This article talks about the value of training, the importance of practice, and the impact of trust.
“We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.” - General George Smith Patton, Jr.
Sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow, sometimes we choose to get out of the way - it's a natural cycle that we go through consciously and unconsciously, whether it's with our colleagues, at work, or within our family units at home.
When we go for a walk as a family, I will always try to let my two sons lead the way. I like them to explore, to discover the path, to set the pace for the family. They develop a sense of empowerment and I hope they know that we trust them to make decisions on behalf of us, as the parents, as a team. Now, sometimes that's easier said than done with an imaginative 6 year old and an incredibly energetic 4 year old. As you can understand, patience and guidance are always there waiting in the wings. As a family unit, a family team, we all lead, we all follow, when the boys are covered in mud my wife and I definitely get out of the way.
This works for us, as a family unit we share values, we set goals. We train, we practice, we trust.
Values: Principles or standards of behaviour.
Goal: The destination of a journey.
Train: Teach a particular skill or type of behaviour through sustained practice and instruction.
Practice: The actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it.
Trust: Firm belief in the ability of someone or something.
As parent leaders, without trust we are just managers of our children, maybe even treating them as ‘minions’ in our family empire. In any team, trust is essential - it embodies empowerment, and provides the reassurance that while it's great to succeed, it's also ok to fail or to try another way; it's ok to learn through practice.
For teams and leaders to function well together, we need to ensure that values, goals and trust (which are very rarely seen together in our professional organisations), are employed in our teams. These very simple factors combined with training and practice form what I believe are the basic key steps to creating a highly successful and cohesive teams.
“Train hard, fight easy. Train easy and you will have hard fighting” – Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov.
There are many examples of our leaders providing inspiration through their words, and the very best provide it through direct action. We look to a leader to inspire us, drive us forward, help us see the vision and trust us to find the path.
One look at Twitter and you'll find that a typical feed is stacked full of quotes. The expanse of the internet is full of quotes, misquotes and to a large extent quotes that are poorly attributed to the originator. (To which, by the way, I have tried very hard to research the true origin of the quotes used here and attribute them accordingly.)
I do love reading and hunting out interesting quotes. For me they connect with maybe an experience I once had, in a situation long since past. Powerful quotes stick in your head, you can use them as motivation, inspiration and sometimes just to have a laugh:
“You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.”—Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001 - George W Bush.
George Bush Junior said this and other misguided quotes during his presidency, and, like all things nowadays, there is a dedicated website to his gaffs, it’s well worth a read.
Returning to a more sensible world, and thus turning our attention to more competent leaders, you could do worse than look to Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov.
Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov has a number of powerful or inspiring quotes associated to his name. He was a Russian military leader awarded the Count of Rymnik, Count of the Holy Roman Empire, Prince of Italy, and the last Generalissimo of the Russian Empire. He reportedly never lost a battle, and anyone that earns the status of being a Russian military hero demands some serious respect in my book.
He is listed as the originator of the “Train hard, Fight easy” quote. It describes the art of continual training and practice, resulting in the ability to overcome any obstacle in order to achieve a goal. Adversely, the lack of training and practice can lead to poor performance and a high potential for severe consequences.
Put this in a professional team context and it makes perfect sense. Teams are continually training, and, by extension, practicing routines and drills to ensure they know what each member of the team should do, and perhaps can do when it comes to the fight or the big game. Training and practice means the teams are 100% focused on the task, objective and ultimate goal.
It's relatively simple to summarise: period of training, short conflict, job done.
What about sustained periods of engagement, national or international rugby tournaments? Frontline deployments of military units for long term peacekeeping or conflict?
This now feels (subjectively) more like our space in the software development world. We recruit people, sensible, enthusiastic, skilled or willing to learn, mouldable people. We then throw these budding new recruits straight into the fight, tell them to act as a team, and performance-manage them until they either conform, or quit. An extreme scenario perhaps, but not uncommon in my experience.
Though it might not feel like it, we work in a space of continuous long-term deployment, the large majority of this being frontline facing our competitors, whilst confronting the pressure of delivery to a vague, and perhaps unknown, objective.
The people may be prepared individually, but this doesn’t make a cohesive team.
When we return to the view of a professional unit example, my earlier summary was incorrect. Professional teams continually train, continually practice and then repeat the cycle: train, practice, conflict, train, practice conflict etc. They reflect on the conflict, identifying lessons learnt and putting those learnings into improvement and training. This feeds the team to improve, do better, change, evolve and adapt.
At this point I have some questions for you:
- Where are the periods of training and practice for your teams?
- Why are trust and shared values so hard to attain in a team?
- What happened to setting our teams up for success?
This topic will be further expanded in Part II of this article. Keep close to find out more - subscribe to the Radtac blog and never miss a post.