Leadership swagger

by R H | October 20th, 2018

Readability

Leadership swagger

Have you ever done a team build­ing out­ing before? If you have, you might have done some­thing like a trust fall, where you fall back­wards into the wait­ing arms of your team mates, trust­ing that they won’t drop you like a hot rock.

When I was still in col­lege I went to a team build­ing out­ing with a group of engi­neer­ing stu­dents. One of our chal­lenges was to work with a col­league to get across a set of low ropes. The catch? The ropes get far­ther apart, so you have to push against each other as you go. The first six sets of stu­dents failed, and then it was my turn.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_109544” align=“aligncenter” width=“860”] So sort of like this, except imag­ine the ropes 6 inches off the ground. So not as cool, but still hard. Pic­ture cour­tesy of Seat­tle Uni­ver­sity.[/​caption]

Instead of the whole “talk with each other” method pre­vi­ous groups had tried, I instead told my part­ner to sim­ply do exactly what I told him to do. I’d say “step,” and he and I moved one foot. Then I said “together,” and we moved the other foot. We blew through the course with­out a problem.

Les­son learned here: some­times it’s just eas­ier if one per­son is call­ing the shots.

At least, that’s the les­son I learned. Appar­ently, this lead­er­ship con­cept is called “white swag­ger,” at least if you’re Pro­fes­sor Taylor.

In her arti­cle at The Star, she exper­i­mented for a few weeks by imi­tat­ing Coach Tay­lor of Fri­day Night Lights. For example:

When stu­dents asked for alter­na­tives to the assign­ment, I swal­lowed, paused, and said, “Not gonna hap­pen.” They packed up and got the work done as I asked. I met a grad­u­ate stu­dent who was drag­ging her feet on her dis­ser­ta­tion with, “Do you have what it takes? Then just do it.” She looked dumb­founded but turned a chap­ter in shortly there­after. In a fac­ulty meet­ing, a col­league ven­tured com­plex cur­ricu­lum revi­sion that I would nor­mally have spo­ken at length against based on my exten­sive expe­ri­ence as a for­mer asso­ciate chair. Instead I let peo­ple cast about with ques­tions and con­cerns and then said, try­ing not to laugh at its sim­plic­ity, “We’re not gonna do it.” The sub­ject was dropped.

She seems sur­prised. I’m not. But later on, she starts to draw par­al­lels with the Kavanaugh con­fir­ma­tion and with white priv­i­lege in gen­eral, and that’s where she misses two key points.

First, any­one can have swag­ger. She just proved it: a 5 foot 2 woman, her swag­ger made stu­dents get in line, pre­vented argu­ments over cur­ricu­lum revi­sions, and pre­vented whin­ing by her kids about din­ner at home. This swag­ger had noth­ing to do with being white. Peo­ple in gen­eral, across all races, respond pos­i­tively to con­fi­dence. I have women in the Navy that I would gladly fight under, and other men I’d hes­i­tate to do the same. It’s con­fi­dence, cou­pled with a decent track record of being right, that matters.

Sec­ond, the “white male south­ern swag­ger” is NOT always effec­tive. For exam­ple, if you’re brain­storm­ing with col­leagues, you don’t imme­di­ately dis­miss ideas. If a meet­ing has hot tem­pers, you crack jokes and lighten the mood. There plenty of times where the “my way or else” method doesn’t work, and that’s because it isn’t sup­posed to be a way of liv­ing, but rather a tool in your lead­er­ship tool­box!

You break out the “swag­ger” when you don’t need con­ver­sa­tion. What my kids think about doing their chores, or whether they’ve had enough tablet time, is com­pletely irrel­e­vant. It’s my opin­ion that counts, so my wife and I dic­tate terms. Pro­fes­sor Tay­lor is right, it takes less energy to be a dic­ta­tor. Side note: if par­ent­ing is wear­ing you out, try this strat­egy. You don’t have to nego­ti­ate with your kids on all things.

But on the flip side, I don’t always do this. I solicit my children’s opin­ions on plenty of things. We some­times brain­storm on how to sequence the days activ­i­ties. My kids come up with cre­ative plans that we try out. When I don’t have to have it my way, I give the lat­i­tude to try it.

BTW, we some­times call this men­tor­ship. When we give up some con­trol and let a sub­or­di­nate (or child) try some­thing, it teaches them. Pro­fes­sor Tay­lor had this through­out her career, although maybe she didn’t real­ize it. Every time a pro­fes­sor cracked down and made her turn in assign­ments, she learned life lessons about time man­age­ment. Sadly, every time she pro­vides alter­na­tives to assign­ments, she may be depriv­ing her own stu­dents of those same lessons.

Swag­ger, nego­ti­at­ing, solic­it­ing opin­ions, crack­ing jokes, even tak­ing time to drink beer with friends, these are all tools in a leader’s box to help get things done. For all her rant­ing, Pro­fes­sor Taylor’s exper­i­ment proved that these tools cross gen­der lines, and I have seen them cross racial lines as well. They are inher­ently human. Just like try­ing to use only a ham­mer to build a house (news­flash: it won’t look good), you should use the best tools in your bag to tackle prob­lems, and should be always look­ing to get new tools. Because seri­ously, who wants to tackle life with a mostly empty tool bag?


This post rep­re­sents the views of the author and not those of the Depart­ment of Defense, Depart­ment of the Navy, or any other gov­ern­ment agency.

Please keep pray­ing for China, and please donate to Da Tech Guy!

Have you ever done a team building outing before? If you have, you might have done something like a trust fall, where you fall backwards into the waiting arms of your team mates, trusting that they won’t drop you like a hot rock.

When I was still in college I went to a team building outing with a group of engineering students. One of our challenges was to work with a colleague to get across a set of low ropes. The catch? The ropes get farther apart, so you have to push against each other as you go. The first six sets of students failed, and then it was my turn.

So sort of like this, except imagine the ropes 6 inches off the ground. So not as cool, but still hard. Picture courtesy of Seattle University.

Instead of the whole “talk with each other” method previous groups had tried, I instead told my partner to simply do exactly what I told him to do. I’d say “step,” and he and I moved one foot. Then I said “together,” and we moved the other foot. We blew through the course without a problem.

Lesson learned here: sometimes it’s just easier if one person is calling the shots.

At least, that’s the lesson I learned. Apparently, this leadership concept is called “white swagger,” at least if you’re Professor Taylor.

In her article at The Star, she experimented for a few weeks by imitating Coach Taylor of Friday Night Lights. For example:

When students asked for alternatives to the assignment, I swallowed, paused, and said, “Not gonna happen.” They packed up and got the work done as I asked. I met a graduate student who was dragging her feet on her dissertation with, “Do you have what it takes? Then just do it.” She looked dumbfounded but turned a chapter in shortly thereafter. In a faculty meeting, a colleague ventured complex curriculum revision that I would normally have spoken at length against based on my extensive experience as a former associate chair. Instead I let people cast about with questions and concerns and then said, trying not to laugh at its simplicity, “We’re not gonna do it.” The subject was dropped.

She seems surprised. I’m not. But later on, she starts to draw parallels with the Kavanaugh confirmation and with white privilege in general, and that’s where she misses two key points.

First, anyone can have swagger. She just proved it: a 5 foot 2 woman, her swagger made students get in line, prevented arguments over curriculum revisions, and prevented whining by her kids about dinner at home. This swagger had nothing to do with being white. People in general, across all races, respond positively to confidence. I have women in the Navy that I would gladly fight under, and other men I’d hesitate to do the same. It’s confidence, coupled with a decent track record of being right, that matters.

Second, the “white male southern swagger” is NOT always effective. For example, if you’re brainstorming with colleagues, you don’t immediately dismiss ideas. If a meeting has hot tempers, you crack jokes and lighten the mood. There plenty of times where the “my way or else” method doesn’t work, and that’s because it isn’t supposed to be a way of living, but rather a tool in your leadership toolbox!

You break out the “swagger” when you don’t need conversation. What my kids think about doing their chores, or whether they’ve had enough tablet time, is completely irrelevant. It’s my opinion that counts, so my wife and I dictate terms. Professor Taylor is right, it takes less energy to be a dictator. Side note: if parenting is wearing you out, try this strategy. You don’t have to negotiate with your kids on all things.

But on the flip side, I don’t always do this. I solicit my children’s opinions on plenty of things. We sometimes brainstorm on how to sequence the days activities. My kids come up with creative plans that we try out. When I don’t have to have it my way, I give the latitude to try it.

BTW, we sometimes call this mentorship. When we give up some control and let a subordinate (or child) try something, it teaches them. Professor Taylor had this throughout her career, although maybe she didn’t realize it. Every time a professor cracked down and made her turn in assignments, she learned life lessons about time management. Sadly, every time she provides alternatives to assignments, she may be depriving her own students of those same lessons.

Swagger, negotiating, soliciting opinions, cracking jokes, even taking time to drink beer with friends, these are all tools in a leader’s box to help get things done. For all her ranting, Professor Taylor’s experiment proved that these tools cross gender lines, and I have seen them cross racial lines as well. They are inherently human. Just like trying to use only a hammer to build a house (newsflash: it won’t look good), you should use the best tools in your bag to tackle problems, and should be always looking to get new tools. Because seriously, who wants to tackle life with a mostly empty tool bag?


This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Please keep praying for China, and please donate to Da Tech Guy!

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