Basic Animal / Human Psychology
By Jim Kuiken
Talk about forte…this is mine! I’ve spent my entire adult life (and a lot of my younger life) serving in, building, or leading winning teams. The Marines. Law Enforcement. The corporate world. As a diplomat leading a big team in a huge effort in a war-torn country. Even in the Political arena.
And for the last 45 years, I keep hearing the same thing…how do you do it? How do you know all this stuff? Well, I could cite college degrees, training courses, etc., etc… (all true, but not where I got it all from – just where I learned some of the technical nuances). It came from lots of experience, and a basic understanding (and liking!) of people (and animals).
Previously, I’ve talked about Leadership, Service, basic and advanced techniques to achieve Success, Setting Goals, and many other similar subjects…mostly wrapped up into a neat list in one of my articles titled “Entrepreneur or Dreamer?”
But I’ve never specifically written about winning teams, which is a key element to almost anything we achieve in life. Unlike Leadership, which is done from the front (you can’t “lead” from behind, that’s an oxymoron – and in many cases, like combat – is called cowardice), you build winning teams from the middle.
So Kuiken, what is a winning team, and how do you build one? Again, back to my old southern law instructor…it depeyands…
Sometimes, depending on what your goal is – like the team itself “winning” whatever they are doing (like a T-Ball team or the SEALs…). Both have a goal of the team winning, so they need conditioning, structure, coaching, etc. But the basics are still there. They need to have a goal, they need to be structured in a way that helps them achieve that goal, they need the skills and tools required to be able to do what they need to do to win, they need “buy-in” by all the team members, etc.
Other times, it’s not about the team “winning”, it’s about the team being effective, building something, creating ideas or writing policy, running or managing an organization, or any other of a myriad of functions.
Simply put, a “winning team” is one that achieves or exceeds its goal.
One of the most primal examples would be that of a wolf-pack, cooperating together to feed the pack including the offspring, by not only working in a coordinated, joint effort to catch the food, but functioning in a structure to ensure orderly distribution of the food (a hierarchy of feeding, and bringing food back to those not yet old enough to hunt for themselves).
But people are much more than just a bunch of primitive animals, right? Of course they are – but understanding the most basic or advanced needs of people helps you build a winning team. I had observed behavior over the years in all those winning teams I was a part of, and had those observations validated (and gained more understanding of the motivations) through those college courses – one great example would be Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Pack animals show the same first 4 sets of needs (Physiological, Safety, Social belonging, and Esteem), but people functioning in a society, and especially in winning teams, show all those plus the 5th (Self-actualization) …and some even move to the highest plane (Self-transcendence).
Lots of fancy stuff there, but understanding the basics really helps when you start to build that winning team. Like, what’s in it for the team members? If they are happy and satisfied with their membership and the team’s purpose, they work together a lot better, and are more self-driven and successful.
That does NOT mean they should all be the same. Quite the opposite. I’ve had the most success with teams that are built from people that are completely diverse (and I don’t mean the simplistic “diverse” that popular culture and political correctness “mandate”).
Diverse in my mind starts with those simple differences, like different genders, socio-economic backgrounds, cultural background, racial differences, etc…but then continues to age, experience(s), job classifications, etc. Even (if it is relevant to the purpose of the team, such as policy development, etc.), different political views, possibly different religious views, etc.
An example would be one team I put together when I was a Policy Developer at an agency Headquarters (HQ) in Washington DC. I had been asked to write a Maritime Enforcement Policy. The standard method was to sit down, read up on various other agency’s policies, and then write ours. Not what I did.
First, I went to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), and participated in the multi-agency boat training there. Then I sat with another agency in another department that had similar enforcement authorities, as they developed their policy.
Then I went back to our HQ, and called together a team from the field and from HQ. It consisted of actual working folks from the front lines (not bosses) - members from Investigations, Patrol, Smuggling, etc…which my boss (and his boss) questioned…but it was my project so they let me run with it. The next thing I did caused an even bigger uproar, but we did it anyway. I invited the national Union president, and an attorney from the Legal department to join the team, so that we didn’t need to ask for Union or Agency buy-in later…they were part of the development. And, believe it or not, I took the whole crew to a couple of field locations where various agencies (Immigration, Border Patrol, Customs, DEA, Coast Guard, etc.) did maritime enforcement, for discussions and ride-alongs to get a feel for actual maritime enforcement.
I then brought them all back to DC, put them in a room together with a white board and flip board, all the resources they needed, and all the policies, training courses and notes I had from my earlier efforts, gave them the parameters of what we were trying to develop (along with a “policy” template), and turned them loose before I stepped out of the room. One week later, we had the best friggin’ policy that had come out of that office in a very long time…and it had the full buy-in from the field, management, Union, and legal from the get-go.
The trick was bringing together people who had a stake in the outcome, from a wide and diverse background, giving them the tools, understanding and guidance they needed, and getting out of their way.
I could go on and on about this subject, but the short of it is:
Be an example of true leadership, honestly care about the people (not just the policy, task or goal), and lead by example, not directives.
As my grandpa used to tell me – the best way to run a team of horses is not to hold the reins too tight. That confuses the horses, and may even make them stop. Hold the reins loosely, giving just enough guidance to keep them on track, and let them have their heads. You’ll be surprised how fast you get there, and the horses will have a blast!
Or What Battle Was/Is Yours?
By Jim Kuiken
Our country’s history is marked (defined and/or scarred) by a series of wars and battles. Our birth, through the Revolutionary War. Character was refined (not defined) by the Civil War. The Marines were memorialized by many wars, but the battle that really set them in stone was Iwo Jima. And there are too many others to count… Some honorable, some not so much, depending on your personal frame of reference.
But like most of my posts, I’m not here to discuss the bigger picture at a national scale – I’m going to bring it right down to each individual. What was YOUR defining war or battle?
I’ve been wanting to write this one for a long time, because mine are so vivid, even now, and color my outlook on most of life.
When I was at American University attending the Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program (as a student…and simultaneously as a guest lecturer in the same course, same class…but that’s a story for a different time), there was one course of instruction that was particularly interesting to me. It was Organizational Diagnosis, or viewing an organization through the Four Frame (four frames of reference) Model of Bolman and Deal (2003) – Structural, Political, Human Resources and Symbology. Of the four, Symbology held the most interest for me (which is the segment of that course that I, as a student, was invited by the Professor to be the “surprise guest lecturer” for in my own class…).
It is all about how you see things, and how they can color your perceptions – and even influence how you feel about and react to life and events. I came in as a guest lecturer in other classes besides my own, and always started out by having them read the 3 page-long first chapter of my current book, “The Making of a Warrior”. I would watch them as they read it, and see a variety of reactions, even to some of them laughing, then crying as they read it.
At the end, I wouldn’t ask them what they thought…I’d ask them what they felt. What they saw. What they heard, and what they smelled when they were reading it – and I always got a very strong reaction from each class and person that read it. That is the power of symbology.
So, once again I ask you. What was your defining war and/or battle? Even if you were not in the military, there is a war, battle or event that was your defining event.
For me, it was Vietnam. Many of you were in it, many of you grew up watching it – our first “televised” war, many of you were or had loved ones who were affected by it, and many protested against it. It was my defining war, and has colored my outlook on life since I was a teenager in the ‘60’s (while I grew up in a military family), and as a Marine from the early ‘70’s (and beyond).
Don’t get me wrong. There were others – I was in the Gulf War, went to Bosnia, Kosovo, etc…even ended up in Iraq (in 2005-2006), but the one that defined me was Vietnam.
For some, they remember Pearl Harbor (sadly, a dwindling few). Others, Korea, the “forgotten war”…except for those that were there. Or today’s Pearl Harbor – the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia. They evoke visceral reactions.
Or Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria.
Lots of my friends were in one or more of those – and their entire life, and their loved one’s lives were changed forever. Their outlook and perceptions of life are colored through those lenses.
Maybe it was a specific battle. Iwo Jima. Khe Sanh. Ramadi. Wanat. These are personal to me (I’m feeling them as I write – elevated heart rate and breathing, simmering anger, heartache, etc.), because I know people from each of these – and just thinking about my defining war, and specific battles through the eyes of my friends is an emotional event.
Each of you has that war, that battle that turned a switch in your life and forever colors some of your perceptions on life. What was that event or moment? What has it done to or for your life? Are you a better person, have you let it take control, what is it that changed in your life?
Those who were there, those who had loved ones or friends there. Gold Star Families. Families of those who were injured or wounded (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually). Those who were not involved, but witnessed these events during their lives. Those who protested or fought against the war(s). All had a defining moment, a defining war, a battle.
Tell me yours. Share it with a friend or someone you trust. Write me – and share your story. I’d love to hear it, and in sharing it, some may find some peace…from their war.