One of the greatest honors is being able to positively influence others. Titles do not define leaders and far too often work experience is seen as the prerequisite for many leadership positions. While this is not always a negative aspect, true leadership skills are often minimalized or overlooked. Experience in a profession does not correlate to being an effective leader. Leadership abilities must be looked at exclusively and developed through training and self-awareness. Frequently, companies will overlook formal leadership training and then begin to question issues such as poor morale, decreasing performance and low retention rates amongst staff. Though this topic may be applicable to a wide range of professions, I see a direct need to continually develop leaders within the private security sector.
I am by no means an expert in leadership. The direct purpose of this article is to identify that no one is perfect; we all have the ability to become stronger leaders with motivation, perseverance, and the desire for learning. The key is being able to acknowledge one’s weaknesses and take proactive measures to improve. During my career, one specific leadership fault always sticks out in my mind. When I was a Marine with 2nd Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team (F.A.S.T.) Company, I was quickly thrown into a leadership position. I was young, cocky and a relatively inexperienced Marine leader. I was supervising a work detail of a squad of Marines shoveling some dirt. I remember pushing them very hard that day, being loud and aggressive. Not the Italian, New Yorker loud that I am some times capable of, but leading in a very autocratic manner. I was yelling at them trying to accomplish the task faster, so we can move into the training plan for the day. I do not remember how much time passed, but at one point one of my Marines looked up at me and said, “You can grab a shovel and help too…”. Mind you, we were the same rank (Lance Corporals) and I was in the leadership role (Squad Leader). Instead of controlling my ego and emotions by just grabbing a shovel and helping, I chose to become more aggressive and angry. My ego was hurt and I responded in the most negative way possible.
As the years progressed, I worked on improving my leadership style. I still look back and identify this as one of the biggest leadership mistakes that I have ever made. Situation dictates our actions and in some cases, it would not be practical to actually pick up the shovel. In this particular example, I wish that I did pick up a shovel and start working alongside the Marines under my charge. Other than simply getting the work done faster, I lost a valuable opportunity to build camaraderie, earn respect and lead by example.
Over the years I learned from many mistakes and I look forward to always improving my skills as a security professional and leader. Learning is the core of being an effective leader and should be an essential part of every person’s training regimen. Leadership training and team building, within an organization, should be just as important as the many other operational training programs. I compiled a list of 10 recommendations that we can all do today to work towards becoming better leaders, in our respective fields. These following recommendations are in no particular order:
1. – Recognize someone for something they do well
Right now. Stop what you are doing and truly recognize your team member’s value. This done over time will build individual confidence and increase team morale. Way too often value is overlooked and people think that because they are “just doing their job” or simply “not doing anything wrong”, the team members do not deserve positive praise. I disagree and feel that positive praise is a vital step to increasing morale and performance in your team, even if they are “just doing their job”.
2. – Identify your ego and leave it home
No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Those that learn from their mistakes are smart. Those that help others learn from their mistakes are leaders. Identify your individual shortcomings and slowly work on improving yourself. If you are always looking down on others or focusing on the negative, it is time to change. Sometimes being a good leader requires you to admit you’re wrong and / or there are better ways then your own.
3. – Understand that being in a leadership role is a privilege
If you even somewhat agree with this statement, you need to think about what YOU need to do for the individual(s) you are leading. Many people have the basic notion that becoming a leader means you tell people what to do and you are rewarded with certain privileges. The military teaches us that being a leader is much more about taking care of your people, then ordering them to perform tasks. In fact, the military stresses that your people come before you. For example, as a military leader it is a general understanding that a leader never eats before every person of his / her team has eaten. Too often does the leadership role turn in to an “I say, you do” position. While telling others what to do may be an essential part of your job, it is extremely important to remember that how you tell someone is more important then what you are actually saying. Focusing on your tone and body language is extremely important in communicating a clear positive message. Always remembering that leading is a privilege will help you better articulate mission goals and delegate essential tasks.
4. – Always ensure the individuals you are leading have the tools to effectively accomplish their jobs
This may seem obvious but is often overlooked in the area of information and communication. As a leader it is very important that you clearly share all relevant information and to effectively communicate any changes that impact your teams responsibilities. While situation dictates and there are times that confidential information cannot always be shared, it is still vital to assess how not sharing certain information impacts the mission. Communicate with your team about what they will require to more effectively accomplish their jobs. From more information sharing to a new piece of technology, you may be surprised about the positive engagement that you will receive from your team.
5. – Do not ever jump to conclusions
Being in a leadership role is often stressful and time consuming. It is important to always investigate and process information before assuming a conclusion. This can quickly undermine your effectiveness as a leader and can result in poor decisions being made. Try not to communicate important topics through text messages and emails. If you receive a message, do not jump to conclusions until you actually have a professional discussion. If you already have a negative perspective going into a conversation with a team member, the situation will most likely be improperly handled. It is also important as a leader to remain positive and not ever take things personally. Leaders need thick skin and have to always provide a clear and effective communications platform.
6. – Always work on improving and teaching team members
If you are in a leadership role, continually improve your team members. Again, a leader is directly responsible for adding value to the team by continually improving each individual team member. If you are “too busy” to be communicating and developing your team, you are not being an effective leader. Fortunately, you can easily change this piece. Develop a training plan or ask a team member what their future goals are. As a leader, your team member’s goals should be your own goals. Once you have a goal, work with the team member to reach it. Granted, mission always comes first, but developing your team is a vital aspect to being a leader.
7. – Always seek to improve yourself and learn new skills
This ties in to teaching others. Your professional enrichment is key to career progression and becoming a better leader. Pursue higher education and obtain new certifications. Bring that knowledge back to your team and grow together. Also, always take care of your physical and mental health. This is extremely important because it will become impossible to effectively lead others if you are not in an acceptable physical and mental state yourself. Overwhelming anxiety and stress can quickly debilitate a cohesive unit. Anxiety and stress are normal and will not negatively impact your performance if it is effectively managed and controlled. The leader needs to always be cool, calm and collective. The leader needs to always be able to effectively manage stress and – Transfer The Calm.
8. – Always counsel others in a private and professional manner
There should never be a reason to negatively counsel someone in a public area or around other team members. Praise in public…. punish in private. Calling someone out for negative performance without having an effective plan to correct the action is not a best practice; this will damage morale and transfer a negative image toward the leadership. Always document positive and negative counseling sessions and keep accurate records. Also, counseling team members should be a regular process (i.e. monthly or quarterly at a minimum). There should be a clear paper trail on every team member and the individual should be very aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses. The leader’s goal should be helping to make those weaknesses in to strengths.
9. – Take the time to know the individuals you are leading
This is one of the most important features of a leader and should not be confused with being a “best friend” to everyone you lead. We are all human and have good days and bad days. There are very stressful life events that significantly impact us all. Additionally, by simply knowing about a person’s individual situation, i.e. family members, where they went to school, etc., can build a personal connection and enhanced trust between the leader and team member. As a leader, knowing about your team can aid in identifying when there are significant life events that may negatively impact their work performance. Also, knowing your teams skill levels and capabilities are vital. A strong leader knows how to showcase the team’s strengths and continually improves the cohesiveness. There is nothing worse then undermining someone’s skill level by ineffectively managing him or her. Look into your team and continually promote their individual strengths.
10. – Take responsibility for team shortcomings and give credit for team successes
If your team fails, it is the leader’s fault. If an individual in the team fails, it is the leader’s fault. If your team succeeds, it is always because of the team. This applies to all personnel, even temporary. If a leader has a problem with someone’s performance and has not taken proactive steps to improve him or her, it becomes the leader’s responsibility. The worst leaders are the ones that have hidden agendas and strong opinions of others, but they never take the time to effectively communicate those opinions with the individual. It should be done in a positive way, focusing on improvement.
Many of these recommendations can be easily implemented today. It is never too late to make positive changes and improve your leadership style. Having the ability to recognize some internal strengths and weaknesses is a step in the right direction. Being in a leadership role does not make you a leader; make sure you are truly up for the challenge before accepting the responsibility. Do not be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Be firm, fair and always aim for a true understanding with your team. Take the time to “Pick up the Shovel”.
Written by, Anthony Tamburello IV, MS, CPP and Co-Writer, Kenneth Bombace, MS
Anthony Tamburello IV, MS, CPP
Anthony Tamburello is the Chief Training Officer and Executive Protection Manager for Global Threat Solutions (GTS). Anthony honorably served in the U.S. Army Reserve and, as a Sergeant, in the United States Marine Corps. Anthony has over 15 years of experience in the security industry: specializing in high-threat protection operations, executive / celebrity protection, corporate security operations, security consulting, training and anti-terrorism operations.
Kenneth Bombace, MS
Kenneth Bombace is the Chief Executive Officer for GTS. Ken honorably served in the U.S. Army as a Captain. Ken has over 25 years of law enforcement and security experience: specializing in intelligence, executive / dignitary protection, security consulting, investigations, training and anti-terrorism operations.
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