It was dark, cold and wet as we crawled up the dangerously exposed enemy beach.
As commander of the ‘point section’ responsible for securing the beach, the safety of 1,000 men was in my hands. My team and I were the sharp end of the wedge, in charge of navigating the unit to the FUP (Form Up Point) for a dawn attack.
Intelligence briefings told us there were two re-entrants or valleys, one was a safe route, the other was littered with enemy gun positions. I knew exactly where we were, where we needed to go and how we were going to get there safely. I chose the right hand valley.
My boss had other ideas. A shiny new young lieutenant just out of training, he was keen to be seen to take charge of his 3 sections. He disagreed with my map reading. He believed we should head up the left hand valley.
After a quick heated discussion about my responsibility – and his authority – I tactically gave way to his rank. Going with his decision, I made it very clear that I believed him to be incorrect and he would need to take total responsibility when it hit the fan…
We headed up the left hand valley. After about an hour and almost exactly where intelligence had indicated danger, we got hit. The whole unit was now stuck in a vulnerable position between beach and objective, waiting for the lead company to deal with the enemy. To top it all, we were supposed to be covert and keeping away from the ‘bad guys’! (Thankfully this was just an exercise).
Things couldn’t really get any worse, without someone actually dying.
When my boss’s boss turned up to find out why we had gone this way and what idiot had taken us right into a fight, I saw a massive pile of the brown stuff about to land on my head. However, the young officer stepped up and took the flak for his poor decision, acknowledging that he should have listened to his section corporal who had called it right.
Some time later, he came up to me and apologised for his over zealous approach and poor map reading, agreeing that I had been correct and assuring that he would be more mindful of listening to his highly skilled and experienced people in future.
It still cost him a crate of beer for his misdemeanour but what he received in return was ‘kudos’ from the team for his ability to acknowledge his mistake, take responsibility, protect his team and apologise for his actions.
I am still friends with him to this day and he has a reputation as a great leader within the Royal Marines family. His decision back then to preserve the relationship with his men rather than saving his own skin had far reaching effects in terms of trust and high regard in this close knit group.
Stephen Covey, author of ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’ created a relationship metaphor called The Emotional Bank Account. In essence, he said that we each have a ‘personal bank account’ with everyone we know, and we record exactly just how much each person has invested in it. We start out with a neutral balance, then just like a regular bank account, we make deposits and withdrawals on our emotional bank accounts – based on transactions around trust.
When we pay into someone’s account, we build trust and positive feelings, which strengthens the relationship and creates tolerance for our mistakes. A payment can be, for example, finding a win-win solution, sticking to a agreement you made or listening empathetically to the other person.
However, when we withdraw we create discord and distrust which means tolerance and patience wears thin. Examples of a withdrawal would be settling for a win-lose solution, breaking a promise or only half listening to the other person.
Sadly, many managers and leaders believe that the exchange of time for money – the salaried job – is sufficient reason to expect employees to give their all. But in reality, the job contract equates to the neutral position in Covey’s metaphor; to get full engagement and top performance from an employee requires their emotional bank account to have a healthy positive balance.
It is therefore important for leaders to stick to their agreements and be well-mannered and sensitive to others, even in small matters, whilst being fair and reliable.
The young officer on the beach initially made a withdrawal when he didn’t trust my judgment. If he’d kept quiet and allowed the blame to be pinned on me, he would have made a massive withdrawal from my emotional bank account and I would have lost all respect for him. In addition, everyone else in the troop who knew the story would also have viewed him in a negative light, which would certainly have damaged his power and influence in the group.
However, the fact that he took full responsibility for the error, spoke up, took the reprimand AND apologised to me later meant that he turned the situation around to become a substantial deposit in my emotional bank account. He showed himself to be a man of honesty and honour and the whole group respected him for it.
The power of trust and respect between leaders and the people they lead cannot be underestimated. Full engagement and commitment will only show up when the people in the organisation benefit from regular, positive deposits into their emotional bank accounts to build trust, increase morale and show them that they are highly valued.
Sean The EQ Commando spent 10 years in the Royal Marines and is now director of EQ2Lead. He helps leaders and managers frustrated with the lack of engagement from their employees to master the skill of positively influencing and engaging people to grow them into enthusiastic, committed teams.