Adapting your management skills to suit different roles

03 August 2015 -

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From the battlefield to the boardroom, Bloodhound SSC team leader Major Oli Morgan CMgr has managed in a wealth of different environments.

He exclusively tells Insights how he adapts his methods to thrive in each setting

Oli Morgan

I carry out an eclectic range of roles on the BLOODHOUND Project: tech, HR, operational planning, marketing, programme management – to name but a few – and this means collaborating with lots of different people while driving forward all of my projects. If I want things to come together (and on time), I have to ensure that my leadership style is tuned to the flavour of the job and the amazing people I work with.

Marginal gains of management: the snowball effect of tiny adjustments

Normally, in a blog like this, you’d find a list of leadership types and how to apply them. Not only is this approach getting stale, it assumes that you can compartmentalise leadership. Leading teams for the last 15 years, I’ve found this isn’t the case. Anyone who has ever had to lead people, be it in a boardroom or on a battlefield (or both) knows that the reality is based on hundreds of interactions and tiny adjustments, not all of which you get right.

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The personal touch

I have approached the problem from a completely different angle. It’s not about putting on a hat to match an event – it’s about really knowing your team and how they behave under stress and also how they deal with day-to-day tasks.

Only by knowing your people and combining this with analysis of the task can you lead effectively.

A few years ago I did a PGCE (through the Army) and it’s had a fundamental effect on the way I approach leadership. One of the big takeaways was the study of learning – in particular the way it was defined, i.e. a behavioural change that resulted in a new action.

So what’s this got to do with leadership?

Depending on how you want your team to approach problems, interact with each other and ultimately deliver on what you have been asked to lead, you are going to have to adjust your style to effect a behavioural change in your team.

Instead of attempting to lead using a one-size-fits-all approach, you have to learn about each of your team members in order to understand what makes them tick. Only with this knowledge can you bring the multitude of behavioural threads together to form a more dynamic approach that will help get from A to B and without leaving anyone behind.

Sound like psychobabble? No! You just need to spend time talking to your people (shock) and learn more about them, their kids, where they went to school, what they do in their spare time and so on. They will also feel good because you have spent time with them. And, with a much better understanding of your team, you can better apply yourself.

The not-so-grand secret: Practice makes perfect

How do I apply this in my work? I have learned how to read each situation, although it’s taken plenty of scuffs and scrapes to get to a point where I am effective.

Thinking back on my professional career (my application for Chartered Manager meant I was able to reflect on what I had done) there was a link between how well I knew my soldiers and the effectiveness of my chosen leadership style – I just had to get out of my office and give my team a good listening to!

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Serve to lead

Some of you may wonder what it is like to lead on operations – it’s truly humbling because everything you have done in your career has prepared you for this point. The seriousness of the situation means it all comes together and there’s no more practicing. You look around and see your team with their game face on.

The Intensity of operations can take its toll on people, particularly when the threat of attack increases but this is when the family bond kicks in. Don’t underestimate the soldier’s ability to make a brew, take the mick and get on with the job no matter where they are. The motto from the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst has never been truer in this scenario: “Serve to Lead”.

Do you have the same approach or do you do something completely different? It would be great to hear your thoughts.

About the author:

“OliMorgan5

Major Oli Morgan cut his teeth commanding Apache Helicopter technicians in Afghanistan, and later ran equipment trials in Helmand. He now supports the Bloodhound Project, as it seeks to break the land speed record, leading a team of highly skilled engineers from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), is responsible for the project’s PR and marketing, and spearheads the Army Education Outreach Programme; receiving the accolade of Modern Day Visionary from the IMechE for his work to inspire children into engineering and science.

Images courtesy of Stefan Marjoram, Si Longworth & Bloodhound SSC.

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