Commentary: Let’s have a cup of coffee

Do we need to have a cup of coffee? Editorial on leadership and management.
By MAJ. GREGORY LEWIS
March 23, 2017

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. — Regardless of your profession, many of us have all been in positions defining the required “Leadership” and “Management” qualifications as an expectation of our ability to execute our office. But like many things, no two are alike and not one will prevail without the help of another.

Part of our charge in these roles is not only to lead, but to mentor, to manage, to challenge employees to be better and at times accept short-term failures to ensure long-term successes. As a military officer and business professional, I have had the opportunity to work with great leaders, great managers and a smaller percent of members that require some flexibility in developing their own abilities.

The latter is my focus. These are not individuals that require micromanagement. They are typically our junior leaders and managers who bear a moderate amount of responsibility, demonstrate an adequate amount of competencies but require a higher level of mentorship. 

Scenarios like these are playing out every day across all industries and represent the challenges we share to focus our energy on specific individuals and the organization as a whole. As leaders, we are inherently trustful, as we utilize a cadre of personnel to carryout out our orders. However, that trust does not negate our responsibility to ensure those orders are effectively and successfully carried out.

As a field grade officer, I had the opportunity to work alongside a commander who would daily reiterate the importance of the individuals within his unit under his command. But he would also reiterate his responsibility as a leader and a mentor to provide guidance, expectations and accountability to ensure he maintained legitimate authority and not just authority based in rank.

As we met daily to discuss current operations, we often discussed personnel issues and the status of ongoing projects. At one point, while discussing a project being led by one of our junior officers, we detailed schedule delays, communication errors and our general dissatisfaction with the way the project was being managed.

We were obviously annoyed at this individual’s performance and while we took turns suggesting ideas around the room ranging for admonishment to replacement, our commander interjected and in no uncertain terms said he was willing to let this train wreck. (I should include specifically, that this was not a life and death situation.) He reiterated the need to let the situation play out and give the individual the opportunity to right the ship and complete the project. He was not afraid to let this individual fail and recognized it as a learning opportunity.

Nodding our heads in agreement in accordance with his guidance, he then said in a very casual tone, “but I think it’s time to have a cup of coffee with him.” We all understood what he meant and in that one sentence told us everything we needed to hear.

He once told me that he was not concerned about my ability to make important decisions, he was not afraid of me being wrong or even failing, but if at some point my performance or judgment did not reflect the level of commitment and dedication to our service, unit or people then we will no doubt be drinking coffee together.

So tell me, who do you need to have a cup of coffee with?

(Editor’s note: Maj. Gregory Lewis is an Individual Mobilization Augmentee assigned to the Defense Technology Security Administration)

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