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Book Club - Leading from the Front

Our final book club pick of 2023 was Leading from the Front by Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch. Both authors are former Marines who later joined forces to write this book and create their leadership development company, Lead Star.

Morgan and Lynch share the leadership skills gained in the U.S. Marine Corps to help other women become leaders in their careers and personal lives. The book is a quick read with straightforward advice broken into ten chapters, with several examples for each topic.

I’m not very familiar with the military or Marine Corps in particular, so this was an interesting read. It gave me some new insights and perspectives on leadership. The authors explain that every Marine is expected to become a leader (in case the chain of command is broken in combat), and the expectation of leadership creates a strong and effective organization. I love the expectation that everyone can and should be a leader within an organization.

The examples in the book show how easily the leadership lessons learned in training applied to Morgan and Lynch’s later civilian careers and even in their personal lives. Although the civilian life is usually less dangerous, there are still high pressure situations we may all encounter that require quick thinking and strong leadership.

Here are the three top takeaways from Leading from the Front.

1) Be Decisive

One of the biggest lessons I took away from the book was about being decisive. As you might imagine, there are many scenarios in which a Marine might need to make a quick decision with little information to go on. Although most of our decisions at work aren’t life or death, the ability to choose the next course of action is a critically important leadership skill.

The book points out that woman often struggle with decision making because they are anxious to make a perfect choice. In reality, there is never going to be a perfect choice and there usually isn’t one “right” or “wrong” answer. This black and white thinking paralyzes decision making.

The authors also discuss that woman are frequently afraid to say no and don’t give an answer, which leads to an implied “yes.” But by deferring to give an answer, this puts more on your plate that you can’t or don’t want to do. Procrastinating also often leads to the problem getting worse while you were dragging your feet, leaving you with a bigger problem than if you had just taken care of it when it first came up.

So how can you become more decisive? The Marines aim for the 80% rule. You will probably never have 100% of the information you want, but 80% is enough to be able to make an informed decision. The book also suggests practicing making decisions more quickly in low stakes situations so that when a crisis comes, you’ll be more prepared.

“By making decisions about issues you can control, you achieve progress - you influence outcomes, rather than remaining stuck. You also become better prepared to recognize and respond to new opportunities and challenges that come up. Timely decisions are proactive; they help you move forward. Procrastinating only puts you in a reactive mode in which you give up opportunities to lead your life.”

2) Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

In the sixth chapter of the book, Morgan and Lynch share an easy to remember phrase as a guide for times of crisis - “aviate, navigate, communicate.” What exactly does that mean?

They explain that the phrase comes from pilots who are facing an emergency while in flight. First, they must aviate - continue flying the plane - because otherwise, they will definitely crash. Next, they need to navigate - stay on course while figuring out a new plan. Finally, they need to communicate what the new plan is. After all, a pilot can’t exactly decide to land at a new airport without informing the air traffic controller!

This is good advice for pilots, but it can also help keep anyone grounded and calm while facing a sudden crisis. It’s easy to freeze or panic and start running around like a headless chicken when an emergency happens, but leaders need to keep their cool. It’s up to you as a leader to guide everyone through the situation, and that can’t happen if you don’t keep calm yourself.

The last part of the motto about communicating is often forgotten, but perhaps the most important. Once you have made an action plan, it’s important to share that plan with the rest of your team and any other important stakeholders. That way everyone is on the same page and you don’t have to worry about duplicating efforts or additional mistakes due to miscommunication.

When you take time to plan ahead and keep calm when the unexpected arises, it allows you to calmly asses the situation and come up with solutions. The book sums it up by saying, “Essentially, a leader keeps going, makes any needed adjustments to the flight, and lets everyone know what’s going on in order to work toward a solution. That’s good advice in any situation.”

3) Overapologizing makes you look weak

We’ve talked on this blog before about how women have a tendency to apologize too much for things they don’t need to apologize for. It’s a topic that frequently comes up in women’s leadership, but the chapter about apologizing in Leading from the Front had some striking examples that really drove home the importance of avoiding unnecessary apologies.

“Overapologizing weakens a leader’s reputation and damages his or her credibility. Picture a second lieutenant on the battlefield preparing to send her troops up a hill to attack an enemy force. She certainly doesn’t precede her order with “I’m sorry,” as in, “I’m sorry for sending you up the hill to put your lives on the line.” Doing so would compromise her role as a leader and would certainly damage her standing. Stressful, dangerous times are exactly when a leader’s strength must be evident, not overshadowed by weak apologies.”

No, a Marine leader certainly wouldn't precede an order with an apology! So why should a civilian leader?

The chapter about apologizing also discusses how women typically feel more guilt, which can lead to unnecessary apologies. For example, they apologize for circumstances that are out of their control, like a rainy day.

All of this extra apologizing reduces your credibility and makes your apologies less sincere. If you apologize all the time for everything, the times when you do give an actual apology won’t have much impact. Self-confidence will help you learn to apologize only when truly necessary.

Leading from the Front provided me with some new insights into leadership from two women who learned their leadership skills from the Marines and successfully brought those skills into their civilian lives.

I liked the no-nonsense approach of the book with examples from their military tenure and afterwards because it showed how the lessons can transfer. Although I won’t be leading troops into battle anytime soon, imagining what a Marine leader might do in a situation is helpful to make tough, effective decisions.

Did you read the book along with us? Share your thoughts on Leading from the Front by Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch in the comments below.

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