Picking up Brass, and Leading From the Rear, (pages 107-114)
Part One: Leadership Strategies, 2. Core Tenets, E. Picking up Brass, F. Leading From the Rear, (pages 107-114)
E. Picking up Brass
Picking up brass is the job required after training with a firearm is completed. When shooting, a brass shell casing is ejected for each round fired. While training, SEAL Teams can go through thousands of rounds. The task of picking each brass shell casing is a “miserable task”. However, the leader should join the troops when it is time to pick up brass. “…there is no job too small or menial for a leader to do”. The author states that by doing so, he displayed that no job was above him, but was also a good time to interact with frontline troops, bond with subordinate leaders, and observe how everyone interacted.
When I was an Assistant Superintendent, I spent at least one day every year working in each of my departments. The departments were transportation, buildings and grounds, food service, and technology. I asked each department leader to assign me a job for the day. I reported at the normal time and performed whatever job was assigned. I loaded dirty dishes and washed tables in the high school cafeteria, was up on roofs investigating air conditioners, pulled cat 5 cabling, and rode a complete days bus route. However, they did not let me drive the bus, thank goodness! It was both enlightening and allowed me to build relationships I probably would not have been able to normally establish. It is a process I will continue to follow.
F. Leading From the Rear
“When no one else has the courage to take action, the leader has to lead from the front”. This is especially important when to leader is setting a good example. However, leading from the front can have drawbacks. One of which is a loss of vision of the big picture. Leading from the front can cause the leader to get “…into the weeds in minuscule details of day-to-day operations, then they lose the visibility of the broader events unfolding”. Leading from the back allows for a more coherent view of the situation. Having this view then allows the leader to make better decisions. In highly developed teams, the subordinates want the leader in the rear because they understand the leaders’ responsibilities to the entire unit. The author states, “my team wanted me looking up and out, not down and in.” Additionally, it’s not just leading from the rear during action that is important, it is also crucial in planning. When appropriate, allow your team input in planning. “Instead of the leader coming up with the plan, the preferred method is to let the team members come up with it – let it be their idea”. This creates ownership from the team members. As the leader, “…allow them the freedom and authority to create and execute new plans and ideas. They have the knowledge. Give them the power.”
In my last position, we decided to transition from a traditional elementary report card to a standards-based report card. This transition is difficult for students, staff, and parents. As the Superintendent, I choose an elementary principal to be in charge. I then suggested hand-picking teachers for the team. I then removed myself from the team but had routine check-ins with the principal. I provided resources and guidance when necessary and allowed my principal autonomy in the process. The principal embraced the challenge and along with his team, produced a stellar product. Additionally, students and parents were involved in the process which allowed for a smooth transition.