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Leaders: Instill a Sense of Worth
Congratulations! You have been selected as a leader for your platoon. For all its rewards, leadership—at any level—brings with it additional responsibilities and trials. One of the greatest challenges leaders face is building a sense of self-worth among the members of their team. When individuals feel valued, they perform at their highest potential. In the Guard, that equates not only to the increased effectiveness of the entire unit, but its improved psychological health, as well. Here’s how to adopt a leadership style that fortifies every troop:
Create an environment in which team members can thrive. The first step is to clearly communicate your expectations. Making sure each team member understands what’s expected of them professionally and personally helps establish needed boundaries and eliminates confusion. Clearly defined roles and responsibilities breed confidence and efficiency by allowing individuals to focus solely on the task at hand.
Self-value soars when people feel empowered to accomplish what they are trained to do. So, whenever possible, allow Soldiers to reach solutions on their own. Micromanaging communicates to troops that their skills, knowledge or actions are inconsequential to mission success—which in turn hinders development and diminishes self-worth. Effective leaders learn to set general parameters, establish end-state expectations and let their teams go to work.
Great leaders also recognize and emphasize the importance of each team member. People feel valued when they know their efforts make a positive difference. In the Guard, every position affects the overall unit. No matter how insignificant a Soldier feels his or her job may be, show them the merits of their individual contribution. This leadership approach is a win-win for both the Soldier and the unit.
Providing feedback is another way to instill self-value in your team members. Constructive criticism, whether verbal or written, not only sets a benchmark for the individual but demonstrates that leaders are noticing their efforts. It doesn’t have to be formal—sometimes, the best feedback is off-the-cuff. Look for opportunities to turn potentially negative critiques into positive suggestions. The point is to be engaged in what your team members are doing.
Remember, a good leader empowers team members to reach their fullest potential. So don’t shy away from telling Soldiers when they’ve done a good job. In fact, go a step further by letting your superiors know when one of your troops has excelled, or by utilizing the Army’s award system. Submit outstanding team members’ names for Achievement or Commendation medals, or any number of other esteemed awards. Soldiers who feel appreciated take more pride in their work; plus, demonstrating that achievements will be recognized fosters esprit de corps.
LEND AN EAR
There’s a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is involuntary and is done with our ears; listening is a conscious act performed by our brains. Be a good listener—there is perhaps no better way to build self-value in the Soldiers under your care than to genuinely listen to their ideas and issues. Doing so builds a rapport between you and your troops and shows that you appreciate not only what they’re saying but who they are. Use these tips to be an active listener:
• Make eye contact
• Put away your cellphone
• If needed, go to a quiet area so you can clearly hear
• Avoid offering unsolicited advice
• Acknowledge that you understand by repeating certain items
Make an effort to keep track of your team members’ personal or family issues. My memory is not what it used to be, so on drill weekends, I carry a small pad in my pocket for jotting reminders about important events pertaining to my Soldiers. The week after drill, I look back at my notes and call, text or email them to ask about sick family members, job interviews and the like. It’s surprising how the smallest acts of kindness and concern can create the strongest bonds.
Chaplain (MAJ) Mark D. Phillips is the full-time support chaplain for the Tennessee Army National Guard and serves as the regimental chaplain for the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Knoxville, TN.