WORDS OF WISDOM FROM LESSONS LEARNED THROUGH MY CAREER
CAPT. ULYSSES S. MULLINS, USCG
LEADERSHIP IS A JOURNEY
You are a leader first, last, and always. That extends to your personal life probably more so than your professional life. How you live your personal life is going to largely influence your professional success. Being a leader does not always mean that you are in charge and need to make all decisions. Your career progression should be a perpetual learning process, evolution and honing of your leadership skills. I believe leadership is a continuum of leading, supporting, influencing, and followership that requires a fluctuating balance of discernment, patience, and decisiveness. There are occasions where your leadership will clearly be needed to ensure mission outcomes and effectiveness. On other occasions, you will be supporting your command or your superiors by carrying out their objectives. In these roles, you may not be the key decision maker, but may largely influence decisions. Take this role seriously because senior leaders are relying on you to provide decision support that is sound, well-reasoned and considers associated risks. Do not take it personal if your input is heard, but not taken, as there may be other factors, unknown to you, influencing the final decision. Following or followership simply put means there are occasions you allow your subordinates or counterparts to lead in a situation because they may be better versed, have more expertise or you simply may not have the bandwidth to be fully engaged in the matter at hand, so you have to trust them. However, you should maintain situational awareness to ensure things are headed to a favorable or successful outcome.
BROADENING YOUR SPHERE OF INFLUENCE
With each new assignment, quickly ascertain your sphere of influence by understanding your responsibilities, authorities and senior leadership’s objectives and goals. Ensure that your actions, decisions, and performance are aligned with senior leadership’s goals and objectives. Once you understand the boundaries of your influence you can work to expand the sphere. Expanding your sphere of influence will come as you establish your reputation through performance of duties, broadening your knowledge, and demonstrating competency and sustained credibility. Take advantage of opportunities to excel that are above your paygrade or assigned responsibilities. Definitely find out beforehand what is expected, so you are certain that you can execute.
Aim to make your bosses’ day easier, not harder. When presenting problems, provide well-rationed and defendable solutions. If it is within the scope of your authority, make the decision, but keep your supervisor informed. Every supervisor will not be the same, some may proffer a wide berth to allow you to execute and perform to the best of your ability and others depending upon their leadership style may proffer a narrow berth. Be humble in both situations and do your best to meet their expectations. If expectations are not clear seek additional guidance and/or clarity.
Leadership is a constant, while situations are fluid and require the right type of leadership at the right time to achieve the best outcome. Enjoy your career and the leadership journey!