The Charge of the Light Brigade and Leadership

"Cannon to right of them,  
Cannon to left of them,  
Cannon in front of them    
  Volley’d and thunder’d;  
Storm’d at with shot and shell,  
Boldly they rode and well,  
Into the jaws of Death,  
Into the mouth of Hell    
  Rode the six hundred."  

"The Charge of the Light Brigade" is a poem written by Sir Alfred Tennyson regarding the charge by British light cavalry against Russian forces on October 25, 1854, in the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. 

Tennyson wrote the poem on December 2, 1854, almost six weeks after the charge. 

It is one of my favorite poems not only because it inspired the song "The Trooper" by Iron Maiden, but also the message the poem conveys about leadership (or lack thereof)  on that fateful day.

Roughly 600 (666, if you follow Iron Maiden lore) made up the British light cavalry unit. The unit was misinformed or misunderstood (there is still some debate) the order to charge a mile-and-a-quarter through heavily armed and entrenched Russian forces. Out of the light cavalry unit, 110  were killed, 160 wounded, and a total loss of 375 horses was accounted for. According to most reports, this folly occurred due to bickering, jealousy, and lack of proper communication among the light cavalry command staff.

I will never compare the horrors of battle to the corporate workplace, but this blog post is not about that.  It's about what happens when leadership focuses more on personal arguments and lack of communication than the people they are in charge of.

During my time as a police officer I had the amazing opportunity to work with leaders who taught me (and saved me from) various shortcomings that were potentially dangerous, both physically and career-wise. Not all of these leaders were 'grizzled veterans' of the street and some even had less time on than I did.  

However, as with any profession, I also worked with people in leadership roles who thought they were leaders simply because they wore gold on their uniforms and had somehow played the game for enough years to be promoted.  

This group of people (ones who thought they were leaders) were not good examples of law enforcement officers. They wore sloppy uniforms, did not know department policy, blamed others and subordinates when others failed, and were lazy (which almost led to deathly situations a few times). They try to rule through fear and arrogance because they do not truly know how to communicate or lead properly. They bickered and fought and gossiped about everyone and everything losing sight of their true goals and profession.

But, that is not what we are here to focus on. Negative thinking places us no higher than the people we strive to differ from.

...It took me many years, many beers, and many conversations to bring up the courage to (truthfully) type that previous statement.

True leaders, most of the ones I worked with, train others through experience and find ways to teach what a young officer should know – how to truly help the public and know the laws in which they enforce.  They teach diffusion tactics that they themselves have learned through experience. They teach how to be in the words of Dalton from Road House,“Be nice until it's no longer time to be nice.”

Most of all, they do not lead their team to the proverbial slaughter that ultimately waited for British the light cavalry.

However, not all good (and bad) leaders are in first responder and military roles.  I have been fortunate to work with, and under, many great leaders in the corporate world who display all the best traits of not only a good leader, but a great person. 

These leaders teach through example, maintain proper lines of communication, and actually listen to their team. They push individuals to not only be better employees but better people. They work with hiring the best people for the job and the ones who earn it, not just promoting and hiring because of tenure or what someone has typed on their resume.  

They follow-up and check-in with their employees. They offer advice and help.  They work harder to make their team better.  Most of all they lead from the front and give praise to their team when earned and blame on themselves if something bad occurs. They foster leadership qualities and root out negative team members, not allowing gossip or contempt to fester.

In your office, beat, or company, start to identify who truly cares about the team, the mission, and how to best perform the objective.  

Leaders in managerial positions:  Truly view your potential hires and what they will (or will not) bring to your team. Are they going to be leaders in 5 years or blaming you and other management as the reason they cannot finish an objective? This is extremely important as these people you hire will most likely be in the corporate world way after you have retired 

Just like a hiking trail, you want to leave it cleaner than it was before you were there.

Employees: What I challenge you most to do is not to look up the ladder for these leaders, but all around you. Maybe you have not noticed that they always offer to give rides to people who need them or are willing to stay late, not to make a deadline, but to help other employees who may be struggling. They are the ones who tell you the hard truths that you do not want to hear and push you to work and train harder.  

Unlike what Lord Tennyson stated about the light cavalry:

"Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why," 

You have the ability to do both of those actions. If you think an action is not correct or there are better ways, seek out the leaders who will listen.  Find them, work with them, and listen to what they teach. Most of all encourage them. Let them know that the way they lead is working for you (or if it's not).

Work hard, kick ass, find leaders who teach and teams who learn.