There is no denying that leadership in the military is drastically different than most of the civilian world. If you haven’t experienced these differences first-hand, this article will relive a few of my experiences with you. The most unfortunate of which is that civilian leaders often convince themselves that their responsibilities as leader can “turn off” after they pack up for the day. Somehow, society has accepted that leadership can be a 9-5 job when this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I would even argue that this “9-5 leadership” mindset is catastrophic to our effectiveness as leaders and here’s why… As a leader in the military, you are responsible for the lives of those you lead (both literally and figuratively) and that responsibility is a 24/7 job. There is no turning off your responsibilities as a leader when you go home for the day.
But you are not only responsible for the well-being, happiness and success of those you lead but also their failures and short-comings.
That’s right, if someone you lead messes up, a great deal of that responsibility falls on you as their leader…
Sounds like a lot of responsibility, right? Well that’s because it is.
You are responsible for your people 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Now, before you start yelling about “work life balance” and the importance of separating your work and home lives, allow me to explain a few things…
First….When you give the minimum, you get the minimum.
If you give those you lead the bare minimum of yourself as their leader, you’ll get the bare minimum in return. If you only make the bare minimum of yourself available to those you lead then they will match your effort with their own bare minimum effort.
Allow me to share one of my experiences with you…
On the first day I reported to my civilian job fresh out the military, I was blown away when I heard a supervisor say, “My phone goes off after work. Don’t call me after 5:00…”
The rational response from me could’ve been “Well, ok then. Don’t call me on my days off and oh, by the way, don’t give me any additional responsibilities since we’re sticking to the bare minimum of what our job descriptions says…”
Luckily for her, the military forced me out of that bare minimum mindset. However, I lost a great deal of respect for that supervisor on that day and that respect was never restored.
Second, when your people know that they matter to you and that you genuinely care about them and their well-being, they’ll move mountains for you as their leader. But sometimes that requires a little extra effort on your part.
To say the least, hearing the “9-5 leadership” mindset for the first time was a major shock to the system for me being fresh out of the military. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel like I barely mattered to this supervisor. Obviously I could only matter so much if she felt the need to clarify when I was and was not able to call her for help or support.
This was just so much different than what I was used to. For anyone familiar with military leadership, you know exactly what I mean.
When I first showed up in Germany, my direct supervisor was the first to greet me when I arrived to base. He took me to buy a cell phone that worked in country and programmed his number in my phone as the first contact. He then engraved in my mind that he should be the first person I call if I need anything (and he meant anything). He told me “You get lost, call me. You get in trouble, call me. You need a ride somewhere, call me. And if you start missing your family and are having a tough time, call me!”
The craziest part was, he meant every word of it…
He was an intense guy but he genuinely cared about his troops and there was no denying that.
Now sure, being overseas may require a different type of leadership but what I took away from that first day in country was that top tier leaders are those who care about their people first and foremost.
I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, this guy barely knows me but he genuinely cares about me”. Suddenly I was less anxious about being so far away from home and in an unfamiliar country because I knew I was in good hands.
For the next two years, he showed me the true meaning of leadership. He cared for me. He mentored me. He supported me. Most importantly, he advocated for me. He advocated to give me opportunities to prove myself. He advocated for me to have opportunities to become better and he advocated for each and every one of my promotions.
This went way outside of just my development and success as a soldier. He cared about making sure I was managing stress well in my personal life too. He asked me about my family back home and how they were doing. He remembered the names of my family members and he asked me about Kelsey Rose to make sure she was doing ok when I was so far away.
He cared about me and every single one of his soldiers like we were his own sons and daughters and that is a huge part of what made him such an exceptional leader.
This may sound trivial but that extra effort by him as the leader to show me how much he valued me and my well-being meant the world. There was never a question in my mind whether or not he would be there if I needed him for anything. I applied myself whole-heartedly to every task he gave me and I went way above and beyond for him because I knew he was there to support me.
So what does this mean? Why should great leaders break the “9-5 mindset”?
Well for starters, if you had to guess who you thought I was more inclined to perform my best for, who would you pick? The leader who put my own well-being above his own and who made every effort to show me how important I was to him…
The leader who made it perfectly clear that I only mattered to her through the hours of 9-5?
When people know they matter, they perform. Regardless of whether or not your people actually ever need you when you’re off the clock, they need to know you truly care.
When they feel undervalued and under appreciated, you get the bare minimum from them in return. But when they know they are your top priority, they will move mountains for you.
So if your primary responsibility as a leader is to genuinely care about those you lead, how can you possibly do that when they are under the impression they only matter to you between the hours of 9-5?
Second, those we lead have lives outside of just their 9-5 responsibilities. It’s important that they know we care about more than just their well-being within the confines of their role on our team. We need them to know their lives outside of work matter too. They need to know we care about the well-beings of their families, friends, etc. People should never have to worry about the repercussions of calling off work to care for a sick family member or friend. They should never have to worry about taking time off for their own mental or physical health. And they should always know that if they need support outside of work, we as leaders are there for them.
Now, not everyone will want you to know about their lives outside of work and that’s ok! What matters is that they know you care should they choose to.
Some of you reading this may scoff at the idea of this type of leadership because you want to separate your work life from home life as much as possible and that’s ok. You are entitled to that choice. However, I strongly disagree with that approach.
I’m not saying you need to work around the clock and that you can’t have a personal life separate from work. But what I am suggesting is that you find a way to let your people know that you genuinely care about them, their wellbeing, happiness and success way beyond just the confines of their role on your team.
They need to know without fail that you are there to help them, to coach them and to support them, whether that is related to work or not.
If those you lead are in need of support and they look down at the clock and think, “Oh, I can’t call my supervisor because it’s 5:01 PM” you’ve failed…
In closing, if your goal as a leader is to convince those you lead they are simply just a number to you, 9-5 leadership is a great way to foster that mindset. If however, your goal is to increase morale, foster better performance and build a cohesive team then focus on showing those you lead how much they mean to you and make sure they know that their well-being, happiness and success will always be your priority, even if that means you get an occasional phone call on your day off…
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