Empower Your Team with One Simple Question

Have you ever found yourself frustrated with subordinate team members who bring you their problems? Have you ever asked yourself, “How can I empower my team to be self-directed problem solvers?”

Empower Your Team

A few years ago, as an Executive Officer and Chief of Staff, I found myself flustered with subordinate leaders who seemed to bring me problems to solve for them.  I found myself helping them with organizational issues in their areas of specialty throughout the workday. Eventually, 5 pm would roll around and things would quiet down to a point that I could finally get my own work done. This traditionally meant that I missed dinner with my family. I knew there had to be a better way.

The Quest

Determined to find a solution, I started to analyze these issues. I looked at the root causes of the problems that led to daily emergencies. I knew that understanding the cause of these emergencies would help me find a solution.

The following days were spent asking questions to understand how we got to a specific problem.  What were the underlying conditions? Who was responsible? How can we prevent this from happening again?

Why People Bring You Problems

As I looked deeply at the issues that troubled my team, my first realization was that whether you are in the military, the corporate world, or in any industry that involves human interaction, problems will arise.  My second discovery was that I, in fact, was a big reason that my team brought me problems instead of solutions. The reason people brought me problems was because I enabled their behavior.  I did this in two ways:

  1. I attempted to add too much value. Marshall Goldstein discusses this phenomenon in his book “ “>What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”  Goldstein states, “A classic problem of smart, successful people is Adding Too Much Value. This bad habit can be defined as the overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion…It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) they already knew it and (b) they know a better way.”  The Military Leader’s Drew Steadman also speaks to this issue in his blog post Adding Too Much Value.
  1. By consistently solving every problem brought to my attention, I trained my staff to rely on me and bring me issues for a quick fix. This meant that I wasn’t giving them an opportunity to figure it out on their own first.

Once I understood my role in the problem, I quickly realized that I could change the situation as well.  I discovered that a simple question empowered my team and put them at the center stage.

There is one simple question that you can start asking today to empower your team members and get them in the habit of bringing you solutions instead of problems.

What’s Your Recommendation?

Asking your team members for their recommendation, empowers them and transforms their thinking into that of a problem-solver.  This simple question moves your employee to the driver’s seat instead of just being a passenger.

How One Question Empowers Your Team

There are several reasons this one question transforms your employees from merely reporting problems up the chain to an active member in the issue.

  • Gives Voice. The question gives your team members a voice in the issue.  Over time this voice will grow from one with an opinion on a specific problem to a voice that helps improve the organization.
  • Provides Agency. Being asked for a recommendation gives your team member a stake in the matter. They now have “skin in the game” as they are now part of the solution.
  • Instills Ownership. Having agency gives people ownership of the topic. Once your team members “own” the issues they come across, they will work feverishly to not only solve them but look for ways to prevent them in the future.
  • Expectation. This question implies that you expect your team to be part of the solution, which transforms them into a group of problem solvers.

Once I started asking this question, I saw a change in my team over time.  At first, they struggled with an answer but came to the see solutions as we discussed the problem.  Soon my team came to be prepared with a recommendation in hand.  And later they informed me that there was an issue, but that they had solved it with a specific course of action.

This one simple question empowered the team and transformed them into being proactive problem solvers.  This question can work for you and your team too. Give it a try.

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Question: How do you empower your team?

Photo Caption: Staff Sgt. Kyle Law and Staff Sgt. Joshua Jorgensen, 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron crew chiefs, consult a technical order to troubleshoot a C-130H Hercules engine problem. They are at Bagram Air Field, Parwan province, Afghanistan, Oct. 6, 2013. Hercules aircrew from the 774th EAS delivered 32 cargo bundles during two trips to remote drop zones in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. Law, a San Antonio, Texas, native, and Jorgensen, a Brentwood, Calif., native, are deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. (USAF Photo/Master Sgt. Ben Bloker)

Battalion Command Lessons Guidebook

Lessons Learned over a Two Year Command

If you are you getting ready to take battalion command or you are already in command, then this command lessons learned guidebook is for you.

Battalion Command Lessons Learned


This product was put together by my friend Scott Shaw, who recently commanded 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry at 3rd Infantry Division.  He took the time to create this file to help current and future battalion commanders across the Army.



This 30-page document shares lessons learned from over two years of command and is broken down into easy-to-read sections:

  • The first 6 months
  • The first year
  • The second year of command

Scott also included new officer initial counseling, which he conducted either one-on-one in his office or during physical training. There is a section with LTC Shaw’s guidance to his field grade officers and company commanders.

If you read nothing else, please read these first few pages as they cover the most important and top 5 lessons learned in command.

You can review, download, and share this document with anyone who you think will benefit from it.  The worst lesson to learn is one that someone else learned earlier.

Thank you for sharing Scott!


Access the PDF by clicking the link below:

Battalion Command Lessons Learned


You can also find Battalion Command Lessons Learned on our resources page.


Question: What lessons have you learned in command?

Please reply in our comments section and share this post so that others may benefit.


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3 Blogs that Will Improve Your Leadership

In addition to reading articles on Developing Your Team, you can check out great content at the sites listed below.  These are sites that I regularly read and subscribe to and wanted to share them with you as I’ve enjoyed the perspectives and ideas gained from these sites and think that you will too.


Business Leadership

Michael Hyatt. Michael Hyatt is a former CEO and Chairman of a book publishing company whose site focuses on business leadership, personal productivity, and personal growth.  Michael’s goal is to help you win at work and succeed at life.  Michael’s content is extremely insightful and highly recommended.  After benefitting from his content, I subscribed to Michael’s blog and podcast on iTunes ( the first podcast I subscribed to). I found Michael’s site through the next site.


Military Leadership

The Military Leader.  The Military Leader was the first blog site I subscribed to. It is hosted by an active duty Army officer who is a friend of mine. The Military Leader focuses on leadership from a military perspective as the title indicates, and aspires to helps leaders grow themselves and their team. The site not only has great content but has several guest authors who contribute to the site for varying perspective. This is a great site for leaders in the military.


Family Leadership

Mark Merrill.  Mark Merrill is an author (All-Pro Dad), former NFL player, husband, and father, whose site focuses leadership at home. This site has great articles on marriage, fatherhood, and leadership. I recommend this site to husbands and fathers. Mark’s wife Susan has a similar site for wives and mothers called iMom.com.


The original list had a few more sites, but we wanted to provide you with a select few that are the best. Based on your feedback, we can add more in the future.  Feel free to check them out. You won’t be disappointed.


Question: What leadership sites or blogs do you recommend?


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5 Leadership Lessons Gained from Being a Father

Father’s Day prompts me to pause and be thankful for having a wife and children.  As I look over memories from the last 14+ years of being a father, I am reminded of some great times spent with my children; from playing games like tag and hide-and-go-seek, to going camping, to watching theater performances, or playing hockey in the driveway.  As I reflect on the importance of being a father, I’ve come to realize that fatherhood not only changes one’s life at home but also impacts your leadership style and teaches you five valuable lessons.

Leadership Lessons from Being a Father


  1. Being a father teaches you to be patient. Our children don’t know as much as we do and are learning how their world works every day. In all honesty, patience is a personal weakness of mine, but I try to improve every day as well.  Patience fosters an environment that promotes learning. This applies not only to life at home, but also applies to the environment at work, which is needed for the next point.

Teaching Moments

  1. Parents teach their children every day, whether we realize it or not. Our children are sponges that absorb the things they see and hear. They have great memories and want to learn as much as they can.  As father’s we need to take the time to intentionally teach our children valuable lessons.  Ordinary moments, like looking up at the stars at night and showing your kids the constellations, can be a teaching moment that leaves a lasting impression. Ordinary events at work can also be used as teaching moments. Instead of dreading your next meeting at work, view it as an opportunity to create a teaching moment and see the impact it has on your outlook.

Reacting to Mistakes

  1. We all learn from our mistakes.  Our children are no different.  The laws of probability make it more likely that our children will make more mistakes. We can choose how to react the next time our kids spill or break something. My natural inclination is to respond with anger (see patience above), but fatherhood has taught me to pause before I respond.  I now realize that the mistake in question can be used to reinforce a lesson and discuss how one could improve. A lesson that will carry with them over time. This not only applies to our children, but with our employees (and bosses) at work.  How we react to certain events and bad news forms others’ perception of us and can build or diminish our credibility.

Role Models

  1. We are role models to our children. Our children are always watching us and learning.  They learn not only from moments when we are at our best, but also include the moments that we are less proud of. None of us are perfect, but our kids not only learn the right things to do from their parents but also learn what not to do from watching us. As Michael Hyatt consistently mentions in his blog, “There’s an old saying about parenting: More is caught than taught.” As fathers, we need to remember that our children will imitate our behavior for good or for bad. Our children will carry some of our behavioral traits into adulthood, just as we carry some of our parents’ behavioral traits (regardless of whether we want to admit it). Our employees at work are always watching their leaders as well. Younger employees see their leaders as successful and will also emulate our behavior to some degree. They too are always watching us and learning.

 Focus on Others

  1. Being a father requires you to focus on the needs of others, especially your family.  When fathers come home from a long day at work, we typically don’t come home and rest on the couch. Fathers are needed to help with homework, practice taking slap shots, or even change a lightbulb. Focusing on the needs of others changes our mindset from one of being focused on oneself to that of being focused on others.  This also applies to our work environment. Being a servant leader is the highest form of leadership, in my opinion. Effective leaders put others’ needs ahead of their own.

Being a father not only brings us joy and great memories.  Fatherhood bears the gifts of teaching us patience, provides us with opportunities to teach our children, reminds us to model appropriate behavior, and provides us with the opportunity serve others. These gifts provide us an opportunity to shape our children into adults. These opportunities don’t only apply at home, but reinforce leadership principles required to shape future generations of leaders at work as well. Enjoy your Father’s Day and remember the impact that you bring as a father and a leader.

2 Questions to Improve Your Team’s Performance

Many leaders want the best performance from their team and their team members.  However, many of us struggle to get the best out of some of our teammates. The solution may not be as difficult as you think.

2 Questions

Two Questions

A few years ago, a mentor of mine described how his boss fully supported him every time they met, which was only once a month. In these monthly meetings, his boss only asked him two questions. These two questions were:

  1. How are you doing?
  2. How can I help you?

Many people will read these two questions and think, “That can’t possibly be all there is to improve my team’s performance.”  The fact is that you can improve your team’s performance with these two questions, but you also should walk the walk and act on the answers to these questions.

These two questions demonstrated that his boss supported him, cared about his team, and had complete confidence in his employees.  Let’s explore what is behind these questions


How Are You Doing?

  • Empathy.  The question “How are you doing?” shows that you care about your employee, soldier, or direct report.  In order for the question to have meaning, it must be asked while making eye contact. This question will backfire if you ask it at a superficial level because people can sense insincerity.  You must truly care for your employee’s well-being to have an impact.


  • Service. “How are you doing?” also shows that you, as a leader, are present to support and serve your direct report.  Leadership is NOT a one-way street, where employees execute tasks as the boss directs.  True leadership is, in fact, a two-way street in which managers and leaders serve their employees’ needs. Serving your people and taking care of your team defines leadership, not a title or job description.


How Can I Help You?

  • Support.  The question “How can I help you?” demonstrates that you not only serve your employees but that you are there to help them succeed.


  • Trust.  This question also provides employees with a sense that you have confidence in them and trust their judgment.


  • Confidence.  Your confidence in their performance, in turn, gives your employee confidence in themselves.


  • Empowerment.  Asking your team members what they need from you to complete their job empowers your employees. They feel that they have more latitude in performing their duties.  Empowerment boosts performance as those that are empowered feel that they have agency in the organization.



Nothing motivates people more than knowing that their leaders care about them, support them, and have confidence in them.  Employees are motivated when they trust that their leaders essentially have their back.  Does your motivation when you trust your leaders and they trust you? The same is true for your team members as well.


Try asking these two questions of your team members next time you meet with them. Ask with genuine interest and act on the answers.  See what impact it has on your people and your organization.


Question:  In what ways do you demonstrate trust and service to your team?


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Frame of Reference: Who Do You Work For?

This post was written by a friend who wanted to share some lessons learned from an experience he had in the Army.  Reading his perspective provided me with the realization that you must have a conversation early with a new boss to ensure you both see your duties in the same light. This story was truly eye-opening for me. I typically view my own role as being in service to the organization and its people, not necessarily to my boss as a single individual.

Frame of Reference

Who Do You Work For?

I recently had a chance to catch up with a friend as he was heading to my old job. We discussed a variety of topics. When he asked me, “What was your biggest lesson learned,” my answer surprised me.

With almost no hesitation, I replied, “You first need to determine whether you work for your Commander or do you work for the unit?  And your Commander has to answer that question.”

Frame of Reference

Though these thoughts are directly connected to different “styles of leadership”, I had never given much thought to who I worked for until asked in this conversation. Of all the units, I had ever been a part of in 15 years of service, this question had never entered my mind.  In all my previous experiences, the answer was unequivocal, “you worked for the unit.”

Of course, the Commander was critical in making key decisions, providing guidance, intent, direction, etc. However, we were expected to operate within the Commander’s intent, which included making decisions. In this scenario, every product, meeting, etc. was for the betterment of the unit because the Commander was not entrenched in the day-to-day activities. Instead, the Commander was providing the long-term vision and getting appropriate updates to offer course corrections as appropriate, especially in areas that seemed to be outside of the bounds of the original guidance or intent.

New Paradigm

As we talked, I recalled finding myself in a position where I clearly worked for the Commander, not the unit.

For the first time in my career, everything we did was driven by a single individual. Comments and phrases like “the staff doesn’t make decisions, only Commanders make decisions” became a staple. My previous experiences of operating inside the Commander’s intent and ability to exercise disciplined initiative were no longer valid.

Organizational Impact

The Commander’s battle rhythm became the unit’s battle rhythm. Subordinate units struggled to keep pace with the changing of meetings and events because of the Commander’s dynamic schedule. The staff was only able to achieve marginal results because of the constant state of frenzy and unpredictability. Instead of attempting to solve greater problems for the unit or improve day-to-day operations, we found ourselves saturated with a variety of tasks to collect data that often were not connected to impending decisions.

The culture of the unit began to shift. People were more concerned about getting ahead of the Commander’s questions instead of getting ahead of the unit’s problems. This phenomenon only amplified the frenzy.

There is no doubt that the Commander is in charge. The individual controls the focus of the unit at all times. However, the Commander must also have a deep understanding of our most precious resource, time.

Delegate with Trust

I once had a Commander tell me, Delegate until you feel uncomfortable, then delegate some more. There truly is some power in that statement, because, in the end, it is about trust. Trust that your team is doing the right thing. Trust that people are working to build better solutions today to tomorrow’s problems. Trust that your team knows you have confidence in them and have your support.


Question:  So, who do you work for?


For another perspective on this topic, see Dominic Caraccilo’s article on micromanagement (https://www.ausa.org/articles/micromanagement-can-cripple-command).


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The Value in Setting Priorities

Do you struggle with achieving your organization’s priorities? Do you know your organization’s priorities?


I know that I have served in many organizations that either had no stated priorities or tried to make everything a priority, which in effect meant that nothing was a priority.

Why is it that many organizations have no stated priorities that are understood by their people, while other organizations (the lucky few) organizations have clear priorities that enable the organization to move in the same direction?

Why Units Lack Priorities

Some commanders never set their priorities in the first place. There may be several reasons for this.

  • Awareness-Some leaders don’t realize their organization needs priorities to work more effectively.
  • Confusion-Some leaders may not know which areas are most important within their organization.
  • FOMO-Others don’t want to set priorities for because they want to be able to do it all. Being able to do everything is generally a fallacy and may be a symptom of fear of missing out (FOMO).
  • Flexibility-Some leaders don’t set priorities because they want to maintain organizational flexibility and don’t want to be pinned down to a specific direction.

Impact of Not Having Priorities

Organizations that lack priorities typically manage to get by on day-to-day activities, however, this comes at a cost.  Lack of clarity and a common sight picture within the organization typically translates into confusion and friction within organizations.  Friction occurs as different parts of the organization are moving in different directions based on their interpretation of what is important to the greater organization.

Secret Priorities-Some leaders set priorities but don’t effectively communicate them to others. This is usually based on the assumption that everyone “knows” what is important.  If a leader were to query his most senior leaders, it is a variance in understanding will be present. The impact of not communicating your priorities relentlessly to your organization are the same as not having priorities in the first place.

There is a way you avoid confusion and friction within your organization: setting and communicating priorities.

How a #1 Priority Can Help

As a squadron operations officer for a cavalry squadron, I noticed that our unit did a poor job of communication in the early days.  Since the unit had rarely performed its traditional mission since its inception years earlier, it was weak at one of our core competencies.  Two of our three troops did not know how to use their High Frequency or Satellite radios.  Our squadron communications section had trouble learning how to use our advanced radios.

We struggled with improving our communications as we were fighting our way through numerous training events and projects. We soon welcomed a new commander who provided us with a one-page document that captured his vision for the unit along with its priorities.  The one-page format was not the typical 5-page commander’s philosophy.  The document contained a few simple priorities.  Of these few priorities, the number one priority was communications.

Once the new commander issued his priorities and subsequently repeatedly communicated them to the squadron, we knew what was important to our boss and the organization’s future.   The organization set forth to work hard at mastering the basics of multiple communications systems.

At first “emergencies” and other urgent issues kept grabbing our attention.  Each time this happened, our commander reminded us that our top priority was mastering communications. This reminder allowed us to refocus on what was important to him.  He gave us permission to assume risk on things that were less important.

After just a few months, the squadron transformed from a unit that only knew how to operate one type of radio system, to an organization capable of communicating with three different types of radios and three different types of data systems, including the ability to transmit photos in near-real time to the rest of the Brigade.

Value in Having Priorities

Your #1 priority’s greatest value is that it is most likely to be achieved. After all, it’s the top priority and should be accomplished before any other issue or priority.

There are many benefits to having numbered priorities, but the following are the ones that drive change in your organization.

  • Clarity. Having a #1 priority makes it clear to everyone on the team of what is important. There is nothing more important than the #1 priority (as long as you only have one #1 priority).
  • Collective effort. Having a #1 priority gives everyone in your organization the same goal at the same time. This allows various parts of your organization to simultaneously work on what’s most important. For our squadron, this meant that our mounted troops, dismounted troops, the communication section, and squadron headquarters all strived to master all our forms of communication.
  • Speed-Organizations with priorities understood by all allow your unit to be in sync, which means it gains efficiencies and moves faster.  Moving at a faster pace, in unison, will make your organization more effective in the long run.
  • Flexibility-Despite a common belief that holding priorities pins leaders down, maintaining priorities can actually improve flexibility within your organization or unit. The fact that your organization is moving faster together, means that it can also rapidly change direction.  Effective communication is key to quickly pivoting priorities.


Some leaders don’t set priorities for their organizations to avoid getting fixed to them. Others believe that priorities aren’t needed because everything in the unit is fine. These leaders are potentially missing out on gaining synergy from an organization that pulls together towards a common goal.  Setting and effectively communicating your priorities to your organization can bring clarity, unify collective efforts and increase your organization’s speed and flexibility. These benefits will no doubt improve your organization’s effectiveness.


Question: How have priorities helped your organization?


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Perspective From a Current Battalion Commander

4 Candid Questions and Answers


Command Perspective

Time seems to be the one resource that we can’t get enough of, whether we are in the military, corporate world, or even simply as parents. This week LTC Glen Helberg, commander of 2-27 Infantry Battalion in Hawaii, provides perspective on how time was spent at the beginning of his command and how he would invest his time if given full control.  We also cover some challenges and joys of command.

This is the second post in our Battalion Command series.  Last week we covered 4 Things a Unit Needs from its Commander.


How did your first 30 days of command go?  How would you recommend a new Battalion Commander spend their time in the first few weeks ?

The first 30 days was a whirlwind….I barely remember it.  But I do know that I was out the door to the Big Island for an exercise two weeks into command.  My biggest takeaway from that was to get as involved as you can as early as you can.  I didn’t have much input on the exercise, and I wish I had.  Generically speaking, though, I’d have spent the first 30 days doing more circulation and meeting folks.

The schedule has been a mess for the past 9 months, and it’s taken me way longer to meet a lot of my Soldiers than I would have liked.  As for preparation, I’d have spent more time doing engagements with key folks around the post.  More specifically:  Range control, Garrison CDR, health care providers, IG, Div SJA, and ASAP.  I intended to schedule those into the RIP, but they were stomped on and it’s been hard to recover.  Also, rest before taking command, because there’s none once you get in the seat.


If you had full control of your calendar, without requirements from higher, what would you invest your BN’s time on?  Where would you personally invest your time?

Nine months into command and I’m still executing someone else’s calendar….I’ve had very little control over it.  Probably won’t for another couple months.  But, if I had space, I’d spend more time on leader development.

Everything from LPDs, to TL Academy, to counseling, to PT.  It seems like this is the hardest thing to squeeze in, because leaders are always the busiest folks.  Getting all my rater and senior rater counseling in is difficult.

This is probably where I’d invest more of my personal time, as well.  I see the impacts of our young leaders on everything we do, both for the good and the bad.  I can’t overstate this enough.


What is your biggest challenge or frustration as a Battalion Commander?

Not owning our calendar is the biggest frustration.  I’d feel better about things if the calendar was jam-packed with our battalion events. I find it very difficult to free up time to give to the Company Commanders, and I know that they feel the frustration, too.

Company Commanders continue to take on more and more requirements, without any commensurate staff or additional personnel.  Which leads to another challenge for all commanders….I just don’t feel like I can put enough focus on everything that I want.  The multi-tasking is challenging, and some things ultimately end up having to take a back seat.

So, I’ve learned I have to prioritize where I want to focus my attention, and then just assume risk on the other stuff.  There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that has to be done.


What organizational accomplishment are you most proud of in your Battalion?

Oddly, the thing I’m most proud of isn’t really anything you’d expect of an infantry battalion.  The Wolfhounds have had a relationship with the Holy Family Home Orphanage in Osaka, Japan since 1949.  It’s truly something special.  Sure, we do a lot of great training, and our Soldiers do all sorts of fantastic things….the sorts of things you’d see in a lot of infantry units.  But you won’t find another legacy like the Wolfhounds and the orphanage anywhere else.  And that’s something we’re awful proud of.  We invest a lot of time and energy in the relationship, to include a visit by 50 Soldiers to the orphanage during a recent exercise in Japan…and I wouldn’t trade a minute of that time or energy.


Closing Perspective

While time constantly escapes us, it is important to pause and think through how we use our time, think through how we want to spend our time, and come up with a way to do so.  Many leaders state that they wished they invested more of their time into leader development.  That recurring theme is a large reason Developing Your Team was started.

It is amazing to see that despite being challenged with time constraints, that the Wolfhounds intentionally uphold tradition and invest their time in serving others, to include a community outside of the military.  Thanks to LTC Helberg for taking the time to answer our questions. He provided candid feedback to some difficult questions. It’s awesome to see a great leader leading a great battalion!


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4 Things a Unit Needs from its Commander

Have you ever experienced a Commander that provided little value to your unit? It may be because the commander didn’t communicate his intent or guidance. Conversely, it may be because a commander was suffocating her unit by trying to tightly control every outcome. Some commanders never seemed to advance beyond their previous role as an S3 or XO, continuing to focus on training calendars or wanting to manage personnel or maintenance reports.  Either way, the issue may be that the commander truly didn’t understand how to add value to their unit in their new position.

5 things a unit needs from its commander


This article outlines four concrete items that effective commanders provide their units with to make them successful.



Direction provides a unit with a destination. Here are 3 concrete ways to provide your unit with direction.


  • Vision– The word “vision” seems to be too abstract for some leaders. Stated another way, the commander’s vision What purpose does the unit serve? What do we want to be good at?


  • Intent-What is the purpose behind the mission given? Why are we doing what we are doing?  If your subordinates understand your intent, they may not even need to be told WHAT to do as they can generally deduce the “what if they understand the “why.” Writing your own intent instead of letting your S3 write it will help ensure it is met.


  • Priorities-Where do we focus our attention and energy? Which tasks are the most important? Setting priorities for your organization help your subordinate leaders make effective decisions and allow your staff to make better recommendations.



A commander sets the culture of their organization. This is really established by the command team (BN CDR and CSM or CO CDR and 1SG).  If you don’t intentionally pay attention to or set out to establish the culture of your unit, it will be set for you by others. The culture of a unit is set by 3 things:


  • Expectations-Commanders set expectations by communicating them with subordinates. There is no way for your subordinates to know if they are on target unless you clearly communicate what you expect out of them.


  • Example-The commander’s actions speak louder than his/her words. The example the commander sets will be followed by others over time.


  • Norms-Norms are established by accepted practices. Every time someone is punished for an action, it sends a message to others not to repeat that thing. If someone is recognized or rewarded for an action, others know that similar actions are not only acceptable but desired and will come with a reward.



Once a direction is given and the intent is understood, the commander can step back and let their team get started. Just because the destination is chosen, it doesn’t mean that the same person needs to also dictate the route, determine where the lunch stop will be, or what radio station everyone will listen to.  Getting others engaged in the vehicle will create a sense of ownership and unity in the organization.



Just because the commander provides guidance and space for the unit to achieve the intent, doesn’t mean that the commander cuts all ties to the effort. The commander must check in on the progress of efforts and maintain awareness of the pulse of the unit. You can maintain engagement in several ways:


  • Meetings. Talk to leaders in meetings to get a gauge of progress.


  • Battlefield Circulation-Bring your S3 or XO next time you check on training in the field.


Commanders that provide direction to their unit, intentionally establish the culture, give space to their unit while remaining engaged will ensure not only that you are fulfilling your role, but will make your organization more effective as well.
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4 Steps to Conquer the Impossible

Have you ever taken on a project that seemed overwhelmingly complex or even impossible?  Or wanted to accomplish an audacious goal, but procrastinated due to the feeling you were in over your head and had no idea where to start?


“Impossible” Request

When my kids were younger, they asked me if I could build them a treehouse.  The question seemed ludicrous to me as I barely owned any tools.  The fact that I never had a father, meant that I didn’t have any experience in carpentry or woodworking. I had no skill in fixing things let alone building them from scratch.  The project seemed impossible as I didn’t think I could do it.  Someone else might be able to tackle this, not me.

I also didn’t want to let my kids down, so I said I would give it a shot.  When I asked the kids what they wanted the treehouse to look like, they asked for the world.  They wanted a treehouse with:

  • a ladder
  • a slide
  • a trap door
  • a bucket pulley system
  • a fireman pole
  • a zip line
  • and a bridge (which likely meant adding a second treehouse)

Before I could get the kids to tell me what the bridge would connect to, my son said he even wanted a zip line that would take him from his second-floor bedroom window to the bridge on the treehouse. I knew I was in over my head, even before zip line idea.

4 Simple Steps

We built the treehouse within a couple of months, despite having no clue where to start, nor any confidence in my ability to use power tools.  I took the following steps to get to go from crazy idea to reality.

  1. Visualize success.  Picture the goal and what it would look like. Don’t be afraid to make this a big goal that makes you feel uncomfortable. Michael Hyatt calls this “imagining the possibilities.”  I imagined the joy in my kids’ faces while playing on the treehouse. After consulting with the kids, I drew a concept sketch. We went big. The sketch included two tree houses with crisscrossing slides.
  2. Make a plan. A plan is crucial to outlining the steps to be taken.  You don’t need to figure out the entire plan right away.  Identifying the next couple of actions can help you get started, which will eventually provide insight to the rest of the path.
    • It’s ok to get help. I got some outside help in the form of a couple different treehouse design books and took notes at park and school playgrounds. I also had help from my neighbors and some of their tools when it came time to start building.
  3. Make it manageable.  Instead of trying to tackle everything at once, I broke the project down into phases. I decided that I would just build a single treehouse with a balcony, ladder, and bucket the first year. The rest would wait until the next year.   I wanted to start small and gain momentum to avoid getting overwhelmed and stuck with an unfinished project.  The books also gave me some practical step-by-step instructions along with a starting point for the wood and hardware required.
  4. Take action. With a plan and list of materials needed in hand, we just had to go to the home improvement store and get to work. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The next best time is today.”


We built the first treehouse in less than 2 months. The following year I built the second treehouse and the bridge after seeing that building a treehouse wasn’t impossible. Each subsequent year, we added the slides, a fireman pole, zip line etc. to keep things interesting. You won’t find out treehouse on the show Treehouse Masters, but that doesn’t matter as our family built it together.

In case you were wondering, the zip line did not run from my son’s bedroom window. It went from the treehouse to our neighbor’s tree instead.  Apparently, my wife (who has better judgment) and our insurance company found that idea problematic.

We made mistakes, which required multiple trips to the store, but we learned lessons along the way.  My kids also enjoyed helping their old man in the building phases.


While the treehouse project seemed impossible at first, it proved to be achievable, even for a person with no experience.  All it took was visualizing success, making a plan, tackling the project in manageable parts, and taking action.

What seemingly impossible goals have you tackled in your life?


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