The military is known for producing good leaders. This series features leadership wisdom from former Canadian military leaders now in private enterprise. In each article, a military Leadership Trait will be described by a former military leader, and then applied to business. In the Commentary section, we will discuss how to develop the trait, or how to identify that trait in an interview.
Leadership Trait – Self-Awareness & Self-Discipline
“No single element contributes more to the success of any team than the quality of its leadership. In the long list of qualities, traits, do’s, don’ts, and other items on the standard leadership checklist, self-awareness and self-discipline stand apart in that these are how the leader leads him or herself.
As a platoon commander in Bosnia during NATO operations, I was deployed with a team of 41 soldiers in a remote location, conducting operations on a 24/7 basis for a period of seven months. In the tight confines of our living conditions, and in consideration of the nature and tempo of operations, it was imperative that my example to the soldiers be one of calmness, confidence and consistency.
Self-awareness gives the leader the ability to learn and grow without the chains of pride and ego holding them back. The ability to accurately assess oneself, to accept feedback constructively, to attempt bold action, fail, and rise quickly to reorganise and refocus the team on the mission, is dependent upon the leader’s own courage that is developed through self-awareness.
The leader must also have the ability to pursue relentless self-improvement to benefit from their experiences. And this requires self-discipline. The leader must wake each day and make a commitment to do what is right, and not what is easy. To face the sometimes brutal, honest truth, to give recognition when due, or to hold individuals accountable when necessary, to remain dedicated to the processes that keep people healthy and engaged, and machines moving, requires an enormous amount of self-discipline.
Whether in front of the team or working alone, a leader must remain steadfast in a personal commitment to professionalism and excellence. I have witnessed a rapid and irreparable decline in team performance with a leader that lacks the personal discipline to maintain the standard, or who is quick to judge individuals and criticise poor performance, while their personal example is one of cutting corners, procrastination, and intermittent execution of routine tasks.
During my transition from the military to the business world, and from corporate Canada to entrepreneurship I have found it has been through a disciplined approach in all aspects of my life, and through careful study of myself, that I have arrived where I am today as a business owner who employs 15 full-time staff, and a contributing member of several organisations with varied aims.”
Wil Beardmore is a former Canadian Forces Company Commander with the PPCLI, and member of Canada’s famous Sky Hawks. A former General Manager with Cintas Canada Ltd., he is now CEO of Bluewater Energy Inc.
Wil Beardmore’s comments on Self-Awareness and Self-Discipline are entirely consistent with Socrates’ famous statement “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Successful living is dependent on having the courage to examine one’s life consistently, and the discipline to take appropriate corrective action. The fact that these characteristics are highlighted as traits of leaders is a testament to how seldom we observe them in the population as a whole.
To identify these traits in an employment interview setting, ask a question like “Tell me about an achievement that required a lot of perseverance on your part.” If necessary, use follow-up probes like “What made it so difficult?”, “What challenges/opposition did you face?”, “How did you overcome them?”, and “What did you learn about yourself?”