The Four Posts of Leadership: Your Personal Style is Crucial

How many leaders try to put their team in a constant sprint? It is always temporary in the beginning, but routinely becomes the “new normal.” More-with-Less means we worked our employees harder than we should, and ask more of them than when they were hired. Wouldn’t we all be more effective with a Four-Post-Pace-Plan which allows sprint capability but also factors in walk-time coupled with acceleration and deceleration lanes?

As you review my leadership articles, you will see I focus much of my strategic thinking on a 45 minute sunrise run each day. I believe we can find leadership lessons in every aspect of our lives. This story will be no different. In early May, while on a jog on Beale Air Force Base, the evolution of my running pace hit my leadership style with a sledgehammer.

More-with-Less means we worked our employees harder than we should, and ask more of them than when they were hired.

For a few months, I had jogged a few miles four days a week. My fitness did not improve, and at the same time I gained a few pounds. I was baffled. I jogged frequently…so frequently my body became accustomed to it. My body expected a slow jog four times a week and adapted to that routine. Since I was not training for anything in particular, I was not focused on improving my pace, or even measuring it. I think many of us are leading in this way. We have been lulled into a false security, falling into our normal pace each day and not pushing ourselves or our teams to improve.

 We have been lulled into a false security, falling into our normal pace each day and not pushing ourselves or our teams to improve.

So, there I was on the amazing running paths of Beale Air Force Base. Paved paths threading between 1,700 cows peacefully grazing on Federal Land. As I downloaded a tracking application to help monitor my pace, I reverted to sprinting to make a good time. This did not last long before I was winded and left with a long return trip. As I refined my workout plan over the next few days, I realized the running path was lined by posts, equally spaced along the way. I could use these as distance markers for my run.

I took my normal pace and threw it away. Instead of a slow, monotonous jog…I sprinted. But that was an unsustainable pace. So I jogged. I was tired. So, I walked. Then I put it all together.

The Optimistic Workplace

Post 1: Walk

Post 2: Accelerate to a jog

Post 3: Sprint…all out, everything you have

Post 4: Decelerate to a jog

For the run today, I discovered something amazing. Executing this strategy yielded something I never expected. After the run, I looked at my pace per minute and found it was drastically faster than my normal, monotonous jog pace. By varying my pace, I was actually more effective than a steady pace. My run became efficiently effective and I was less winded at the finish line.

Immediately, my mind translated this over to my professional life. How many times have we pushed our teams to a sprint, and then that sprint became a 26.2 mile marathon? How many times have we become frustrated with people walking to catch their breath when we wanted them to sprint on a project? How many times have we lost our best workers because we burned them out?

A few years back, I worked at the Pentagon. The Pentagon is the definition of sprinting a marathon. My supervisor was a Major General, I was a Captain. What that translates to in the civilian world is basically COO to shift manager. As I was in a dead sprint trying to meet a deadline on the most important project of my life…or at least of the day…she grabbed her gym bag and said, “get your stuff and let’s go for a run.” With a completely stupefied look on my face, I pleaded my respectful request not to join her because I didn’t have time. She won. On our walk to the PAC (Pentagon Athletic Club) she explained her logic. We are worthless right now. In the home stretch to the finish line, we have worked 18+ hours too many days in a row. We are one with our project and therefore cannot see what we are missing. We need to clear our minds, and the only way to do that is to step back, relax, look past the trees and examine the forest we are growing.

After 45 minutes running the beautiful trails of our Nation’s Capital, we rejoined in her office. A new passion on my face as I frantically re-worked parts of the project with answers that became glowingly clear to me during my time away from the computer. We briefed our project to the highest level of our military and gained their approval.

On the walk through the Glass Doors on the E-Ring, she looked at me and said, “Never forget what you learned here. If a two-star can walk away and work out, no Captain can ever say they do not have time. And, more importantly, you learned the counterintuitive lesson of pushing through a progress hurdle not by working harder but by stepping away.”

Well, you will be glad to know Major General (Ret) Marne Peterson, your lesson from eight years ago came back to me crystal clear today. Success and leadership is about setting a deliberate, sustainable pace…For both yourself and your team.

“…you learned the counterintuitive lesson of pushing through a progress hurdle not by working harder but by stepping away.”


FOOTNOTE: I would be remiss if I did not highlight the fact Major General (retired) Peterson was one of the greatest leaders for which I have ever had the good fortune to work. Not merely because she busted the status quo as she became the U.S. Air Force’s first active duty female wing commander, or because she truly cared about the lives of those she led…but because she took the time to mentor. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Major General (Retired) Peterson for her service to this country and for the impact she had on future generations of leaders. Her style and mentorship made many of us the leaders we are today and shaped who we will be tomorrow. For each of you reading this, I challenge you to look at your personal style and ask how many people would owe you a note like this almost a decade after you led them? The true measure of leadership is not found in the individual. It is found in the individuals developed.

 

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Chris R. Stricklin is a combat-proven leader, mentor and coach integrating the fields of dynamic followership, negotiations, leadership, positive change, public relations, public speaking and complex organizational change. His unique experience as a U.S.A.F. Thunderbird coupled with Pentagon-level management of critical Air Force resources valued at $840B, multiple N.A.T.O. assignments, White House and DARPA fellowships, and command-experience in the United States Air Force allow his unique synthesis of speaking, following, leading, management, negotiations, continuous improvement and positive change. Chris is also a Certified Manager with degrees in Economics, Financial Planning, Strategic Studies and Operational Art and Science. He authored a negotiation primer which was subsequently published and adopted as required Air Force Pentagon new action officer orientation. He and his wife, Terri, have 4 children.

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