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Locked-On Teams

The culmination of more than a decade of diligent research and careful organization, Locked-On Teams: A Leader’s Guide to High-Performing Team Behavior provides leaders at all levels, from front-line supervisors to senior executives, holistic guidance to leading in the complex and volatile twenty-first century. Structured around 28 guidelines, this book outlines the principles of modern leadership, backs them up with the latest in the cognitive and social sciences, and prescribes 86 activities that leaders can implement immediately to develop a high-performing team and organization. As it’s title implies, modern leaders ‘lock-on’ to the behaviors of the whole team rather than just their own. High-performing teams emerge because their leaders nurture behaviors between the individuals, collectively as a team, and across the boundaries of other teams within the organization. Successful leaders lead up, down, and across.

Was there experience that caused you to see a need for your book?
LOCKED-On Teams has a long origin story that started with me, early in my military career, and continued with my work as a consultant. When I was in Naval ROTC, a Marine Officer gave all of the Midshipmen a wallet-sized, trifold card with the USMC Leadership Principles on them. It’s a good list that the Marines still use today. But, it wasn’t actionable or translatable to daily leadership practices – like a checklist. Fast forward to 2008 when I started a career as a consultant in a veteran-owned and staffed firm that works across all industries. I and my colleagues discovered a pervasive lack of good leadership in many of the clients we served. Most civilians don’t receive formal leadership training and they are often promoted into supervisory/management positions and left to figure out how to lead on their own. To make a much longer story shorter, I built a leadership system in the spirit of that USMC tri-fold card I’d carried around for decades to help the firms we serve develop better leaders. It took over a decade to research and develop. I wish I’d had my own book back in 2002 when I got my first command of a reserve unit just after 9/11. I could have been a much more effective leader in that turbulent time. I’ve learned a lot since then.

How has writing a book made you a better thinker and better person?
Locked-On Teams is the fourth book I’ve written and, by far, the most challenging. There are more books on leadership in print than anyone can ever read. So, when you write a leadership book you really must do something different that makes a real contribution to the vast amount of literature. That’s the first challenge – doing something innovative. The second challenge for this book was taking hundreds of books and many more articles and papers, combining it with my own experiences, and boiling it all down to an accessible, readable, and useful book. Locked-On Teams could have easily been ten times longer, but that would not have made it ten times better. Often, it’s knowing what NOT to write that is the most difficult challenge. Getting your ideas out in a concise structure is really hard to do.

Is there one short story from your book you would like to share?
One of the themes that runs through Locked-On Teams is that leaders don’t know everything and they are apt to make mistakes. Good leaders must engage the cognitive diversity of their team. Sometimes the most obvious things get missed. Case in point: Locked-On Teams was delayed well-beyond the intended publication date because the publisher missed an error on the cover and passed it on to me for review and approval. I didn’t notice the error either. So, we went into production with a misspelling on the front cover! It wasn’t until we received the first shipment of books that anyone noticed! It was a humbling experience for both myself for missing it and the publisher for introducing the error in the first place. Good leaders have to own painful mistakes like that.

What is the biggest takeaway that you hope a reader will take from Locked-On Teams?
The big idea behind Locked-On Teams is that leadership may be an art that no one ever really masters, but that there are actions that can be taken daily, not just by the leader, but by the whole team, to achieve high performance. Those actions are a lot easier to remember and employ if there is a rational structure behind it all. The book provides that structure and all the good ideas to go to support it. So, leaders can carry the book around daily and reference it for guidance. It’s not meant to be a book that you read once and then stick on the shelf. I even provide a “leadership map” in the book to help leaders assess weaknesses and prescribe a range of connected activities to improve the whole team.

What are you reading now?
I’m always reading two books simultaneously – I read one traditionally and the other I listen to on Audible. I try to pick a “lighter” book to listen to and a something more “dense” to read in a paper copy. Right now I’m reading “The Molecule of More” by Lieberman and Long. It’s about the neurotransmitter dopamine. I consider dopamine and oxytocin to be the two most important neurotransmitters of leadership. I touch on them in the book, but I always want to deepen my understanding of such things. The other book I’m reading is on authentic leadership. I tackle that, too, in Locked-On Teams.

What books did you read, and recommend, and which influenced your thinking on leadership?
My list of important books is too long to dive into, but there are a few that I think leaders should read. Leading is about people. It’s about psychology and cognition. I think every well-educated, modern leader should read Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s best-seller “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” It’s the best single-volume work that will help leaders understand where we humans make mistakes and why. I briefly cover some of Kahneman’s most important ideas as they relate to leadership in Locked-On Teams. However, a book that I read after I finished the manuscript for Locked-On Teams was “George Marshall: Defender of the Republic” by David L. Roll. It speaks to my own personal style of leadership.

What does a great leader look like to you?
I think George Marshall was a great leader. However, leadership is contextual. He would probably not easily fit into modern institutions. Leaers have to fit into the unique historical context in which they live. Today, humility is an important quality of leadership, but, humility alone won’t get you far. Modern leaders, whether in the military or civilian world, must engage their whole team and there’s a lot that good leaders must do to get high-performance out of a team. For me, this question is quantifiable. Locked-On Teams breaks it down to 28 behaviors that make good leaders and great teams.

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William Duke is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He has also served as the Director of Learning and Development for the consulting firm Afterburner since 2007 where he has designed leader development programs for Fortune 500 corporations and consulted with teams across the full spectrum of industries. His other leadership experiences vary from teaching in an alternative high-school for court-ordered teens to operations management for a major retail company. He is the co-author of The Debrief Imperative: The Secret Tool that is Transforming Businesses the World Over (Premiere, 2011); Down Range: A Transitioning Veteran’s Career Guide to Life’s Next Phase (Wiley, 2014); and The Flawless Execution Field Manual, 2nd Edition (Afterburner Press, 2019).

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