The Three Ks of Leadership – Part 1
By Richard Clark MC
For 12 years I served with 3 SCOTS – the Black Watch. In my time I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan a couple of times. I decided to leave in 2012 as the Platoon Sergeant of a highly capable platoon, one I was proud to serve with. In the six or so years since leaving I have traveled and worked in Kenya, Nigeria, Albania and now Jordan. Being away from home gives a lot of time for self-reflection. What follows is the result of one such period of introspection.
I have always craved knowledge and development in everything I do and have benefited from the advice of many exceptional operators in my working life. I read extensively about peers in the security industry and former service personnel who have gone on to great success in their respective fields. I openly discuss ideas with those who share my thirst for being better. One of the most pertinent pieces of advice I have received was shared with me in response to an external audit I and my team underwent in 2017. My boss at the time shared his view on what he called the 3 Ks of leadership, how I might rectify the findings of the audit and how best to approach the very sensitive situation of change with my team members. What he taught me was how to Kiss, Kuddle and Kick.
As the Estate Security Manager for a private estate in South Gloucester my responsibility was to ensure the family living there were free from any unwanted attention. I had to do so without being overly zealous; not in their face during every waking moment and maintaining the tranquillity that they had worked hard to establish. It was also a working estate with all sorts of other people who needed to be considered when applying security principles. Was I to go in to hard and lose the support of other staff and ultimately the family or go in to soft and nothing changes?
The audit came a year or so into my appointment it was the type that really goes to town on trying to find the good, the bad and the ugly in order that the boss (the principal) could be assured, or otherwise, that his security team were doing what was being asked of them. The audit was not designed to instil fear, it was an honest look at TTPs and their validity on the estate. There were positive points and some not so positive points. The results had not been what we hoped for. In every case I took the points as learning opportunities. The easy option would have been to bury one’s head and think nothing more of it, but it was quickly apparent that the team’s approach had to be changed and that I had a key role in doing this.
This article was spawned in the months immediately following my boss imparting his wisdom. After much contemplation, I now realise that the words he shared with me ring true. Retrospectively I recalled the many times I lead and managed people, as a soldier and now as a civilian. Perhaps subconsciously I had been applying the 3 Ks throughout my career to get the best out of people.
Kiss – Let them know they can be valued and valuable
Kiss is best explained through a story. It is a story that many platoon sergeants will recognise. I don’t doubt many readers will share my sentiments as I share the story. Most will probably recognise the characteristics of blokes from their own units. I tell it not as a character assassination, far from it in fact. The lad being discussed went on to be an effective member of the Platoon. All that was needed was a bit more attention and development – a bit of a Kiss.
When I was a platoon sergeant I had a young Jock, small and wiry and average in terms of his ability. He joined my platoon in the midst of pre-deployment training for Operation Herrick 15; this Jock was just starting his military career. He was ok, there was nothing particularly special about him, but I got the sense that he was a good egg, if a bit naïve. After a few months, as Jocks often do, he became increasingly detached. He often acted as if he would rather be somewhere else.
And of course, he did. He wanted to be with his newfound love, a local girl who was obviously far more important to him than the Army. The desire to be with her was strong. It led to him being late for parade on a number of occasions. He had a partner in crime, a fellow Jock, who was also quite new. They were inseparable and as a result they both pushed the boundaries.
Actions have consequences
To cut a long story short, after a few second chances and a few more broken promises, I had to act. I’d seen the potential in both young men. I knew that if they were to stand any chance of succeeding in the Army, they would need to be separated. One week, over the space of a few days, the situation came to a climax.
I decided to pull them into the office and AGAI them. I recall being irate and screaming at them about complacency, about being the new guys and that given their relative lack of experience their efforts should be on trying to make a name for themselves and not chasing about some girls in the local town. I rarely, if ever, got myself to a point where I would shake with anger, but the two lads had simply not produced the standards required of them. They were a platoon sergeant’s archetypal problem children.
The AGAI was purposefully meant to take away their weekends. I wanted them stood at the guardroom at 20:00 on a Friday night and not swanning away with their new-found loves. They both felt different and decided that my AGAI action was unwarranted, so much so they decided to blow it out. I was the Battalion Orderly Sergeant that night and so quickly worked out that they had failed to show up.
Well what followed is still a bit of a blur. It ended up in me being investigated by one of the OCs due to accusations of bullying. The parents of one of the lads had called the Orderly Officer and, well, let’s just say it wasn’t great. Apparently, I had made some threats and daddy wasn’t happy that his son was being dragged over the coals. Even as I type this now I struggle to think of anyone who would ever refer to me as a bully. Yes, I had gone about punishing these chaps in the wrong way but being a bully was simply not who I was.
A Lesson Learned
My first mistake was giving them five show parades straight off the bat. As the OC in charge of the investigation would rightly note, giving them five show parades gave me no room to manoeuvre. What would be my escalation if I needed to go again? Giving three and not the full five might have given me room to play with.
But the second, and by far the greatest, mistake was allowing myself to become too emotionally involved. Why did I think that being as angry as I was would lead to a different reaction from the lads involved? There was no carrot on offer to tempt them to comply with my instruction. There was no incentive for them to pull their socks up. My job, I now realise, should have been ensuring that they understood the error of their ways and how they could each become better and achieve more.
Over the following months, after the guys had been moved to different companies, it became clear that the one who remained with me needed another steer. He needed someone to help him evolve. I ensured one of the screws took extra time at the end of each training session to help him understand the relevance of what had gone on and the importance of his role in the platoon. The result was a dawning of realisation for him. He suddenly understood that he could make a significant impact on the success of the team. The extra time with him really did pay off. In late 2011, he deployed with the platoon to Afghanistan. He proved to be a highly capable soldier and excellent team player.
All he needed, after a having a bad influenced removed, was a leadership Kiss. A little wooing to let him know he was valuable and could be valued by the team.
A Leadership Kiss
What did I take away from this particular situation?
- Motivation can take many forms. What works for one may not work for the other. The journey a leader must take to fully understand what motivates someone can be both rewarding and insightful.
- Development of one’s subordinates can be a fulfilling experience for everyone involved. Take ownership of training your people. Give them the necessary knowledge and skills so that they can understand the role they play in the team. Set targets and measure them regularly but most importantly empower them to do their job. Trust that if they have doubts or concerns they will bring them to you.
- Communicate to everyone that you will accept mistakes. When people fail, offer support. That way people can push themselves, knowing that you will have their back if things do not quite go to plan.
- Invite feedback. Know that allowing dialogue at all levels promotes inclusiveness and generates team cohesion. Feedback highlights areas for development and gives everyone (and certainly the chain of command) a focus on overall improvement.
Kiss is about recognizing that people need to feel that they add worth to the mission. The reassurance a leader can give to their team, sometimes just by saying well done, gives a deep sense of fulfillment and helps to build confidence. This is even more true when you place a particular focus on individuals at just the right time. Being identified as having made a good contribution really does motivate people.
In Part 2 I explain my views on the Kuddle approach, having the empathy and willingness to engage with our teams daily. If you expect that you might be able to walk in to a new job and change the world immediately your hopes will be quickly dashed. Team cohesion is hard won and requires the time and the occasional Kuddle. Even so, the spoils of victory are worth the challenge.
Read part two of this article here: The Three Ks of Leadership – Part 2