By John Gronski
Lessons Learned in Poland
In early October 2021, I was invited by the Polish Territorial Defense Forces to come to Poland and provide a series of leadership workshops at several Polish military academies, civilian universities, and military units.
The idea was to assist the Polish military to change its culture of leadership from a directive and transactional approach that was experienced by Polish military leaders during Soviet times to a more transformational approach, like the mode of leadership used by the United States Army.
This American style of leadership has been exemplified for over 200 years by leaders such as George Washington, Nathanael Greene, Joshua Chamberlain, Fox Connor, Omar Bradley, James Rudder, Fred Franks, and Colin Powell.
Leading Without Experience
As I concluded a workshop at one of the military schools, a young Polish lieutenant came up to me and told me he wanted to ask me a personal question off-line. He confided in me that he realized he was a young and inexperienced leader, yet he was expected to lead Soldiers much older and more experienced than he was. He was not sure how he should go about leading a group like this.
A Common Dilemma
This is not an uncommon dilemma for many lieutenants in the American Army. For that matter, many young college graduates entering the civilian sector experience a similar challenge when they are placed in a position of leadership over workers repairing machinery, building bridges, or doing a myriad of other tasks in a variety of industries.
Use R I D
I told him the best way to tackle his uncertainty about leading others with more experience and training was to use the acronym RID.
R stands for respect. Show the people that you are leading the respect they deserve. Never talk down to them even though they may not have the formal education you have. Demonstrate respect by asking their opinion on matters that come up. Take advantage of the experience they have by asking for their recommendations.
I stands for integrity. Do not lie to those you lead by pretending you know something when in fact you do not know. Be honest and be authentic. Do not put on airs and pretend to be someone you are not. If you make a mistake admit it. When things go wrong within the team, as the leader, take the blame. When things go well share that success with the team.
D stands for decide. As the leader, you are the “decider in chief”. You can ask for suggestions and recommendations, but ultimately, at the end of the day, you are the one who has the responsibility for making the decision. Do not abdicate that responsibility. Have the courage to decide.
When you fail to make a decision that must be made you cause frustration, uncertainty, and confusion throughout your team. Own the decision you make. If the decision is a bad one own up to it. Once you make a decision, stay connected to the execution of that decision and make adjustments if things begin to stray off course or if new information becomes available.
Remember, Get RID of the Dilemma
So, if you are a young and inexperienced leader thrust into a situation where you must lead more experienced and skilled followers, get “RID” of the dilemma by demonstrating respect and integrity, and having the courage to make decisions.