Those who know my background know that I’ve spent a lot of time on ships at sea, and I was fortunate to command a cruiser and a destroyer. So, when I say greyhound, I’m not talking about dog racing. In this case, I’m talking about the latest Tom Hanks thriller, Greyhound, based on a WWII destroyer escort responsible for escorting dozens of merchant ships across the ocean during the Battle of the Atlantic. In their day, destroyers were referred to as the greyhounds of the fleet.
Federal Sales & Business Leadership
Small and light, Greyhounds could reach surprising speeds in excess of 30 knots. The film accurately depicts essential elements of successful ship command and Hanks does a tremendous job capturing the ethos of command leadership. It’s clear his character feels completely responsible for the ship, its crew and the mission — the greatest responsibility of all.
So, what does this all have to do with federal sales and business leadership? Quite a lot, actually.
Anyone interested in business or self-development knows that for centuries, great authors have been writing books about leadership and command. Corporate leaders of all walks can learn or refresh themselves on things they may not pay close enough attention to day-to-day. One doesn’t have to be a wartime captain to reap the benefits of sound command leadership.
Evaluating Your Own Command Climate
If you need a refresher, watching Greyhound will be 90 well-spent minutes—but if not, here are a few points to consider in evaluating your own command climate, whether it’s in a startup, a medium-sized business or an internationally recognized brand:
1) Responsibility: First and foremost, when a mission comes your way, you must see it through. In the movie, Hanks’ character and his crew are responsible for leading a task force through a very difficult situation. The odds are long, but the job must be done. They all share the responsibility for completing the mission, but Hanks leads it —and in your own life and work, some entity is counting on you to complete a mission of your own.
Missions can manifest in myriad ways. What missions are you and your team responsible for today? Who knows that? Are you communicating it effectively to those in support and to those for whom you are executing?
2) Authority: As a task force commander, Hanks is authorized to give appropriate orders within his ship and to other ships. The ability to direct necessary actions is evident in Hanks’ conduct of the mission. The authority is inherent in his rank, position, and designation as the commander. Similarly, do you or your people have the right or permission to give the necessary orders to execute your mission? If not, how can you get this authority? Authority can and should be delegated — the Captain shouldn’t have to deal with the specifics of every part of the mission.
3) Accountability: In war, people get hurt and die. Sometimes ships are lost. The majority may make it through, but there are unavoidable casualties. Complete ownership means that all outcomes, good and bad, accrue to the people who are accountable.
Accountability is not delegated from command (although subordinates may be held accountable in some cases). Ultimately, the accountability falls to the person in command. A commander who doesn’t own the accountability of an outcome has effectively affixed blame elsewhere. While responsibility and authority may be delegated, command accountability cannot be delegated. In Navy ships, command accountability is a well-understood principle. Do you own it?
4) Trust: Through his actions—whether he is caring, stern or calculated—Hanks’ character has the trust of his crew because they know he is looking out for them. From the simplest gestures and courtesies, he has earned the respect of his crew. They literally trust this Captain with their lives in following orders, and that trust extends from his mastery of command, authority and accountability. Does your team trust you? Should they?
5) Loss: As mentioned above, not everyone makes it out of great missions alive in wartime. Anyone who signs up agrees to give their all to something bigger than the individual. When people are lost in the Navy, their memory is treated with dignity and respect in a moving burial at sea ceremony.
While death would be extreme in business, people do come and go—and no person is irreplaceable. The team can and must adapt and fill in around losses to sustain the mission. In your case, do you have someone who is or believes they are irreplaceable? Have you lost business or people during the COVID-19 crisis? In either case, you must adapt and move on. The past is the past, and great leaders look forward.
6) Living in the moment: When deployed and carrying out the mission, Hanks’ team must react in the moment. The time for team training has passed. Instead, they must react to reality and the immediate environment. They must make decisions and complete the mission.
In your own life, does your team appreciate opportunities and threats inherent to your environment? Have you taught them to be agile going around or through challenges? There comes a time when a decision must be made with imperfect information.
As mentioned, there are volumes written on leadership and command—and there’s never a wrong time to get a refresher on some of them. Hopefully, these principles can stir some thought for you and your teams about how to take your business to a brighter place. With some practice, you can operate like a Greyhound as well—and the movie is always there as a useful training tool.
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To get a copy of Gene Moran’s book Pitching the Big Top: How to Master the 3-Ring® Circus of Federal Sales or for more information on federal sales, visit Capitol Integration.