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Leadership Reality
Everybody Wants to be on a Good Team

April 2017

Greg Ballard

It’s a wonderful day when a talented worker gets the great news that she has been promoted to be a supervisor or manager. However, rarely does anyone tell her that the skill set required to succeed at this new level is much different than the skills she exhibited that led to her promotion.

Except for the largest of organizations, leadership training is minimal to nonexistent. In most cases, success for supervisors and managers is a product of luck or circumstance rather than a result of training and education. Too many potential great leaders never really get the chance to succeed because no one took them aside to help them learn the basics of their new position.

However, before she learns the importance of basic traits such as integrity and decisiveness, and principles such as communicating proactively and inspecting what you expect, a new leader must understand there are certain realities to leadership. It’s very similar to what the military calls situational awareness, knowing where you are and what must be done.

One important reality I learned by leading people in one capacity or another for almost 40 years is everyone wants be part of a good organization, and they expect their leader, no matter at what level, to make them a good organization. No one shows up at work on the first day and wants to be a bad employee. People join a company or organization to provide for life’s necessities, to improve themselves, or maybe to further a cause they believe in. In all cases, people walk in the door that first day hoping to do a good job for what they hope is a good organization. If poor performance does result, it usually is a result of learned, or worse, expected behavior.

An important corollary to this reality is that good people want to be around other good people. When I would talk about a city’s economy, I would always mention that both capital and talent are mobile. Talent can move to another company, another city or another country. Even lower level workers have multiple options in a near full employment economy. Talented workers do not want to belong to an organization that tolerates bad behavior or has no direction, and they can and will actively seek to move if they sense they are in an uncomfortable situation.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon the leader of any organization, no matter the level, that she strive to develop a good team that people actively seek out. That means setting realistic standards for behavior and objectives for productivity. It means dealing with substandard behavior by individuals. It means creating a positive atmosphere where people feel encouraged to work hard and develop. It means people should be proud of the organization. When your talented people have options, you want them to choose to stay put. They usually make that decision based on their leader’s qualities and the direction of the organization.

One of my light bulb moments on leadership occurred about 15 years into my Marine Corps career. I was the Commanding Officer of an outfit where a mid-level enlisted Marine who would have a leadership role transferred in, and then committed an ethics violation in his first month in the command. This was a real dilemma because that sort of behavior is rare in the military and the Marine Corps had just paid to have his family move into the area. As is my custom with sensitive issues, I discussed this situation with a number of people in whom I had trust. One of them was a very professional senior enlisted Marine with a great sense of humor who had the respect of the entire command. When I asked him what he thought I should do, he looked me dead in the eye, as serious as I had ever seen him, and said, “Sir, I don’t want to belong to a unit with a guy like him in it.”

That got my attention. I realized immediately that if I did not address the unethical behavior appropriately, then I would lose the respect, and the stellar performance, of the rest of my command.

Everyone wants to belong to a great organization and they want to be surrounded by other talented, motivated people. It’s a reality of leadership that CEOs know, but also one that supervisors and managers must learn. I95

Greg Ballard is the former Mayor of Indianapolis (2008-2015) and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Marine Corps in 2001. Ballard is the author of “The Ballard Rules: Small Unit Leadership.” After serving 23 years as an officer in the United States Marine Corps where he served in the Persian Gulf War, Ballard began a career as a leadership and management consultant. Propelled by a call for new leadership in Indianapolis, Ballard was elected mayor of Indianapolis in 2007 and re-elected in 2011.

Connect: Twitter – @MayorBallard