Retired Brig. Gen. Becky Halstead, founder of STEADFAST Leadership, LLC, and the first female Commanding General in U.S. military history to lead at the strategic level in combat operations, talks how she developed prime leadership habits in the Army that carried over to civilian life.
As I moved up the ranks in the Army, one thing that was important to me was remembering to lead my soldiers the way I wanted to be led. I had been led by many types of leaders – good, bad, and ugly – and didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of those I considered toxic or ineffective. That meant that I needed to lead myself first by being open to learning what leadership truly meant to me – by studying leadership styles of those I served with and for, and by learning from my own successes and failures.
Following that strategy, I discovered what leadership traits were important to me, along with the values and skills that made our military teams so successful. I wanted to share my leadership philosophy and principles in a way that would be easy for each soldier under my command to easily relate to and remember.
I developed the acronym STEADFAST, and shared it broadly as the values that I led by and expected those on my team to follow. STEADFAST stood for Soldiers; Training; Excellence; Attitude; Discipline; Family, Friends and Faith; Accountability; Safety; and Teamwork.
As I approached retirement from military service and pondered how to best contribute as a civilian, I discovered that lessons learned in the Army (teamwork, leadership, selfless service, etc.) are needed in civilian organizations. In developing a business model, I decided to adapt STEADFAST to the civilian world (from students to corporate leaders). Following is a brief explanation for each letter in the acronym (with adaptations for the civilian world in parentheses).
S – Soldiers (Selfless Service)
Selfless service is what soldiers exemplify and their leaders must do the same.
As a military leader, it was important for me to remember that it was not about me, but about the soldiers under my command, individuals who had chosen selflessly to serve, to sacrifice their lives for their country and their fellow soldiers if need be. Commit to being the best you can be, not for your own gain, but for how it will better the lives of others. Lead the way you want to be led.
T – Training (Trust and Tenacity)
In the military, we train together, live together, operate as a team, trust each other implicitly, never leaving a battle buddy behind. Leaders establish trust in their organizations by ensuring everyone is trained and enforcing standards at the same level for all. Training increases competence, and with increased competence comes increased confidence and trust.
E – Excellence (Encourage and Embrace)
An approach to leadership that will build excellence in any organization focuses more on teaching than on exerting authority. To build a team that flourishes, proactively extend yourself to team members, and reward the behavior you want to see without discouraging those who need additional training or support. Embrace rules, regulations and policies as structure to ensure standards of excellence are met or exceeded.
A – Attitude (Attitude and Approachability)
As a leader you will grapple with disappointments and challenges on a daily basis. Effective leaders take a deep breath, listen and reflect before reacting. Don’t ignore or avoid the situation–simply take the time to make a rational, unemotional response. Your attitude is the one thing in life you do control. Remember, just because you have the right to say or do something, does not mean you should!
D – Discipline
Self-discipline is the decisive element for being the best you can be. Discipline determines destiny. In organizations, discipline is the basis for the shift from good to great. In the military and civilian worlds, rules and safety regulations exist for a reason and failure to be disciplined in following them can be the difference between life and death. In a disciplined and respectful organization, the environment is demanding but fosters trust and cooperation. Discipline is the number one leadership principle; when you are disciplined, all the other principles begin to fall into place for you.
F – Family, Friends, Faith
Success is a team sport. Many times the support of family and friends, and faith in something greater than ourselves, shapes our success. None of us have ever accomplished anything of consequence without support and belief systems. Relationships, from family and friends to God, help you get through the storms in your life. Leaders must be the calm in the chaos.
A – Accountability
Accountability goes beyond responsibility because it involves action and consequences. Being accountable for your own mistakes demonstrates leadership character, and true character is who you are when no one else is watching. To be effective, inspirational, and influential leaders, you must hold yourself accountable to the same high standards twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. You must also have the courage to hold others accountable.
S – Safety (Standard Setter)
Safety in the army is extremely important. Standards are established for the purpose of keeping soldiers safe and alive. Your values determine your leadership standards. When leading yourself and others, you set the standards for others to follow by upholding the values you identify as important to you in your everyday actions. You must be the standard, and never ask of another to do something you are not willing to do yourself.
T – Teamwork
Many times listening to those who live and work “where the rubber meets the road” provides insight that isn’t evident at the higher decision-making level. Leaders understand that everyone on the team provides a unique and valuable perspective or skill. Everyone on the team ought to be value added to the team. TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More. In leading yourself first, you recognize that a better “me” is a better “we.”
Focusing on the value of military lessons beyond military service is important for veterans who are redefining themselves as effective leaders in civilian life. Success requires continually educating and developing yourself, nurturing complex relationships and earning the respect of those you lead and follow. Likewise, those in the civilian sector are recognizing the strength of leadership veterans can and will bring to their teams. Veterans are a nation’s assets, not liabilities.
You each have at least one person to lead – YOU. Lead yourself by determining your core values and living them each and every day. The leadership journey begins inside.
About the Author
Retired Brig. Gen. Becky Halstead founded her own leader consultancy company, STEADFAST Leadership, LLC, after 27 years of service in the U.S. military and experience as executive director for a leadership consultancy company. She specializes in inspirational speaking (nationally and internationally), developing leader training programs, leader coaching, consulting, and advising. Her inspirational book, 24/7: The First Person You Must Lead is YOU, is available at Amazon in Paperback and for Kindle.