The Three Ks of Leadership – Part 2
By Richard Clark MC
In Part 1 I talked about the need to occasionally Kiss your subordinates. Woo them. Make them feel special and valued. To follow on I want to give my take on the second of the 3 Ks – Kuddle. Kuddle is not about going into the office and tip-toeing around sensitive issues. It is definitely not a suggestion that success can be achieved exclusively by taking people aside and physically cuddling them! For me, Kuddle is about being less robotic and more human in the team environment. It is about working to engender trust and being willing to mentor your people. I have found that the results will undoubtedly profoundly impact what your team achieves.
But first, thanks to those who have responded to each of the previous articles. I have been asked why I feel the need to write about leadership. Security guys usually like to keep a low profile.
I write to share my views and generate discussion. The truth is, I feel fortunate that my experiences have enabled me to travel and meet so many different people: rich and poor, those who have dedicated their lives to others, and those who generally want to be a better version of themselves. I have learnt from all of them and learnt about myself during my time with them. I feel there is something important in passing on the benefit of your experience. But let’s talk about the next K – Kuddle
Kuddle – Care about and engage with your people
I have had the great privilege to work in many teams over the years. Each had their own capacity to achieve excellence, irrespective of how difficult their challenges may have been. In the military I worked with teams in Helmand and, later, as a private security contractor I worked with teams in Northern Kenya. In each case, the teams were utterly committed to achieving their goals. It is true to say that some were more capable and better resourced, but the desire to do the best they could was always quite clear. With experience, I have come to realise that, in every case, had my peers and I not invested time in knowing each member of the team the results could have been very different.
As one might imagine, working in the Middle East and Africa, with both the British Army and local security forces, leads to very different perspectives on what works and what does not when it comes to managing people. In Kenya I worked 30-on-30-off with a fellow contractor. We were responsible for a group of police officers. They were poorly paid and often worked in challenging conditions. Most often, all they needed to stay focused was a chat, which I could provide through a mix of my broken Swahili and English. Spending time getting to know them was an immensely rewarding experience. Conducting training with the guys provided me a means of breaking down barriers and, often by example, explain and demonstrate what good looked like and why they should want to achieve it. As I got to know them, I understood what motivated each of them.
What did I learn? That as a leader you should strive to bring your people with you. They should come with you on an endeavour not because of duty or coercion but because of a deep-seated feeling of loyalty. To do that you need to get close to them and know them. Put your arms around them, not in a loving way but, perhaps, in a way that shows you care. Let me explain.
- Develop Your Human Intuition. Develop a sense of family, a genuine esprit de corps amongst your team. Recognise when something is not right and ask your people what can be done to reduce their concerns. It could be family issues, money, a woman or man. Either way don’t just accept the person is having a bad day if they are acting differently to the norm. Take them aside and invest some time in helping them.
- Take an interest Giving your time is more than just being there in body. Actively listening to your team members, taking on board their views and opinions. This will not make people think that you are just a figure head. It will show that you can be trusted and that you genuinely give a shit! Too many times people turn up and ask, “how are we, chaps” and then as quickly as they appeared they are gone again. I read Operation Mincemeat recently. In a book full of awe inspiring characters, one of the most profound was an American Colonel William Orlando Darby. He repeatedly turned down promotion because he wanted to lead his men into battle. Lead he did, until his untimely death at just 34 after which he was posthumously promoted to Brigadier General. His men followed him everywhere.
- Time. A leader must give their time to those for whom they are responsible. Do not be the kind of leader who expects results to magically appear. But the kind of person who helps others through the process. If you only ever show up at the end you can create a gap between you and your team, which may prove to be irreparable. They may never believe you really care.
To me, Kuddle represents the need to give a shit about your people.
To expect everyone to blindly follow you, no matter what, does not reflect the reality of today. People want to know that they are being thought about in more ways than simply getting results or securing your place on the next wrung of the promotion ladder. Kuddle also means that when you ask about their family, they know you really care. When did you last sit down with your team and talk about stuff beyond work?
But do not worry about me getting soft. The third K is Kick.
So, let me tell you about the third K. Kick.
Kick has not been the easiest K for me. I used to be called ‘Nice Guy Clarky’ by my peers. It was a bit of an in-house joke. I was once advised that I should be less of a Sergeant and more of a Company Sergeant Major. I would accept that my personality tends to steer me away from confronting people but, and it is a big but, I have always been willing to challenge people to change the status quo. I have never allowed people to continue in the way rut just because ‘that is the way I have always done it’. I challenge people and, as a result, I continue to put people in positions where they have to re-evaluate their contribution to the team.
I don’t do this for personal satisfaction or to appease my commanders. I do it to bring out the best in someone for the benefit of the whole team. In my experience, some people want to be challenged and ‘kicking’ someone’s thinking processes can work to great effect. Because Kick is not about kicking people as a punishment. It is about kicking people into improvement.
Challenge – for the right reasons
A while back I was working with a small team. I often referred to managing them as being like a football coach. On a regular basis, they really needed to be told how good a job they were doing and that their contribution to the team’s efforts was appreciated. But they also needed to be challenged to be better so that they did not rest on their laurels.
I recall one of the last conversations I had with one of the chaps. I was determined to improve his overall capability and, perhaps if time permitted, adjust his mind-set. I sat down with him and explained that whilst he was good at certain things, in other areas he was not. When it came to these areas, he lacked the ability to recognise that he was fallible. As a result, he had made mistakes.
As the conversation progressed it became slow and sometimes painful, but ultimately, I spoke to him for the right reasons. This was not about making him feel incompetent. This conversation was borne of desire to make him better. To do this I had to make my feelings clear in a non-confrontational environment. He needed to know that people make mistakes, even the best minds. He also needed to know that by recognising this he would be able to define his limitations and then proactively seek the knowledge to improve.
Many times, in my career I have seen the importance of challenging people to develop themselves. In most cases they rise to the challenge in a way they never would have had they not received a leadership Kick. Sadly, in this case, the relationship soured after this conversation. He was unwilling to acknowledge there had been mistakes.
Do not be afraid to administer a Kick
So why do I mention it? Because my regret regarding this particular episode was not having dealt with it sooner. This chap liked being told he was doing well. Don’t we all? However, he loathed even the slightest suggestion that he was making errors. Perhaps in time he will come to recognise my intention and that it came from the best possible place. Perhaps he will eventually realise that we all have weaknesses and sometimes it takes a leadership kick to realise it.
Kick, to me, represents helping people evolve as the situation changes. Recognize that people become comfortable with what they are doing. In some cases, they eventually do little more than just toe the party line. Whilst in certain circumstances this may be nice, it cannot work in the long term. Challenging people to do something different, helping them to be bold, is very important. Challenge the status quo for all its worth and reap the benefits of doing so. Do it in the knowledge that you are keeping your people mentally active and motivated.
Kiss, Kuddle and Kick
Kiss, Kuddle and Kick. Thinking retrospectively, these have been my leadership philosophies for a very long time. But it has taken me time to get good at them. Perhaps leadership comes naturally to the best of men. For mere mortals like me it takes a bit of practise and commitment.
I have no doubt that there are alternative ways to approach management and leadership. I am always interested in hearing the views of others with more experience than myself. But these have worked for me. Tell your people they are valuable. Understand them and develop them. Never be afraid to give them a kick when they need to be pushed outside their comfort zones or in new directions. I challenge you to give some thought to the three Ks and share your interpretation. I would also encourage you to take a look at another great article that I agree with, Russ Lewis’s Five Universals of Great Leaders. It has some exceptional observations that chime with my three Ks.
As well as talking about Kissing, Kuddling and Kicking, Richard Clark also has a view on how we deal with failure in training and personal development. You can read about it, including how he screwed up his command appointment but still managed to pass his Platoon Sergeants Battle Course, in A Veteran’s Perspective on Training and Development