Putting the mission first is simple. Check your ego. You may find yourself in a situation where all of your efforts are in support of another department, team, or person. Since you are supporting them, that means they will get the bulk of the credit for any successes they experience. You may find yourself resentful in some respect—after all, were it not for your hard work, they would likely not have achieved the success for which they are now getting the credit. But when you recognize this line of thinking within yourself, it is time to DETACH. Realize that it is not about you. The team and the mission are more important. And if that isn’t good enough, remember that those victories are yours to share as an integral part of the organization that is succeeding. When the team wins, EVERYBODY wins. There is a great deal of pride to be taken from being part of a successful organization, if you can put your own ego in check and recognize it.
In 2006, I deployed as a SEAL platoon chief to the Pacific Theater. The mission we were assigned with was not glamorous or dangerous. There weren’t going to be any combat awards, or chances for personal glory. At this same time, Task Unit Bruiser was deployed to Iraq and slugging it out in constant gun battles with enemy fighters in the streets of Ramadi. Jocko, Leif and the rest of Task Unit Bruiser (including Marc Lee and Mike Sarraille, who were originally from my own Task Unit but we had reassigned to Task Unit Bruiser) were doing the kinds of things that every SEAL dreams of. As the deployment went on and I heard more and more about their exploits in Ramadi, I could feel jealousy and resentment begin to creep in. I stopped putting 100% of my efforts toward the mission I had been assigned because it wasn’t challenging and success was a long-term goal, something that would be measured over decades. It wasn’t likely that my platoon or I would get any credit for that success.
My leadership must have noticed my motivation starting to slip because I received a much-needed pep talk. I was told what a great job my platoon had been doing in training our foreign counterparts and that even though training our allies wasn’t a glamorous or high-speed mission, it was an integral part of America’s overall strategy in the War On Terror. As we talked, I felt pride begin to well up in my chest and replace the jealousy and resentment that I was feeling toward Task Unit Bruiser. From that talk forward, I began again to take pride in my mission and refocus on our efforts. After all, as a member of SEAL Team Three, I was able to share in the prestige gained by the success of Task Unit Bruiser on the battlefield.
As a leader, it is critical that you have honest conversations with each person, department, or team who works in support of the main effort. Let them know that their job may not be the most recognized or rewarding, but it is crucial nonetheless to the strategic success of the whole team. They can and should take pride in their job—and in that victory.
Author: Jason Gardner, EF Instructor
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Thank you, Jason, for this post. I’m going through a very difficult transition at work right now that requires this exact strategy. I even mentioned “detachment” when speaking with my boss about it earlier today. How timely it was that I flip open LinkedIn, which I rarely look at, and find this post. Nothing could have turned my day around faster. Now, time to strap in and support the team. To hell with the glory… ONWARD.
Great Article. I cannot say that I always demonstrated this type of leadership my entire life, but as I matured, and recognized that each team member was an integral piece of the puzzle and the broader picture, I gained a clear understanding what the saying “For the better good of all” meant. Early on in my career as a US Marine, I was often faced with challenging situations where I would get promoted above my peers and then have to lead my peers. It was difficult to go from being a peer to being a leader due to letting go of my ego, but I had great leaders who had been there to learn from. I learned to pour my energy into making each member of the team successful so that the overall team was. It’s akin to what we used to call an “Indian Run”, where the leader of the group continually circles back to ensure each team member is putting forth the effort keeping the entire team moving forward towards the achievement. No ego survives that environment and it takes the entire team to succeed even if there are times where you might have to carry one another. Thank you for sharing this article.
Dear Jason – your article resonates with our culture. We have weekly interdisciplinary meetings and quarterly one on ones so teammates can hopefully understand how they contribute to the overall mission.
Good article. I needed this.
I have struggled with this type of resentment and I have come to know that it is EVEN more disruptive than an under performer!! I recently apologized to my former boss (from well over 7 years ago) about my resentment and attitude that brought with it a SHIT LOAD of negativity. While I realized and corrected this, I MUST stay vigilant to avoid falling back into that bad habit.
It’s a timeless idea but let’s imagine your leaders hadn’t taken you aside. There was no pep talk – just a kick up the arse that you appeared to be slacking. Now not only is there resentment that the work you do is supporting others in their attainment of glory but that you’re over here holding the fort and being slapped down because of it. The dichotomy at play is that not all organisations would’ve made that recognition or that leadership pep in the sliding door of management life – it could (and does) so easily go the other way. What then?
Love the message, simple yet important. Also recently finished the book and will be encouraging my colleagues to read it too, a seriously engaging read, thank you!
In my current workplace I was not taken note of even when I worked harder than all the team to ensure that the company achieves its goal of “delivering at all cost.” My boss will always kick at me with words so hurting that I felt to detach. But it’s good to have someone you can always take advise from.
I waited patiently and kept doing my best. I am the maintenance head. I ensure that all equipment must be in good shape before the next job regardless the of the time. I did that with resentment and sometimes with joy but finally I’ve been recognized and even though it was in a hurting situation I still humbled myself to continue being part of the team.
Don’t serve your boss, serve the mission.