Too Many Indians and Not Enough “Willing” Chiefs

Let’s say there was a scenario that took place when it was late at night in a large city. A young woman is walking down a street when a man jumps out to rob her. There is a long struggle and fight that ensues. In the vicinity, multiple individuals hear and see this incident. Some people are in the local diner finishing up dinner; some are in their cars passing by; some are in their upstairs apartment viewing the act; some are even only a few feet away from the struggling and frantic woman. Who do you believe called the police in this scenario? Who should call? Who should do anything at all? The answer is everyone should attempt to stop it in some manner. But, when there is an opportunity for someone to step up and take charge and control the situation, there is a phenomenon that sometimes occurs called “The Bystander Effect,” also known as “Diffusion of Responsibility Theory.”

     This suggests that when an incident occurs, where a citizen needs to take control of the situation, and there is a large group from which that citizen needs to emerge from, that most citizens will assume someone else will do it. They assume someone has the better skill to handle the situation or that someone already had their phone out and called 911. All of which is the excuse within ourselves to not have to be responsible for the situation and shows a lack of preparedness.

     I use this scenario to outline how we can and should navigate the work force or any everyday situation where leaders and workers need to co-exist. It shows how at a moment’s notice a leader must be established quickly, where some leaders need to resort to being a worker. It also illustrates how workers (Indians) can be that necessary worker, but do it with a leader (Chief) mindset. 

     In my job as an instructor, I get to teach, coach and advise military leaders on combat advising. As I prepared for my duties as an instructor in this field, I assessed that one issue I’d have to mentor on is all these leaders wanting to take charge. I envisioned my 12 to 20 advisors, all at one time, would want to make a decision and undermine what their actual “boss” said to do. What I learned after a few rotations of classes is that this was not the norm at all. In fact, the military leaders that were not assigned to a “leadership” slot, did exactly what they were told with little push back. Now, you may be thinking that this is good and this is how it is supposed to be. And yes, you are correct. But what was happening was when the assigned leaders were occupied with their task on the battlefield, these other “leaders” not assigned to a leadership role would not make decisions at all and would wait to be told what to do. It was very counter-productive and given that these were all Sergeants and Officers was very perplexing. 

     After seeing what I’m perceiving as a new norm, I evaluated my thoughts on “too many chiefs and not enough Indians.” Is our culture turning so upside down that we as humans have lost the drive to insert ourselves where we can to show what we are made of? To prove to ourselves that we have what it takes to lead? That it’s now “too many Indians and not enough willing chiefs?” Now, these are just thoughts from observations from the past 6 months or so in this job. One thing I have started telling my students to try and break them of this mindset that could have a negative impact on the team if fostered incorrectly is “when you are in a situation where too many chiefs and not enough Indians is in play, and you aren’t assigned a leadership role, default to being an Indian but with a chief mindset.”

     In my situation, examples of doing their job with a chief mindset is…

  1. Assisting, without being told, to get accountability of Soldiers after an attack because you know that’s what needs to happen. 
  • Adjust your own security slightly if need be because there is a better position 10 feet to your left.
  • Start running around finding casualties if there are injured. 

     Anything that you can do for the team if you were in charge of it, you would want others doing, is how you should operate. Be the worker, but attack it with a chief mindset.

     Now, as much as all men want to grunt and grit their teeth and exercise their A-Type personalities, someone ultimately has to submit and let someone take charge when there is no clear chain of command. I’d argue there are advantages to not forcefully taking charge of said “thing.” It’s something you must humbly evaluate as a leader. It’s something that, depending on the severity of the fallout, if said task fails, you can assess how much of an impact will it have on the situation. Here’s some considerations I have for allowing others to lead while others willingly take a step back.

  1. You practice humbleness. You admit here that you actually don’t know it all. You have prepared your mind to allow yourself to learn and are open to having your beliefs changed. The person you allowed to step up may actually teach you something and surprise you. On the flip side, the person who would normally think you’d be the one stepping up is able to take an opportunity to make you possibly proud of them and show you they have what it takes.
  • It allows you to practice the power of silence. How many times have you been in a meeting or brain storming session and EVERYONE thinks they need to talk and say something? Happens a lot. This is the technique I love. I know MY end state. I know the agenda I want to push. Allow others to talk and get it all out. You gain intel on their thoughts and what their rebuttals will be to your eventual statement. It also allows you to organize your thoughts so you can speak clearly and thoughtfully. Once I believe it has died down, then I speak. Hopefully, after the boss has heard everyone else blab on about nonsense for an hour, this new voice, new thought coming out, new calm energy could be a deciding factor in the win you are looking for.
  • It gives you an assessment of the individual. How do you know if that person should lead something if you know nothing about them, especially in your work force? Assessing them gives you the opportunity to coach and teach them either during or after the incident. Also, it gives you insight into whether this person is ready for the next level of responsibility or if they should remain where they are and continue to train and grow.

     I had an incident the other day while my Advisors were training in a village where I had certain individuals in leadership positions so I could assess their capabilities. I had a very senior leader on the team acting as security and to be additional eyes and ears for me so we could help give our assessments after the exercise. What I saw almost immediately after the enemy attacked leaving several casualties, was this senior leader completely taking over the scenario. He was making decisions that the Team Leader should be making. For example, taking the radio from our indirect fires leader and doing it himself. Even though he inserted himself and became that chief, it completely derailed training. Everyone knew they were missing out on an opportunity to learn. It caused confusion. And it actually hurt this senior leader’s credibility. This also caused me the headache of pulling the individual back to say “no.” The point I want to make here is we as leaders and really as people need to think more. EVERYTHING IS a learning opportunity. It’s my belief we should absolutely be meticulous on what we take the charge of and in and how we allow others to step up. And when we allow others, we don’t fully sit back and allow them to fail. Now, the task might fail, but we won’t let it end there. We will educate and train afterwards to figure out what went wrong? Why it went wrong? What could we have done to fix it? And who fixes it? Failure is feedback. Remember that. Don’t be so caught up that everything has to happen correctly the very first time. Plan your days. Have goals and outcomes you want to accomplish. Teach someone something. Lead and influence your bubble of influence. Be better today than you were yesterday!

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