While Memorial Day is considered the unofficial start of summer, it also has deeper meaning. Originally known as Decoration Day, it was a time to decorate the graves of those who lost their lives in service during the Civil War. After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars and in 1971, Memorial Day, the last Monday in May was declared a national holiday.
Of course, many who have served this country do come home, take jobs and leadership positions that leverage their military experience. It makes sense that many returning veterans feel very lucky to be alive and returning when many they knew did not. They may even feel that as a result of this gift, the old adage applies, “To whom much is given, much is expected,” and they will continue to serve as leaders in civilian life. Here are several lessons we can learn from those who served that can help our professional life, be it at an agency, corporation or non-profit.
Disposition not Position
While the military is very hierarchical with specific rules about rank and responsibilities within those ranks, one’s rank may dictate authority, but does not guarantee respect. A good manager or leader should allow their actions to speak louder than rank. Within in a PR agency, for example, everyone has a job description, but it is also important to let people take on tasks for which they are best suited. One of the Army Values is Respect, and it’s defined as “treat people as they should be treated.” Even if someone outranks you, it does not mean that they need not treat you with respect.
Leaders, whether in the military or civilians, need “command presence,” meaning when someone has leadership qualities, especially the ability to lead soldiers into battle. Command presence is an elusive quality, but you know it when you see it. People can gain command presence by verbal and non-verbal communication and how they act and treat others.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall
The idea of collaboration as the way to achieve success helps to bring teams together whether for physical or intellectual labors. Everyone has a job to do and it does not matter what title one holds, the work needs to be accomplished. Preparation and planning are important to the task at hand, but action is what gets the job done based on available skills of the team. The Navy SEALs and others stress the importance of investing in one’s troops, helping them to build their skills so that they can use their expertise to help the team to complete tasks.
As we stand here on May 30, the original Memorial Day, let us keep in mind the blessing of life and the sacrifices of those who served. Let us also follow their examples of commitment, teamwork and respect.
- In Leadership