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People First Leadership Lessons from Gen. Rick Hillier

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One of the generous opportunities that comes as a result of volunteering as a mentor for the MBA program is being invited to hear some world class inspirational speakers. Last week I had the exciting opportunity to hear Gen. Rick Hillier speak in Calgary at the University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business. Gen. Rick Hillier says, he's just an average Newfoundlander and he asks you to call him Rick. He loves to chat and tells a lot of stories… stories with rich learning that suck you in and leave you inspired not about what he did but about the ordinary courage of amazing people he has lead. Here are some of the great inspirations that I took away from his talk:

There were 5 key steps that Hillier felt made him successful as a leader:

Step 1: Inspire people to accomplish.

In order to do this, you have to have a clear purpose or mission. They want to join and be a part of a winning team. When you inspire them to believe in your purpose, you'll have your pick of the very best talent. They'll bring both their body and mind to your work and want to change the world with you.

Step 2: Prepare them to do the job you hired them to do.

This will build their confidence that they can do it.

Step 3: Give them the resources to do the job.

Give them the best resources available and they'll trust you and believe you want them to succeed.

Step 4: Give credit to others for what has occurred.

Recognize your team for what they have done to bring the vision into reality. Let them own it. When things don't go well, don't blame your team. Accept responsibility as a leader when things go wrong and help others learn from it.

Step 5: Draw inspiration back from your team.

Being a leader is tough and you'll get tired. When times were tough he spent 50% of his time out getting to know his team. He told a story about a brave soldier who lost his legs in war and went on to get married, have children, run marathons and become an elected city Councillor.

Some of his guiding leadership principles are:

1. Have a clear purpose or "great mission"

and this will allow you to focus your thoughts as a leader, give perspective to others so they can see how the little things they do contribute to a larger greater good. It also allows you to prioritize. Also, link your vision to a plan.

2. Be learning focused

 and encourage your team to do the same. Be willing to look at all angles, learn from others including those who have succeeded and failed before you. 3. Be the visible leadership at the front. Be there with your team, don't send them in alone and lead from the safety zone.

4. Actions speak louder than words.

He committed to keeping soldiers "figuratively in Canada" to help remind solders of Canadian values and know they were supported. They took many actions to support that including bringing the Stanley Cup on tour in Afghanistan and bending the rules to ensure it made its way to all soldiers regardless of where they were located.

5. Be decisive.

Don't delegate your decisions to committees.

6. Connect face to face.

Nothing substitutes face to face communication to build relationships - after all, if leadership is all about people, you might want to make time for them.

7. Be clear on your team's values.

Teach them, talk about them, hold your team and yourself to acting within your values.

8. Be yourself.

Its all anyone can ask you to be and what we value most - vulnerability and authenticity.

9. Be prepared to give.

Real leaders are servant leaders.

10. Encourage your team to challenge you.

Ask for regular feedback and ask them to question your thinking.

Gen. Rick Hillier was gracious enough to tell a final story at my request after he concluded his talk that I heard a number of years ago. He told of how the military used to believe that you'd have been issued a family if the military wanted you to have one. In his people first leadership approach, he saw this didn't work for soldiers as they had families and they needed to be supported. He led the way for the soldiers to bring about initiatives to put people first bringing in an initiative to reach soldiers within 7 minutes anywhere in the world if there was a family issue at home, brought in video terminals for soldiers to talk and see their families and teddy bears with voice recorders for soldier's children to hear their mom or dad's voices anytime they needed. Thats just one of the many ways he put people first.

What actions might you take to put your people first?