Leaders prepare their teams for hard times

Dan Rockwell says “Confidence comes after you press through fear, not before.” He’s exactly right and it’s why one of the most important leadership tasks for any supervisor is to help their teams understand that everything won’t be easy. Leaders prepare their teams for hard times.

When I was in college I had a friend invite me to watch the movie Patton. It starts with Patton’s famous speech (slightly modified to clean up the language).

I’ll be honest with you – the first time I watched the movie I didn’t really pay attention to the opening speech. I didn’t realize how important it was.

But you better believe I’ve since watched it more often and read tons more about those speeches (there were about six speeches that were very similar, according to some). Watch this six minute speech before I use it to make my points below.

Wikipedia has one version of the speech if you want to read it in full.

Leaders prepare their teams

At three different points in his speech, he prepares his men.

You are not all going to die. Only two percent of you right here today would be killed in a major battle. Every man is scared in his first action. If he says he’s not, he’s a goddamn liar. But the real hero is the man who fights even though he’s scared. Some men will get over their fright in a minute under fire, some take an hour, and for some it takes days. But the real man never lets his fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood.

Leaders highlight the cost of participation.

They know the mission is worth the cost. But they also know that they’ve already made the decision. That doesn’t mean that everyone else is both aware of the cost and prepared to pay for it. So it’s important that as a leader you make it clear to those who follow that they know the cost.

Patton makes it clear that people will die. Not everyone. But there’s a chance – and that means everyone needs to be clear of the cost.

Some of you men are wondering whether or not you’ll chicken out under fire. Don’t worry about it. I can assure you that you’ll all do your duty. War is a bloody business, a killing business. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them, spill their blood or they will spill yours. Shoot them in the guts. Rip open their belly. When shells are hitting all around you and you wipe the dirt from your face and you realize that it’s not dirt, it’s the blood and gut of what was once your best friend, you’ll know what to do.

Leaders highlight the fear that comes with risk.

Leaders often walk around with confidence. I think the hope is that it will inspire those who follow. But more often than not, it suggests that the leader has no fear and that having fear makes you weak. This couldn’t be more incorrect. People have fear. All the time. It’s what risk does to people.

What Patton does well here is to bring it to the surface and highlight that it’s reality. But he also immediately reminds them that when it comes time to act, they’ll be ready.

I don’t want any messages saying ‘I’m holding my position.’ We’re not holding a goddamned thing. We’re advancing constantly and we’re not interested in holding anything except the enemy’s balls. We’re going to hold him by his balls and we’re going to kick him in the ass; twist his balls and kick the living shit out of him all the time. Our plan of operation is to advance and keep on advancing.

Leaders highlight the action that’s expected.

Great leaders highlight the cost that they’re asking others to pay. They also prepare their teams for the emotional dynamics they’re likely to face. And finally, maybe the most important, they prepare their teams by being explicit about the behavior they expect.

After all, there’s no point in saying that you have a brave team. There’s no advantage in having a prepared team. The point is to have a team that can act!

Business is not war.

While my points come from Patton’s speech, and his speech comes from the context of war, business is not war.

Nevertheless, these lessons still apply. The difference between your teams and Patton’s is that yours can easily walk away.

This is why it’s so critical to prepare your team for the hard times. Those with proper expectations will be better prepared to deal with challenges and more likely to trust you.

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