Liberty Readiness Toolkit

Leading Lessons – It’s Your Leadership

Looking back on a successful military career, if I could tell myself one thing decades ago, it would be this: “Mind your Leading Lessons – It’s Your Leadership that will make or break you.” In my years accumulating leading lessons in the U.S. Navy, I observed multiple leaders miss one critical step as they tried to pass on good leadership principles: first, know yourself, then know others. It’s Your Leadership allowing for that to happen. Most of my career was missing it, too.

I reviewed a book on leadership that also misses this critical step for the young officer. Herein we focus on this critical step from my Leading Lessons in an attempt to fill a major gap the institutions try teaching us at the junior and senior war college, and in leadership training environments. My goal is to better equip the next generation of leaders, in military service or otherwise, in today’s information-saturated world. The Leading Lessons from Your Leadership experience makes all the difference to the world.

The astute reader may recognize early that letting people get to know us, too, is just as important, but it is not a given in our current culture. The busy, young military professional will likely miss subtle prompts from their leaders. The direction to “get to know yourself” is not explicitly given, usually. Our culture usually surpresses it. Herein I close that gap and encourage the reader to get to know themselves before trying to truly lead in the military, or anywhere else. It’s Your Leadership that will develop from the Leading Lessons you have the opportunity to learn from throughout life, professionally and personally.

Why It’s Your Leadership?

Being open and letting others get to know us, both personally and professionally, must be explicitly stated for the aspiring leader. In communicating, we seek to influence behavior and affect change. Clear writing, however, tells the reader exactly what it is they are trying to convey. It can make assumptions the reader knows some things (excluding those thoughts from their message), while believing the aspiring leader does not know other things (including their ideas in the message) to bridge those knowledge gaps.

Assumptions that an aspiring leader already knows themselves well is a dangerous expectation, especially given the military leadership training and development pipeline curriculums. Knowing oneself happens through a combination of self-study, honest feedback from others, and a reflective review of life experiences. Our identities are remade into our rank and weapons platform affiliations early in military service, and some of us never overcome that, even in life far beyond it.

This is the Achilles heel in our leadership development – not learning about and knowing who we really are underneath the rank and beyond the tank, ship, or plane (or space capsule!). True character, who we truly are, shows our leadership readiness, or lack thereof, when under stress or duress. If we are not ready for it, the chance of failure is high, and the opportunity to learn from it, great!

Who am I? Leading Lessons From Your Leadership

Behaviors are linked to who we are as individuals and the environments we allow to form around us. Emotion – energy in motion – results in a behavior.

Knowing who we are is foundational to controlling our emotions, and through them, our behaviors. That’s found through not only leadership, but learnership, too.

It is through our behaviors that others decide how much, or little, they are willing to do for the leader, and the organization. A leader’s interactions with a staff will significantly influence their staff’s behavior. That leading lesson is understood the easy way, or the hard way, because It’s Your Leadership that’s always under observation. And your learnership allows you to really see that.

Leaders Are Learners…What Are You Learning?

Environmental Learnership

Really get to know yourself and the behaviors that result from who you are. It informs the environments forming around you. Taking action to solicit constructive feedback is an important first step. Then they can truly begin to figure out who it is they are at their very core. Unfortunately, only a select few ever do so. Who from day one knows who they are and what they desire to get from their dash through this world? More importantly, learning what it is they desire to leave behind?

Those winners run hard and never look back. If able to confidently answer the question “What is my ‘I am’ statement?” outside of any title (job, husband, daughter, mother, son, etc.). Only then the reader equipped to navigate leadership books. They’re then able to spend precious minutes taking solid lessons from any leader’s time in military service, or elsewhere.

Who are you?” It’s Your Leadership From Which Leading Lessons Allow Learnership

Who are you?” is not the typical question we exchange when first meeting a stranger, a new colleague, or a boss. “What do you do?” in the context of work or employment is much more common. As leaders, we are constantly told to “take care of your people,” in the context of the organization. Many leaders focus on the organization and demonstrate care and compassion for staff [through behaviors], but they fall short of teaching the aspiring leader how to earn their people’s trust. That can only be done by making it personal.

Example Lesson

Take a lesson from Command Leadership School as an example. An instructor advises the class during an initial conversation with a stranger who works for us. She says to spend twenty-five minutes getting to know them by listening from the heart and paying attention. And then take five minutes talking about yourself. Even though this technique is touted in multiple schools and throughout the leadership discussion today, I challenge its effectiveness.

I find this to be a shortcoming in lessons that advocate for its use. Nobody can get to know another when they are only speaking for sixteen percent of the conversation. Peppering the other with constant questioning can become an interrogation and is insufficient in building rapport. Weaving in a discussion about ourselves as it relates to another’s life, background, experiences, goals, and desires builds necessary rapport. This is the behavior around which the “learner leader” achieves likability and eventually trust.

So, once again: Who am I? A Leading Lesson Learned

We must answer this most important of questions ourselves. That question reaches beyond the context of work and employment, to equip ourselves to authentically lead. The answer comes through understanding our own individual being. Our whole health and wellness (mental, emotional, physical, moral). Our identity of self (information about ourselves, authority, influence, autonomy). And our wealth (time, information about the world, assets, cash flow, money, liabilities, and prosperity).

This is a wise (Wickedly Independent | Self Efficient) approach to life resulting in phenomenal relationships! Once we truly know ourselves, we are ready to embrace our humanness – empathy, respect, and trust – and begin leading.

Know your authentic self and then ensure your people know who you are. It’s Your Leadership allowing them to do so.

A successful start to any leadership journey begins by asking others who they are. Then by getting to know them personally. And lastly, and just as importantly, allowing them to get to know us. Then we can ask ourselves “Who knows me? And do they trust me?” Once we, as leaders, earn others’ trust, we can change lives, lead teams, and ultimately achieve organizational excellence.

Knowing our why, who we are and our purpose, is the foundation upon which any leadership structure must reside. It is a requirement for building effective and fruitful relationships using your “what.” The what is the values, up, down, and across the organization. Not only in every job, but in life, during the working years, and far beyond them!

To Your Liberty,


Edited by Jarrod H. Smith

Jarrod H. Smith. Got Liberty? We’re bringing a fresh new perspective to service to the Nation. Jarrod brings 15 years of experience in Supply Chain and Logistics with the US Navy Submarine Force, Naval Aviation, and information technology systems and is applying skillsets as an Operational Planner to the most important weapons system: the Armed Forces Family. Fact of the matter is, we all “get out” one day. Intentional, informed planning, preparations, and workups from the earliest days in service are key, at every rank. Residing in the the greater Houston region with his wife and four kids, he’s preparing for Liberty beyond uniformed service in small town America. Their Liberty, and mine, is what he served for.

To Your Liberty, #HeckYeah

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