Hip-Pocket Leadership

inspire me

By George Belsky 

Some years ago a close friend and West Point classmate asked me for some hip-pocket leadership training advice for his daughter. She was a West Point cadet at that time and leading new cadets through their entry level training. For those unfamiliar with the term, “hip-pocket training” is the military term for impromptu training leaders provide when they are waiting for other events to transpire (waiting on the trucks, downtime between training iterations, etc.). I thought about the request for a bit and called him back with my leadership thought that would promote discussion and impart some leadership nugget they could keep throughout their careers. It was an adage I had heard somewhere along the way and I did not know the original source. It was simply, “Be the leader you want to be led by.” Laconic, maybe even stoic; a leader version of “treat others the way you would like to be treated.” I was pretty happy with that advice and I tried to live it in the leadership positions I held as a first line supervisor, manager, and law enforcement executive over the years.

As I’ve matured though, I realize I really missed the mark with that one. Since then I’ve learned more about individual behavioral styles, belief systems and motivators, and emotional intelligence. What I know now is that all of us see, hear, feel, act, and communicate in different ways. We derive our motivation, our “why”, from different sources. For a leader to be successful, they must know their people. Not just the superficial know (birthdays, family members’ names, etc.) but the real KNOW. What does their behavioral style tell you about them? Are they introverted or extroverted? Are they a people person or are they more task oriented? Do they prefer a more passive or challenging environment? How do they handle change? What motivates them? Is it return on investment? Self-improvement? Moving higher up in the corporate food chain? Training? Helping others? The answers to all these and other questions will help you know what each of your people need from their leader. Some of these things may be different for you. In fact, do you even know the answers to those questions for yourself? Leaders must first know themselves, then they must know their people.

By knowing yourself and knowing your people, you will find the best way to relate with them on an individual level. Your relationship, communication skills, trust and credibility with each and every one of your folks will improve. You will not be the leader you want to be led by. You will be, though, the leader they want to be led by. Which is what leadership is all about anyway: influencing and working with and for others to achieve a common goal. At least that’s what I would tell Bill if he asked me for a hip-pocket leadership nugget today.

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