You Forgot Your Socks… Again?! Leadership Priorities in a Time of Change

Today’s post was written by How Gov Lead’s new contributing author, Amber Hansen. Amber has worked in Government contracting for over nine years. She is currently a Project Manager working with Federal Government clients at The Ken Blanchard Companies. Watch this blog for more thought leadership from Amber.

Have you ever met someone who is really great at one part of their job and terrible at another? I happen to be married to a man who for many years was a Navy Corpsman who loved his job but struggled with some of what comes with being in the military. I once heard a leader of his say he was “an amazing Corpsman and a terrible sailor.” To put it in very simple terms, that means he was really good at caring for his patients and training junior members of his team and not so great at keeping his uniform in order and being on time. This leader understood clearly that my husband had significant strengths but like all of us, he had weaknesses, too.

What happens when forgetting to bring the right kind of socks for a uniform becomes a reason to be reprimanded at work? That may depend on one’s leader. Some of us are truly adept at handling the details of life; we might keep backup socks in the car just in case. Others just do not think this way. My husband is very bright, he learns things quickly, takes what he believes is useful and leaves behind what he sees as a bit of a waste of his time. I suspect the things that may have made him a good sailor, like bringing the right pair of socks, were the same things that appeared to him to be a waste of time. In my husband’s world, ensuring he had the right medical supplies packed for a mission ranked just a little higher than the socks. If my life depended on him and I had to choose between socks and medical supplies I would be glad to have left the socks behind.

Some of the military leaders I have met would focus on those missing socks because they see that as the foundation to doing the rest of any job well. They could not see past the socks to find a truly valuable and talented team member. They allowed the socks to become the focus of their interaction with a Corpsman who by the end of his career was influencing the careers of junior Corpsman, helping them build their skills, improve their productivity, and learn to teach others.

Our military is dealing with stressors many civilians cannot fully comprehend. From multiple deployments and Post Traumatic Stress to shrinking budgets and less time and resources to train; our military members work hard and they deserve leaders who are prepared to support and serve them. Our military and government leaders need to be innovative in this new world of looming sequester budgets and ongoing wars. And they must ensure their teams are able to fully realize their potential in order to bring the most value to the organization and to themselves. Empowerment is key!

When a team member can’t seem to remember to bring the right socks the leader must set him up to succeed anyway. Helping that direct report remember to “bring the appropriate socks” may seem like a waste of time, but if it is a waste of time for the leader, perhaps that is the heart of the reason it’s a waste of time for the individual. If a leader can show that helping that sailor succeed with his socks, the payoff is that the sailor will trust the leader to help him succeed in much more significant ways.

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Dick Davies

I like your post. Generally I start with “get the details right and the rest will follow.” You have opened “what are the right details.” Thank you!

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

Albert Einstein

Carol Davison

I manage performance, or ensure that the leaders equitably task their employees to accomplish the Secretary’s goals. On the other hand I’ve had team leaders edit the notes of my power point training session 45 minutes before I was to present it. At best his ‘management” was a no value added activity and therefore a waste of his and my time. At worst, it was a no value added un necessary stressing of the trainer. If your husband got in trouble for wearing the wrong socks outside of basic training, the U.S. Navy must have a 100% control of the seas, a 100% re-enlistment rate, and be 100% competent, or their leaders have little clue as to how to manage, let alone lead, a Navy. A never understood the get the details right and the rest will follow.