the Commander does not know his desk was almost a distant memory. This communicated to me that great leaders commiserate with/support their people even when an employee’s concern may seem small because it is big to them. I felt valued knowing that we are on the same team because he supported me/backed me up.
“I Am Part of the Mission, I Am the Story, I Am the Organization!”
As a leader, when you communicate with/engage your workforce you create a professional development learning environment that propels success. Exceptional leadership is like telling a great story that you make the listener a part of. Great stories influence, motivate, teach, inspire, reveals important information, and drives success. The way a leader communicates and engages with employees if done successfully, will bring the mission to life in the minds and hearts of the workforce just as a dynamic story does to the listener. Organizations and leaders should utilize all-inclusive forms of communication, on the spot situational professional development engagement, as well as support a culture of workforce accountability and innovation.
Some of the important attributes of a leader is helping the workforce understand the mission/their role in it. By setting the stage for changing ideas and behaviors that align with the mission, leaders influence innovation and evoke ownership and accountability so that the employee identifies with the organization and the leader. When this occurs, the employee sees themselves as a team member and takes ownership in their part of organizational success. Implementing communication and employee engagement strategies that are already working in successful organizations and for other terrific leaders is one of the factors that tips the scale towards success. The goal is for the workforce to become part of the mission, part of the story, and eventually part of the organization’s/team’s success story.
I am SMC, I am IMCOM, I am the Benelux, I am part of the success story!
To learn more about employee engagement check out some of my favorite sites:
• https://www.gallup.com/home.aspx https://www.dalecarnegie.com/en/resources
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