Becoming A Gladiator
May 14, 2020
Andre V. Jones
Managing change can be an aspiring leader’s blessing and a curse. While there are many opportunities to see areas of improvement, there are challenges to implementation. It takes a special someone to cultivate change and inspire cultural evolution. Most importantly, the leader must be able to influence his or her followers to see the vision and commit to it.
As a leader in public service, you are a servant and steward of talent, time, resources, relationships, and information. As a leader, you are charged with exceeding the public’s expectations by listening to their voice and providing the services they require, desire, and deserve. The issue is often finding balance between pleasing external customers while avoiding undermining internal customers.
Stakeholder analysis and engagement is therefore critical to the success of any initiative or program, and it requires someone who can bring the right people to the table, collaborate, and create a mutual understanding and vision to execute the mission. Tyrell Morris, the Executive Director of the Orleans Parish Communications District (OPCD, New Orleans 911/311, Louisiana, USA), is such a charismatic and transformational leader who has showed up to get his followers to be confident in his abilities enough to follow his lead. I flew 8,000 miles and drove six hours to spend the day with Tyrell, meeting his gladiators—the men and women trained to fight against death and to fight for the public in a world of chaos and destruction.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the trip to OPCD was getting firsthand experience of the #SHOWUP campaign developed by Morris when he took over as the agency’s Executive Director in 2018.
“The #SHOWUP campaign acts as the guide to developing and achieving that standard of excellence within the organization by dictating that everyone—no matter who they are, where they are from, or what kind of mood they are in—must #SHOWUP during every interaction they encounter,” Morris said. “Why? Because lives depend on it.”
Getting to this level of enthusiasm was not an easy journey. It required Tyrell to do an analysis, recognize a need to make improvements, create a vision for change, and communicate that vision. He felt that people were the priority and their individual talent was necessary for the success of the organization. In fact, by developing the quality of the people, he felt he could simultaneously change the organization.
My leadership style is similar to Tyrell’s in that we both feel that success could only start with people development and motivation to keep their eye on the vision. This rests in the ability of our leaders to monitor performance and reiterate expectations. These gladiators, when they are engaged, can be more operationally effective, so long as the strategy and structure remain organic. So, how do you create gladiators?
First, gain your followers’ trust by empowering them to serve others first rather than the organization itself. Then, use your humility, compassion, empathy, listening, and conceptualization to cultivate your followers and thereby improve their job satisfaction and sustain their performance. Finally, with these developed followers, create a service culture where everyone is individually doing what is right and appropriate with shared trust, shared respect, and shared motivations.
The day will be won or lost by these gladiators, and what they most need is their fearless leader’s support. They understand that the arena (field) they are in is not a game and want the leaders to trust that they know what they are doing and to support them while they do it. When asked what kind of tools or resources they need, they will say, “Nothing” and humbly claim, “I am the weapon,” because support in and of itself is profound.1
1Kosinski J. Oblivion. Relativity Media. 2013.