Many years ago, I was a new infantry lieutenant in the United States Army.
I vividly remember a time in my training when I, and a class of fellow soldiers, learned a very important lesson.
That day, I learned where the very best leaders are…
We were discussing how infantry platoons move through the woods. The instructor explained that when the 39 soldiers move in a tactical formation, members spread themselves out, keep their eyes and ears open, and hold their weapons at the ready.
We learned that every soldier had a specific position in the formation. Here are a few examples:
The ‘point man’, would be at the front of the formation. His job (yes, they were all men at the time) was to look for danger areas, enemy positions, etc.
The platoon sergeant was typically at the back of the formation, dealing with any logistical or troop mobility issues (injury, illness, etc.).
The radio operator stayed alongside the platoon leader.
And so on…
As the instructor explained the various roles each person played and the ‘assigned’ position in the formation, I found myself wondering…
Where does the platoon leader go?
Before, I had the chance to ask the question, a classmate raised his hand and inquired about the position of the platoon leader.
The instructor answered, “Well, the platoon leader needs to be wherever the platoon needs him.”
He went on to explain that if the platoon is moving along without any issues, the leader will be somewhere in the center of formation.
If the point man encounters a danger area (e.g., road, creek, etc.), the platoon leader will move up to the front of the formation to help assess the situation.
And so on.
The discussion that day has stuck with me for more then 25 years.
Because I’ve come to learn that regardless of the industry or type of business, the very best leaders tend to be where the team needs them at any given time.
If the team is tackling a new issue, where risks are high, the leader is actively engaged in helping to address the situation.
If the team has things under control and is performing well, the leader might pull back a bit and let the team manage and learn from the situation.
Here’s a few questions for you to consider:
- Over the past week, have you ensured that you were exactly where your team needed you to be?
- Where does your team need you to be right now?
- Do you ‘show up’ at the right time and in the right places to help your team members succeed?
- Do you sometimes stay ‘too’ engaged and create a level of dependence on you that inhibits the team and its members from developing to their fullest?
- What can you do better in the future to put yourself in the right place?
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a sought after writer, speaker, and global leadership consultant. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.