Leadership Starts and Ends with the 3 “Bility’s”


Thoughts before heading to the SHRM Leadership Development Forum

Over the course of my 21-year military career I had the incredible honor of serving with so many amazing young women and men, from all walks of life.  During my time as a Platoon Leader, Commander, and ROTC instructor I was charged with what we commonly referred to as the “health, welfare and development” of hundreds of women and men.  What I quickly learned- through mistakes and times of success- in combat and here at home- was that was that leadership is based on what I call the three “Bilitys”- Capability, Accountability, and Availability.  As I get ready to head to SHRM’s Leadership Development Forum next week in Arizona, I can’t help but think how so many of those HR pros in attendance rely on that same principle.  

Capability- All too often, whether it’s in the workplace or otherwise, we see those who live by the mantra of “Do as I say, and not as I do.”  As you can imagine that leadership style has a short shelf-life, no matter the environment.  Capability means that even if you’ve progressed beyond the day-to-day responsibility of executing a function or skill you must demonstrate that you still have both an appreciation for, and the aptitude to execute that function within the team you lead.  Leading by example means you are technically sound, and for HR professionals who’ve progressed beyond the tactical side of HR applying yourself as a leader may mean you roll-up your selves and take on those tasks from time to time.  As an Army officer, no matter my rank, I was never “above” working alongside my team to demonstrate my appreciation for their daily mission. 

Accountability- One of my most memorable mentors once said to me that “you can never delegate responsibility but you aren’t a leader if you don’t delegate authority.”  At first, as a young soldier this parable confused me, but as a grew through experience it became one of my guiding principles.  Ultimately, whether you’re HR, or any other profession, you must be willing to delegate and give your team the opportunity, resources and autonomy they need to grow themselves.  However, you must ensure that the responsibility – or what some pejoratively call the “blame-line”- stays with you.  Mission success is shared, but responsibility is on your shoulders.  My boss used to say that’s why leaders get paid the big bucks- so to speak. 

Availability- Of all the “Bility’s” this one, to me, is the most important.  Colin Powell famously had (and I’ve seen it) a sign above his door that read “The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them.”  When asked, “What makes a good leader?” many might list traits such as “communication”, or “compassion.”  These attributes are manifestations of accessible leaders, those who are passionate about the mission, and the people they lead.   Ask yourself, honestly, why you want to be a leader, and if the answer doesn’t involve people then you may find it difficult to truly be there for those you’re responsible for. 

Over the last three-plus years it’s been my honor to meet thousands of HR professionals who are every bit the leaders you’ll find in any other profession- including the profession of arms.  The Leadership Development Forum, its programing, and its attendees truly remind me of the time I spent in the Army because I see that commonality, and that passion to grow and to serve those in our charge, no matter whether that’s three, 300 or 3,000. I look forward to connecting with you all, and learning about your perspective on leadership. 

See you all in Scottsdale!     




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