Monday, April 29, 2013

How Well Do You Know Your People?

I was reading a book this weekend (I'll share more on the book this Friday), that made me recall some things that I did with my troops while I was in the Army, but found that I don't do as often as I use to. I would surmise that my family/home life has caught up with me. Perhaps I should make more of the effort. Let me explain.

After a year deployed with my platoon in Iraq, we came home. Shortly after coming home, several of my soldiers tried out for a "Battle of the Bands" in Dallas, TX. They applied for leave, which I granted, they invited me, and then I did something totally unexpected...

I showed up for the contest. I didn't confirm with them that I was coming, I just showed up (with my wonderful, extremely attractive then girlfriend, now wife, in tow). We attended the entire contest, and I made sure they knew before the contest started that I was there to cheer them on. Afterwards, we went to a bar where I shot pool with them (so did my wife, who hustled some cash out of them), bought them a couple rounds of drinks, and then strategically retreated to the hotel room.

A couple of months later, a Sergeant in my unit asked me to be part of his wedding party, in Florida. I was honored to be asked, cleared my calendar, and attended a lovely wedding ceremony (in Spanish) and reception.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at

Why am I sharing these moments? The answer is that I treated my soldiers like people. I knew what was important to them, and tried to make efforts to be present at the big events in their life. I spent a year of my life with these men, and I knew that if we were going to work together as a team, I would need to make this effort. The reward was the invitation to their real life.

After leaving the Army, I fully intended to continue this trend, and in a manner I did. I try to spend time with each of my team members talking about non-work related things, to get to know them as a person. What is the purpose?

The purpose is to combat anonymity. I don't want my team to think that they are nameless automatons to me, and it increases their commitment if I treat them as "human." I even have blank thank you cards, and generic congratulations cards in case something happens that needs to be recognized.

What I haven't done lately, however, is attend events that are important to my team. A recent example would be the MS150, which is a two day bicycle ride from Houston to Austin. Several of my co-workers and teammates were riding that weekend, and I could have shown up at the start of the event to wish them luck. Looking back, it would have been a strong COMMAND move, as it would have shown commitment to my team and it would have only cost me some time on a Saturday morning.

Now, the action for you prospective leaders out there: How well do you know your team? What are their birthdays? Do they have kids? Hobbies? What about charity or volunteer work? These are the details that combat anonymity and humanize your team. They will work harder for you and may not leave for "greener pastures" if they feel they are understand and understood.

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