We’ve all been there! We’re navigating through our week, assigning tasks, leading teams, and trying our best to make a difference. And then, out of nowhere, someone fails at something we were counting on them for… and a million questions flood our heads.
“Are you kidding me?”
“Don’t you even care?”
“How hard is this?”
“Do I need to find someone else to do it?”
Our minds are filled with example after example of how easy a task should’ve been and how we should’ve been able to count on the task being completed successfully. We trick ourselves into believing we outlined everything perfectly and we absolve ourselves from any of the blame.
I’ve been supervising airmen for a little while now, and I’ve seen people get this really right… and really wrong. And through it all, I’ve learned a few things. First, the majority of airmen out there are really trying their best… truly! Second, if and when they fail to meet an expectation, it is because they are missing one of three things… ability, information, or motivation. It is up to “US” as leaders to give them what they need to succeed.
So, how do we do that?
The ABILITY to complete a task should always be our first step to figuring out where any breakdown is. Some tasks simply aren’t physically possible. If I come to you tomorrow and say “I want you to run a 100-mile race by the end of the month”, am I setting you up for success? No! You most likely don’t have the training or the support to accomplish that… and the fact that I tasked you with it says more about me as a leader than it does about you as a follower. The inability to complete a task can look like a lot of things. Here are three of the most important:
- A lack of training: Are our people adequately trained for the task?
- A lack of time: Does the timeline make sense if we want them to succeed?
- A lack of resources: Do they have the tools/support/authority to succeed?
Sometimes, it’s as easy as removing barriers that are preventing a task from being completed… and sometimes it’s taking a step back and having to readjust the task timeline or parameters to account for the reality of the situation. For instance, a very respected friend and leader reached out to me recently about an airman they were having trouble with. This airman was told multiple times that their uniform was out of regs and they needed a new blouse. Time after time, the airman came to work with the same blouse and the team finally had enough and decided to write paperwork. When the leader sat down with the airman, they found out the airman had a negative balance in their bank account and didn’t even have the money to eat… let alone buy a new uniform top. They physically weren’t able to complete the task… and when the supervisor figured this out, they took the member to the Airman’s Attic and fixed the problem They also worked with base agencies to fix the new problem they discovered… and came up with a plan to support the member and get them back on their feet.
Once you’ve made sure the task is feasible, the next step is to make sure the person tasked UNDERSTANDS what you are asking. There are a million articles out there on setting expectations… and those authors have dedicated important time to the topic because communication is HARD! Sometimes, I will leave a conversation thinking all parties are on the exact same page… only to find out we ALL walked away with drastically different information. In any task, there is a ton of information we require if we want to be successful:
- Not understanding the Directives and Instructions: Are they aware of the rules they have to follow?
- Not understanding the expectation: Did we clearly communicate the expectation… and did they understand it?
- Not understanding what “done” looks like: Did we communicate what the end product should look like?
I find that I spend a little more time here than I do in the “Ability” step… simply because learning how to set reasonable expectations is a skill that a lot of us were never taught. Many of us grew up in an Air Force that was “risk averse” and bred “perfectionism” in order to mitigate being hurt or standing out negatively. What that led to was an army (okay… Air Force) of micro-managers that would rather do the task themselves (or at least be VERY hands-on) in order to make sure the task was done right. What that also left us with is an “experience gap” when it comes to communicating expectations. I don’t want to ruin the book for anyone… but “Dare To Lead” by Brenè Brown has a PHENOMENAL section on setting expectations (with her husband) and how to communicate what “done” looks like. Check it out!
Alright, leaders… here is where it gets tricky, messy, and complicated. This is also where I spend the majority of my time. For most of us, if we aren’t motivated to do something we either won’t do it at all or we’ll procrastinate… and even then, we may not do our very best. Finding what motivates the people we lead is arguably one of the most important things we can do as leaders. I could write an entire article on motivation but, for now, we’re going to focus on three things:
- Understanding Why: Have we communicated WHY the task is important, how it affects the team, or how it impacts the mission?
- Intrinsic Motivation: How does the task feed the member’s growth, creativity, or specific goals?
- Extrinsic Motivation: What incentives are available? What punishment?
Every single person we lead will be different. They will all have their own personalities, goals, and quirks. This may sometimes seem a little overwhelming… but if we just take the time to build foundational relationships based on trust and respect, we’ll be successful in this phase. Knowing the PEOPLE we are leading is so important when it comes to finding what motivates them to succeed. Sometimes, that is as easy as showing them the “why”. Sometimes, it will be that intrinsic motivation that helps them see how the task is going to help them achieve their goals. And other times, it will be that extrinsic motivation… a promise of reward or a fear of punishment… that gives them the push to get through the task.
IT CAN’T BE THAT SIMPLE
It really is that simple… but please don’t confuse simple with easy. This is HARD work. This is “in the trenches”… “getting to know your people”… “working on communication”… “problem-solving”… “and then holding people accountable”… hard work! It means looking inward and being humble enough to ask the question, “Did I do my job?” And then sometimes it’s realizing we did and we have to leverage some of that extrinsic motivation to get someone back on the path.
But at the end of the day, it’s worth it because our people are worth it! And if we get THIS right… our teams, our organizations, and our missions will ABSOLUTELY benefit!
BELIEVE in a better way!
BRYAN'S FULL PODCAST EPISODE FOUIND HERE:
Bryan is one kick ass Senior NCO in the USAF and the cofounder of LilActs.org
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