Leadership Forum: Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity

By Rear Admiral Paul Becker, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Why teamwork, tone, and tenacity? Why just three? Many lists highlight positive leadership traits and actions that help make people and organizations great. For example, Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations” references ten rules for being an exceptional leader. Retired Army General Colin Powell has “13 Rules for Leadership,” and John Maxwell authored the best-selling book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. So why is it worth focusing on teamwork, tone, and tenacity? Because these three attributes form a superior set of mutually reinforcing behaviors aimed at meeting mission, taking care of people, and developing subordinates. They also fit together well in a short, actionable, memorable phrase. Aurelius, Powell, Maxwell, and others offer valuable advice, but that advice takes time to recall and apply.

“Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity” is user-ready in the fast-paced, pressure-packed, information-intensive environment in which military and civilian leaders operate today. The guidance is immediately retrievable because it focuses on intent instead of tasks, and cognitive skill research indicates that human minds are well conditioned to remember directions and phrases that flow in sets of three: lights, camera, action; ready, aim, fire; duty, honor, country. Now add to them “Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity.”

Leaders and followers can recall and execute specific practices associated with “Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity” rapidly in any situation, from a contested combat zone to a boisterous board room. And when a leader’s clear, actionable, memorable guidance (i.e., “commander’s intent”) is known and understood by those seeking to achieve a common goal, the chance of achieving and perpetuating success is greatly increased.

Teamwork: Teamwork begins by building trust. A leader has many responsibilities, and one of the most important is building relationships, because the result of relationships is trust and the byproduct of trust is loyalty, and loyalty to the team is the essence of workplace morale—whether wearing a uniform or a business suit. The culture of teamwork was, and is, imbued into the organization from the top. The best military teams I ever encountered were those led by Army Generals Stan McChrystal in Southwest Asia and Martin Dempsey at the Pentagon. These leaders established a command climate where trust and loyalty between every echelon and every member of the team was the norm and where every teammate understood what needed to be accomplished. Teamwork is especially important when two parties disagree on an issue, because it gives you something on which to fall back. Knowing the character of the individual you are working with prevents a professional relationship from devolving into accusatory discourse and incivility. This is a lesson that can be applied well elsewhere in today’s society.

Tone: There are a lot of dimensions to tone, but when I reflect on leaders who demonstrated it best, I recall their positive attitudes, which caused a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. Navy Vice Admirals Dave Nichols and Jim Zortman demonstrated excellent tone. I valued their genuineness, integrity, and willingness to take the time to teach and train. They always were comfortable with who they were and consistent in their actions. When they asked, “How are you doing?” they meant it and were ready to listen to a real response. Tone also applies to maintaining advantage over a crisis by remaining cool and unruffled. Good tone creates a positive command climate that makes people want to come to work and excel every day.

Tenacity: I like Thomas Edison’s citation, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” There is no substitute for the hard work it takes for understanding all aspects of an issue, being involved and visible to your people, communicating standards, and ensuring all members of the organization understand the objective and how to implement a solution. The most tenacious leaders I ever served with were Army Colonel Annette Torrisi and Navy Intelligence Specialist Master Chief Todd Schroeder, who each provided me a healthy dose of junior subordinate “reverse mentoring.” Arriving on short notice into Afghanistan in 2009 when our Coalition was suffering setbacks and in organizational disarray, they placed tackling and solving our toughest unit problems ahead of their own comfort and ambition. Each demonstrated endurance in a hostile environment but also persistence with a purpose and a relentless focus combined with a certainty of what was going to transpire. For Annette and Todd, failure was never a permanent option, just a temporary obstacle.

In summary, “Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity” are easy to recognize, easy to remember, and easy to apply. I am fortunate to have benefited from seeing them personified by outstanding warriors and leaders across several decades in peace, crisis, and combat. Together they comprise what I call the “Gold Standard” of leadership and the benchmark for today’s leaders in the military, government, and private sectors.

Admiral Becker served as Director of Intelligence on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. Pacific Command, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Naval Forces Central Command. In 2016, the Naval Intelligence Community established the “Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity” Leadership Award in his honor upon his retirement.




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