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Lessons in Leadership with Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman

Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of Next Generation Combat Vehicles, Cross Functional Team for the Detroit Arsenal, joined the Detroit Regional Chamber to share lessons learned throughout his career as a leader in the U.S. Army including what impacts effective leadership, the importance of a human connection, team collaboration, and demonstrating care to enable collective success.

“In the Army, we like to think that we have leaders and future leaders so that everyone will be developed at some point to lead others,” said Coffman.

He shared the Army’s definition of leadership as providing “purpose, direction, and motivation.” These tenets are demonstrated in the situational leadership theory that guides leadership in Coffman’s field. This theory speaks to leaders’ ability to identify individuals’ motivations and harness them to develop both the individual’s and the team’s potential.

Coffman outlined two key components to help develop strong leaders in your organization.

1. Care as the silver bullet of leadership

“You want everyone in your organization to care more about the success of the organization than themselves,” said Coffman. Strong leaders will demonstrate by action what is important to them. They show they care about their team and the team’s success above their own. This will inspire similar action in others.

2. The critical path of leadership

This critical path comes down to five factors:

  1. Standards: These offer guidelines to inform team members of how to operate and for how leaders can evaluate the team.
  2. Trust: Leaders should give their trust to their teams freely. Every day, leaders should have to earn the team’s trust as proof of their commitment to them and the organization.
  3. Candor: Candor is trained. Without it, organizations will be missing a level of honesty and transparency, and that can erode trust.
  4. Purpose: This offers the team a unified direction for what is to be achieved. Leaders should reevaluate this vision and mission, and how they communicate it, often to ensure progress.
  5. Communication: The most efficient communication is overcommunication, said Coffman. Ensure you have a feedback mechanism to confirm that team members are receiving messages and understanding them clearly.

Coffman also notes that it is important to consider that no organization or leader is perfect, but often, most challenges can be linked back to one of these five items. Being able to identify which will help leaders determine the best solution.

Following a Q&A with the audience, Coffman offered this parting message. Every day, leaders should ask themselves: “Did I happen to work today, or did work happen to me?” Leaders should measure themselves and reflect on how they were personally involved in their team’s daily work.

Learn more about the Lessons and Leadership program and register for upcoming sessions.

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