Dr. Linda Henman to AFA: Lead Your Team Beyond Tactics

One thing the Air Force is really good at is solving tactical issues. The challenge, is to get out of being a tactician and to think strategically.

In other words, getting out of the “trenches” and being able to see the organization from the 30,000-foot view is pivotal to the organization’s success.
As author of “The Magnetic Boss”, speaker Dr. Linda Henman, is known throughout civilian sector as an authority on leadership. She spoke to a group of about 25 people at a breakout session at the Air Force Association Conference on Sept. 15, 2008.
“There is no universally accepted definition of leadership,” Henman said.
Leadership is about getting people to disrupt their lives and to implement change, she continued. To do things they wouldn’t normally do because you as their leader motivated them to do it.
Many organizations have a number of challenges facing their leaders. Henman said there are three main qualities of a magnetic leader; they set the direction, they make high caliber decisions and develop the benchmark.
Henman defined strategy as knowing what to worry about tomorrow. She illustrated this by the example of the gas crisis of the 1970s, citing the resistance at Ford Motor Company to produce smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.
Their failure to anticipate market trends, and to think strategically, caused them to lose market share to foreign car companies who saw the writing on the wall, she said.
According to Henman, in order to be successful, every organization needs a mission statement. An effective mission statement answers three important questions: Why do we exist?; Who are our customers?; and, What do our customers expect from us?
“Mission, vision, values. Once you have those three in place, you move beyond the tactical and into the strategic,” Henman said.
“A tactic done twice becomes a procedure,” she continued. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best practice.”
In order to improve any strategy, Henman recommends brainstorming. She implored the audience to ask the question, “What if?” Coming up with possible answers to that question will allow you to prepare a “way ahead” strategy, she said.
One point Henman presented pertained directly to the Air Force.
“What if we lose our talented people?” she asked. Preparing for the loss of talented employees will prepare the organization to effectively recruit and train new people, she added.
Henman said leaders must make high-caliber decisions. She added that effective leaders have three important qualities; 1. Agility of thought; 2. Good listening skills; and, 3. The ability to get along with others (to be selfless in your dedication).
She also stressed that good leaders should stop expecting their workers to listen to managers, and instead, to get managers to listen to their workers.
“But don’t go on hearsay,” Henman warned. “Become fact-driven. Don’t rely on hunches or guesswork,” she said. “Take the time to check the facts.”
She also recommended bending the golden rule when it comes to managing a workforce.
“Don’t treat people the way you want to be treated,” she said. “Instead, treat them the way they need to be treated.”
Another quality of a strategic leader is to motivate the workforce. Henman stressed that by delegating authority and responsibility to the top people in any organization, the workforce is automatically motivated to success.
Finally, effective leaders know when to let people go.
“Fire when necessary,” she said, adding, “The best thing you can do to avoid firing people is to hire the best person for the job in the first place.”
Henman said leaders need to ask themselves three important questions about prospective employees; Can they prioritize tasks?; Can they get to the core of what the organization needs?; and finally, Are they are flexible? (in other words, can they morph their skill set and knowledge to suit the organization’s needs?)
“If you can say yes to those three questions, then you are a strategic and effective leader,” Henman said. “Then you mentor the top 20-percent,” she added.
During the question and answer session, one question came up regarding civilian versus military employees. Henman said top performers share three traits: They are hard working, they are smart, and they have integrity. “Top performers are exactly the same regardless if they’re in uniform or not,” she said.
While Dr. Henman’s talk was inspiring and informational, the challenge of those in attendance is to take this information back to their perspective units and to dovetail some of these new skills into their organizations.
One other question from the audience had to do with generational differences. They asked how should Generation-X be treated differently from Generation-Y, or the “Millennials“.
Henman replied, “If you are a top performer, it doesn’t matter what generation you’re from. They’re all the same.”
It appeared there were several members in the audience who questioned her findings about generational differences. Furthermore, it is the understanding of this author that countless studies show that Gen-X’ers, Baby-Boomers and Millennials see the world differently from each other, with the latter group more interested in “making a difference” and being a part of a team. Baby-Boomers are most often motivated by money and gifts (and promotions), while X’ers can sometimes be motivated with money and gifts, but most Millennials want time off, recognition and praise.
Millenials, who are now entering the workforce, also want time off and praise for a job well done, but come to many organizations with a sense of entitlement—something the the Baby Boomers and Gen-X’ers don’t necessarily share with the younger generation.
Dr. Henman would do well to incorporate a discussion on these generational differences into her presentation, and present data found in many studies on these differences. True, her assertion that regardless of which generation a worker hails from, all top performers appear to be similar, but there is no denying that their motivations come from vastly different origins. Moreover, to lump three different generations of workers into two groups labled “Top Performers” and “non-Top Performers”, ignores the value each generation brings to any organization.
Feel free to discuss this topic with comments of your own.
Posted By Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy, Air Force Public Affairs