In my latest book ‘Your navigator’ I share some of the experiences and adventures that forged my own understanding of what makes a difference in leadership – from the leadership qualities that matter through to the leadership principles that make a real difference to individual, team and organisational effectiveness. In a series of blogs over the next 8 weeks I’ll be sharing excerpts from each of the key chapters in ‘Your navigator’.
Week #7 – empowerment. Leadership is a relational phenomenon and it is essential that leaders know how to work with those around them. In this excerpt from the book, I share how I worked with officers in the Royal Air Force to establish a way to lead that produces collaboration, engagement and optimised performance solutions.
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For several months, a project team had been working on a new Initial Officer Training Course (IOTC) at Royal Air Force College Cranwell’s Officer and Aircrew Cadet Training Unit. In 2005 I led Training Standards (TS); four officers charged with training the Flight Commanders (Flt Cdrs) who in turn would train the Officer Cadets embarking on a career in the Royal Air Force as commissioned officers. This was on the back of spending two years training officers on the main IOTC Squadrons, one of the most fulfilling jobs I have ever undertaken. This gave me a thorough understanding of the syllabus and more importantly how to develop and assess young leaders.
Part of the work of refreshing the IOTC was to make it more relevant to modern day situations. Several new exercises had been designed for the field leadership training phase which was where leadership tasks were undertaken by officer cadets and assessed in outdoor training areas, usually military ranges in Norfolk or Northumbria. The tasks had evolved from the challenge of getting the team across an obstacle area of proverbial shark infested custard to more realistic challenges of environmental incidents and Military Aid to the Civil Powers (MACP). It was during the trialling and testing of one of these new exercises that I had the epiphany of leadership being about truly empowering followers.
For this exercise I had Officer Cadet Graves as my lead and I would be in the role of the Flt Cdr. Graves was typical of the fantastic raw material that we had to work with as Flt Cdrs – a female graduate twenty something who was physically fit, ambitious and keen to learn; smart in appearance and engaging to work with.
“Sir, I’ve come up with a plan and I’m ready to share this with you.” Usually the Flt Cdr would listen, give their approval (permission) or not to proceed, maybe offering a few suggestions, and the cadet lead would then get on with it.
“Ok Graves, what have you got.” I asked. Graves explained to me what her understanding of the problem was and how she proposed to address the situation with the resources at her disposal.
Usually after the cadet lead’s short briefing to the Flt Cdr, the Flt Cdr would be expected to ask a couple of probing questions and then tell the cadet to get on with it. Whilst Graves had been planning and subsequently briefing me, her team had been sat around waiting, enjoying some warm spring sunshine before they were required to get working and start moving equipment to get the task done. For some reason I was in a playfully cantankerous mood that day. Graves finished her briefing to me and there was a pause. She was expecting me to say:
“Very good Graves, a couple of questions…” and then proceed with the task. However, feeling playful I challenged her:
“Is that it?” I asked, with a marginally sarcastic tone. “Is that all you’ve come up with?”
Graves physically rocked back on her boots
“How many ideas have you come up with?” I inquired.
“Two or three…I think I’ve picked the best one.” Graves replied, almost apologetically and with a little nervousness.
“Yes, you’ve come up with two or three – and your team has done what in that time?” I asked rhetorically.
“How many ideas to solve this task could you have come up with?” Graves was starting to get it; her face was turning from nervous confusion to anticipation.
“You mean, Sir, if I had engaged with my team in my planning just now…?”
“Precisely, if you’ve come up with two or three ideas, how many could eight of you come up with…and which one of those ideas would be the best?”
I could see that Graves had had the realisation of what I was alluding to and she was wanting to get back to her team to engage them in the task. There was no shame in what she had done. All cadets were conditioned to take the brief, come up with a plan, their plan, and then check that plan with the Flt Cdr. After all, much of military life is about routine drills and procedures that usually exist for good reasons. However, I realised this was such a limited use of the resource available, namely the team, and more importantly set up a poor leadership practice at the start of these young officers’ leadership careers.
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To find out what happened and discover how well you are empowering others ‘Your navigator’ book is available from Amazon:
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If you or your organisation is in need of a navigator to develop brilliant leaders and leadership then please contact me: email@example.com
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To understand more about empowerment join us for a leadership journey on the Navigator Programme 2019 (summer open programme):
Up to 25% discount if booked by 30th April 2019
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