The Art of Swag

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The word “swag” has multiple meanings. In the sense that I am going to discuss in this post, swag concerns the way a person carries themselves. I know urban dictionary is no realistic source, but they define “swag” as “appearance ,style ,or the way he or she presents them selves.”e I believe swag goes a long way in business…those marketers with swag generally exude an overwhelming amount of confidence, without having to say very much.

I bring this up because I feel people in the military often think that “swag” has to do with appearance, and because we wear a uniform we don’t have an opportunity to display our swag. Instead, I feel that it is challenging to find your swag in uniform and when it is successful, it immediately gives a first impression. Swag is not just about what you look like, but how you present and carry yourself. The greater confidence you have, especially in the many socially awkward settings that the military ends up putting you in, the more likely you are to convince your counterparts that you are the best (or maybe you really aren’t but are convincing enough to make others think that you are…great example of swag).

Most soldiers in the military display negative swag, a kind of confidence that shows cockiness and arrogance. In this sense, I feel having a ton of swag works to your disadvantage. One of the greatest downfalls of a new platoon leader is arrogance and cockiness, especially if you lack the technical and tactical skill to back up your arrogant swag. Many officers think that coming in with a big stick, puffing their chest out to show everyone who is boss (ie: arrogant swag) it will make them more successful. This sort of swag definitely works to your disadvantage.

I bring this topic up because we have had multiple new Lieutenants arrive to my unit in the past couple of months and I have yet to see one who has the proper swag. Either they are too timid and nervous, or display the arrogant swag that I spoke of earlier making them immune to correction if you will. I’ve never entered a job in the military thinking I knew it all, because I quickly learned that I didn’t. Instead, I exuded confidence and pumped learned from the experience that I was surrounded with. I feel a lot of young officers can’t find their “swag niche” and end up acting too cocky, forcing those they lead to lose respect for them. Instead, they need to take a step back and analyze what they say, how they appear, and their daily actions.

GIRLS IN GREEN…find your swag.


Our Achilles’ Heel…

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Finally getting a few good posts in. Though it hasn’t been too crazy around here, we are trying to get into the weeds of work in a completely different environment and it is always a little frustrating. I am still trying to find time to read inspiring books, just like Knowing Your Own Value by Mika Brezezinski.

I have written a post or two about likability vs. success with women before. After my last post, I felt revisiting this topic was completely necessary. Mika puts its simply: “The double bind is this: in order to be a competent leader you need to be assertive- but if you’re a woman, you’re judged harshly for displaying the traits that make you an effective leader.” One of my personality traits is to be very open and sociable. I try hard to make strong connections with my coworkers because it builds a better work environment and also extends your social network as a leader. Unfortunately, being “nice and sociable” can also bite a woman in the ass, as with my last post. Specifically in the Army, it seems that if you are spending time with a person of the opposite gender, regardless of the reality of the situation, you are scrutinized. I enjoy eating lunch with people other than the females that work around me, and I refuse to give into the norm of eating in my “female circle” on a daily basis, especially since majority of my peers and my executive officer network is composed of men….oh wait, they are actually all guys.

Now, here comes the bind, if I speak my mind and say that this “perception” hurts the culture of our unit, I am immediately ostracized. Though I am sure most of us have been in a situation quite like I was in where the perception is not reality with a male coworker, I doubt that those of us that are still in leadership positions have actually said something about it. Joy Behar, one of the personalities on the television show The View says “I’m a big mouth, but i’m not demanding and I don’t say I have to get special privileges or anything like that…you want people to feel that you’re a team player.” But being a team player doesn’t necessarily make you a great leader…everyone knows and talks bad about the “bitch” in your company or unit…and don’t say you don’t have one, or maybe she really isn’t a bitch and you have just marginalized her that way, she may not be a team player, but she gets what she wants. Behar goes on to say that these “bitches” ” don’t really give a f**k that you think they’re a bitch. You and I, we don’t like to be thought of as bitches…if you don’t care that people think you’re a bitch, you can run the networks and the country.” These same women don’t accept the criticism, and say something about it, whether or not they would be ridiculed. When perceptions are mistaken for reality it can destroy a business culture, or at least harbor a lot of resentment. Though I too hate being thought of as a bitch, sometimes it’s necessary to be assertive and bring pertinent issues to light.

But how do you bring light to an issue without being too hard? Because of course, then you seem “over emotional.” I have also been characterized as “emotional” myself. Sheila Bair the chair of the FDIC and voted by Forbes magazine as one of the most powerful women in the world, says “emotionalism doesn’t work…don’t ever get emotional. Sometimes that’s hard. You get so frustrated and you care deeply…I’m really talking more about anger; for me it was more anger. When you’re angry it hurts your ability to think straight. If you start to get angry, the adrenaline starts pumping in you.” When addressing an issue you need to think through your argument first, calm yourself down and then tackle the beast. This is one shortcoming I have tried to internalize, instead of jumping the gun on every issue that the Company has, I try to take a step back, evaluate, tone down my anger and then address it.

Girls in green…don’t be afraid to bring an issue to the table…you may turn into the bitch, but if you control your argument, you will be heard…

Perception is Everything….NOT

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Yesterday while eating dinner with one of my fellow Executive Officers, he mentioned something to me that really struck a nerve. This week, his Commander told him that he needed to be careful about hanging out with me and eating lunch because of “what people will think,” specifically because I am a single female and he is a married man. I was shocked…honestly shocked…I have had derision come in my direction but never have I been accused of possibly putting off the impression that because I am socializing with someone that I am interested in them. I have never made any suggestion to any male in my battalion that I was interested in them other than working next to them in a military environment. Apparently this comment stemmed from the Battalion, the command group, not just his Commander.

Ladies, however much you try to be yourself and still put up a shield to the criticism and the perceptions you will never be exempt from the derision. However much you try not to act like Barbie, or Butch, your ass is still on the chopping block. You could be one of the best performers, never have an infraction in your unit, never have a relationship with anyone in your unit and yet still you will be looked at as a potential issue.

I went as far as to joke that I should cage myself in my office, maybe that will make it more obvious that I don’t have interest in anyone, but my Commander reminded me that taking a step back is not what to do. Instead, prove them wrong and keep going about your business. Never give in to the derision or act like you are privy to it, if you are doing the right thing, keep doing the right thing. She made sure to point out that if she and I ate every meal together, we would just be called lesbians. Therefore, there is no happy medium.

Your coworkers will always talk, the only way to protect yourself is to do the right thing, be yourself and prove them wrong. Never give up and keep reminding yourself that there are some things, unfortunately that will never change…the fact that you have boobs and a bun in your hair will always make you different than the guys whether or not you like it. You can not change who you are, and you can not change how people think or their perceptions all you can do is know in your heart that you are practicing patience and always setting the standard.

Girls in Green…don’t get discouraged…people will talk, and perception is NOT everything…

Humanizing with Your Coworkers

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I always find it so interesting when senior leadership walk up to one of my soldiers and call them by the wrong last name….or don’t recognize them at all. To me, that slight makes myself and my soldiers very aware that our leadership either doesn’t care to get to know us or just doesn’t have time to get to know us. Both of these explanations for not knowing your subordinates are INEXCUSABLE.

Why do soldiers bees like coming to work every day? Because they like the environment that they are surrounded with and the culture their bosses have bred. I make it a point to talk personally to each of my soldiers every day. Yes, I joke with them occasionally, it adds a human perspective to their boss, but they all know when its time for business. My “serious face” is unmistakable to all of my subordinates which ensures respect up, down and sideways within my section.

The above blog post is critical for leaders to understand. It is important that officers and senior NCO’s alike make a connection with each of their soldiers. When you make a human connection with those that work for you, they feel that you care for them and are invested in their well being. You show that you are sincerely learning about them as a person rather than a subordinate and that you are not just there to evaluate their work ethic. The Military is not solely a business organization, but instead an organization which prides itself on family and teamwork. In order to build a team, you need to make interpersonal connections with every teammate, to include the team captain. You need to know your teams strengths and weaknesses and their personal struggles- this will give you key insight into their daily operating procedures and work ethic.

Girls in Green…ask yourself if you know your coworkers personally…if not, get to know them and learn to grow with them.

Becoming Self Aware of your Bad Mouthing

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About two weeks ago I deployed to Afghanistan.  The train up to this long road ahead in a tumultuous war torn country has been less than exciting.  Our Battalion has trained hard to prepare for the rough road ahead at a large cost…morale.

Prior to leaving the United States our Battalion’s morale was at an all time low, it was hard to find a single person could use our motto “Trojan Horse” and say they meant to say it with pride rather than sarcasm.  Sometimes service members don’t understand the meaning behind the importance behind all the painstaking hours, but either way this optempo has bred a morale that is so low it has started to breed dissension and bad talk.

What do I mean by dissension and bad talk?  When the going gets tough, there is always someone to pass the buck to.  I wish this wasn’t the case, but it seems like there is never a time when this theory fails to prove truth.  Low morale in an organization breeds a culture where leaders find it acceptable to bad mouth or talk down to their subordinates and peers about other leaders in their organization to seemingly prove that they are not the reason for all the hurt and pain the organization has suffered and rather their counterpart is at fault.  Now, I am not at liberty to use specific examples but this exact behavior has permeated the community that I work in…and is a dangerous tool to burn bridges and break bonds.

Instead of giving you all the examples of how bad mouthing coworkers can be detrimental to an organization, I’d rather spend time discussing a resolution.  Self awareness is the key to almost all workplace flubbers.  The self aware leader is conscious of what comes out of their mouth and who they are sharing information with.  Developing self awareness in community discussion around work will help every leader become more selective with their words and in turn more selective about the topic of their conversation.  This in turn will affect the organization as more of us would be working together rather than spending more time chatting about who’s fault it is that the current work day sucks.

Practicing self awareness is the hardest part.  I always tell my subordinates to think before they talk (though most of the time I have to remind myself of this as well).  Sometimes, this sounds demeaning but it is honestly effective.  Most people don’t understand that what they are saying effects not only the person they are talking about but everyone else who is around to hear the conversation.  If every person in your organization took the time to slow down and think through their off hand discussions to become more self aware, the organizational morale would increase as most conversations would prove to increase morale in the long run.  It seems so simple yet self awareness is way more complex than we want to think.  Take some time to watch the video below on self awareness and knowing yourself…it is eye opening.

Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself

The Importance of Tact and Timing

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I keep relating experiences that happen at work to my blog posts, but most often they are relevant and pertinent to the topic. Often times these experiences fuel my ideas for posts. The following situation definitely sparked the subject and relevancy today.

Yesterday, I took a record PT test for my Company. With me taking the test was the Battalion Command Sergeant Major and I was being graded by a Sergeant First Class (That part is neither here not there, just some background information to help you better understand the environment and situation). I pride myself as any other passionate officer to do my very best on the PT test, and in turn beat the score I got from my last test. During the test this time I completed 100 sit-ups, a milestone for any officer os soldier. After getting up, and high fiving those around me, I was feeling a strong personal high. My Commander immediately pulled me aside saying she wanted to talk. She told me that my sit-ups were not to standard and would not pass in the Army School House. She told me I needed to work on it and that none of my sit-ups on this test would have passed.

Now, I immediately went from being on a personal high to an all time low after reaching a benchmark in my personal fitness goals. I was pulled aside and basically slapped int he face for my achievement.

Don’t get me wrong, I am always open to advice and will in turn evaluate my sit-up posture, but I don;t feel my Commander exercised tact and timing. She could have approached this issue wildly differently. Instead of using timing and tact to develop me, and find a later time to mentor me, she used it against herself. Her timing was de-motiviation and her choice of words were poor. She expressed disappointment at a time that was meant to be congratulatory.

Often I’ve come across this leadership miscoming. Many leaders are so quick to impart advice and wisdom that they sometimes don’t evaluate the other person’s environment at the time. Take a moment to evaluate the situation in this sense:
1. How would I come across if I say this at this immediate moment?
2. What setting am I in?
3. Who else is around us?
4. Is there a better time to discuss this?

In my situation, the timing made her presentation seem a little vindictive and highly de-motivating. I had just reached a milestone and instead o congratulating me, she in turn embarrassed me in front of all my subordinates by telling me my form was poor immediately following my sit-ups.

Secondly, always be aware of your tone of voice. The way you speak and the way you project is 100% reflective of your emotion at the time. When you come across as biting and aggressive at an inappropriate time, you will not achieve your desired effect.

GIRLS IN GREEN, I heed you to find good ways to motivate each other instead of beating each other down!

Using the Right Tone of Voice

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Many leaders are often unaware that their every move and every word is marked by the soldiers that observe them and are under them.  With that in mind, all of us leaders need to be ever cognizant of how we express ourselves in daily situations.

One of the mistakes many leaders make is the way they express themselves with words in stressful situations.  As human beings, we are prone to using body language and tone of voice to express our emotions.  When leaders change their tone of voice, they are indirectly showing their subordinates their own frustration.  As a leader, you must be able to put your personal emotion in certain situations aside and remain collected in order to solve the problem with ease.  Soldiers and subordinates receive and react based on their leader’s demeanor and attitude towards whatever situation presents itself.  With that being said, I find that a marked change in a leader’s tone of voice can make small issues seem even greater making our subordinates ever more nervous about our judgement calls.

I found that the best way to alleviate a heightened tone of voice is to step away from a stressful situation.  By stepping away from your subordinates and taking a chance to breathe and clear your mind before you attack the problem, you will be able to approach the problem clear and collected.  Appearance is everything in the military: if you appear frazzled, everyone around you will be affected and respond with a sense of tension.  By collecting yourself, taking a chance to breathe, and then expressing yourself with a clear mind, you will be able to take your personal emotion out of the situation and be able to handle yourself professionally.

It is hard to say that in every situation you can put emotion aside, but it is something that we need to be conscious about on a day to day basis.  Though this may seem like a small note, it will make you an ever more effective leader.  Your subordinates will respect you more if you show patience and diligence while attacking a problem with a clear mind.

Take a breather, and then solve the problem…GET AHEAD…GO GIRLS IN GREEN!

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