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Leading with Character: WARP Speed to Succeed

Earlier this week, I was eating breakfast while reading the newspaper and came across an article that proposed a way to achieve “effortless success.” The method was to pull back and stop short of the goal or requirement. I nearly choked on my English muffin. That’s not what worked for me, and I’m not convinced it would work for others, either.

The Power of Personal Agency
If you’re reading my leadership blog, you’re most likely a motivated person. You believe in the power of your personal agency—controlling your decisions and choices and owning the outcomes. Motivated people set goals and strive to achieve them; they look for ways to improve to be at their very best. And that’s not effortless. I spent 40 years in the US Coast Guard striving my best to serve—our Nation and the people of the United States—and thus make a positive difference. To me, that was success.

Looking back, I realize there was no secret sauce or recipe for success. I achieved my version of success by relying on fundamental, enduring principles that stand the test of time. Whatever success means to you, I believe my formula will help you get there.

Speeding to Success
The enduring principles that served me on my leadership journey from the entry level in the Coast Guard (ensign) to the executive ranks (admiral) are Willpower, Accountability, Responsibility, and Perseverance: WARP.

  • Willpower: To me, willpower means restraining oneself when it would be easy to indulge, and driving oneself when it would be hard to keep going. You need both restraint and drive to succeed. I also believe exercising willpower benefits not only the individual, but society as a whole. As members of a civil society, we have an obligation to each other to restrain our inhibitions—whatever they might be—and to put forth our best effort to help create an environment in which everyone feels valued and can succeed.

Supervisors can help employees draw upon their inner strength to apply the willpower necessary to succeed by reaching out to meet them where they are and understand the challenges they’re facing. Then, supervisors can best tailor their leadership to help employees access the resources necessary to achieve their goals. Employees can tap into self-help tools or mentors for motivation and encouragement.

  • Accountability & Responsibility: As with the elements of willpower (restraint and drive), accountability and responsibility fit together for success. We’re responsible for getting something done and accountable for what we got done and how we did it. A team can be responsible for a task, but each member is accountable for his or her performance and contributions. I’ve found that accountability is the more complex of this pair. Most people serve in positions of responsibility—at all levels in an organization—and perform their duties accordingly; responsibility is fairly straight-forward.

But when something goes wrong, someone must be accountable, and that’s where moral courage is required. I believe it takes moral courage for an employee to admit accountability, and for a supervisor to hold an employee accountable. That’s because employees fear consequences, and supervisors fear confrontation. A culture of trust and respect is essential for people to take responsibility and to be accountable for their outcomes. In the Coast Guard, we have a saying that the senior person should be accountable for anything that goes wrong, but give credit to others for anything that goes well. That earns a leader respect and builds trust in the organization.

Supervisors can create a positive workplace climate by setting clear expectations and providing constructive feedback at regular intervals, or as needed. Employees can do their part by making the effort to align with their supervisor and to meet expectations; in other words, doing what the boss needs to get done, not what the employee wants to do.

  • Perseverance: Again, there’s the power of the pair. Perseverance goes hand-in-hand with hard work, and my motto is: Hard work + Perseverance = Success

Perseverance is the key. Plenty of employees are willing and eager to work hard, but I’ve noticed they sometimes falter at the first sign of resistance. Perseverance is seeing something through to completion; not allowing oneself to get distracted. Hard work won’t lead to success on its own, it has to be coupled with the power of perseverance.

Supervisors can help employees persevere by encouraging them—believing in them—and  providing resources they need to succeed. Employees should reach out to seek guidance from their supervisor, a peer, or a mentor for encouragement to see a task through to completion.

Look in the mirror: Is there some tidbit of my WARP concept that you can apply to your leadership toolbox, or are you inclined to try out “effortless success”?

Please join me again next week for more on Leading with Character.

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