On Leadership

The terms “leader” and “leadership” get bandied about often without a clear understanding of what a leader is; or, what the resultant leadership means.   It has been written and stated widely that “leaders are born, not made”.  While that axiom may get some pushback, leaders have an innate character that ultimately will take them into a leadership role of one type of another.  Even those with less evident qualities for leadership can – can – be groomed for leadership.

When I was age fifteen, I was sent by my church to a youth leadership training camp at Muhlenberg College.  As I recall, that camp lasted a week.  I recall little else.  I attribute that loss of memory to the nearly sixty years since!  But, for me the core issue is how the church saw in me leadership potential.  I was one of the church youth leaders; secretary of that group.

Three years later I joined the United States Air Force.  At Tech School, I was one of the first Airmen on the Airmen’s Advisory Council created by our Squadron Commander.  For my service on that Council, I received my first letter of commendation for outstanding performance and leadership.  Three years later, before being discharged honorably I would receive two more such letters while stationed at a remote Intel site.

I share the foregoing not to impress, but rather to share how “my story” as it has unfolded.  I recall a high school English teacher saying, “If you write about yourself, write from what is familiar; from experience.”  That instruction has followed and guided me for decades.

The United States Air Force unleashed my “inner” leader, simultaneously building within me a level of self-confidence that I had lacked fully when first into boot camp.  Along the way, thereafter, certain commissioned officers and upper rank non-commissioned officers saw my potential and mentored me.  Most often, that mentoring was subtle – a methodology followed by good mentors.

One thing I intuited early on as a very young Air Force Staff Sergeant:  Leadership is not about me.  It is about “you” and “us”.  A boss is about “me”.  A leader sees the greater good and the wider whole of teamwork and team spirit.  A good, strong leader intuits the potential of his followers, his team, and incentivizes that group energy.  Two of my iconic leaders from history are General George S. Patton who was an extraordinary leader during World War II; and, William Wallace, the Scotsman who paved the way for Scotland’s independence from the Crown.

What follows are various definitions of and perspectives on leadership.  They have been borrowed from the Web, Merriam-Webster and others who are noted below along with their quotes.

Leadership involves establishing a clear vision, sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly; providing the information, knowledge and methods to realize that vision, and
coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders.

A leader steps up in times of crisis, and is able to think and act creatively in difficult situations.
(Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/leadership.html)

Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent.  And, I would add “more successful”.

Some other popular definitions of Leadership are:

The U.S. military has as one of its definitions, Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish a mission (U.S. Army, 1983).

Leadership is inspiring others to pursue your vision within the parameters you set, to the extent that it becomes a shared effort, a shared vision, and a shared success [Emphasis mine.] (Zeitchik, 2012).

 “The single most powerful way to grow as a leader: Become truly self-aware.”  Erika Andersen, Forbes, November 2012

11 Ways to Define Leadership

By Jennifer Post, “Business News Daily” Contributor

  1. The pursuit of bettering your environment
  2. Knowing your team and yourself well
  3. Giving people the tools to succeed
  4. Open, authentic and positive influence
  5. Clarity, confidence and courage
  6. Building consensus and common goals
  7. Being the solution to problems
  8. Helping others achieve the impossible
  9. Building the next generation of leaders
  10. Building followership
  11. Actively listening

From the above, one sees how leadership – good leadership – is a powerful force in the lives of one and many.  Of course, there are bad leaders.  But, a cautionary note is in order:  If someone is a “bad” leader, they really are not a leader in the authentic sense.

In our world today we see many who want to claim the title “leader”.  Politicians are among the worst offenders.  Most legislators, whether in the United States Congress or in state and local legislative bodies are far from being leaders.  Far too many of them, if elected, arrive with their own personal agendas; often struck with high rolling supporters who expect favors if their candidate is elected.

Being a strong leader, becoming a good, strong leader, requires time, experience and maturity.   In his book, “Leading”, Sir Alex Ferguson the legendary manager of the Manchester United (UK) football league lays out an excellent repertoire on leadership.  As Sir Alex reveals, leaders learn more from our pitfalls, shortcomings and failures; the teaching experiences.  Success and victory are the fruits borne from those teaching experiences.

The two areas, or professions, where leadership is most demonstrative is in our military services and in our sports; athletics.  Whether it is a platoon leader or the captain of an athletic team (think soccer, rugby, football, lacrosse, baseball, basketball, and so on), those are the lads who are looked to and looked up to for the next victory or conquest.

It is unfortunate that in many environments today there are people who see themselves as leaders when in fact they are bosses.  Their sense of authority, real or imagined, elevates their ego to the point of becoming ineffective.  We often use the term “alpha” for a leader.  But that “alpha” is translated in the most positive and respectable sense.  Alpha also can mean “dominant”, which alone in its context can take on highly negative perceptions.

Leaders also embrace a solid sense of mission:  Where are we going and how do we get there?  Leaders must be mission focused; clarity of mission is critical and essential.  Entering any situation “blind” is a sure recipe for disaster.

Leadership is like a ladder.  In the military, we have the command officers; then the squadron officers and senior non-coms (Non-commissioned Officers); then the platoon leader, most often a person in the rank of Sergeant.  In sports we have the manager, the coach or coaches; the team captain.  As you can see, leadership does not rely upon or center on one person.

We must not confuse a boss or a “head” of an organization, group or company as a “leader”.  The title does not necessarily fit the reality.  Slave masters are not leaders.  They are thugs and bullies.  Walking across dead bodies, speaking euphemistically, to put yourself ahead of the rests is not leading.

The common denominator among true leaders is how they realize and demonstrate shared duty and shared success.  The concept of “team”, a term often over used is in full play when leaders lead.  Sir Alex Ferguson lays out various aspects that must be included in good leadership:  listen, watch, read, and perhaps most important of all, the exercise of discipline.  Disciplining self and your team are critical.   Discipline embodies structure.  Structure is essential to unity:  unity among the team members; unity of purpose; a unified effort to reach predetermined goals.

Trust also is key in all such organisms.  Loyalty to the team and the team’s efforts.  And for the team leader, I return to Erika Andersen’s “being self-aware”.  The leader must be in a constant state of self-awareness.  Simultaneously, the leader must be aware of those he or she is leading.  Leaders do not self-isolate; they cannot self-isolate.  They are the center, and like the spokes in a wheel they spiral outward among their team.


Thoughts on Dr. Travis Bradberry

April 2017
As a fan and follower of Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0”, I admire and respect his plaudits for self-reflection/introspection and road maps to greater success. There is a “however”. Isn’t there always?
Dr Bradberry lives and breathes in a world that is far removed from the world many others of us live in; and, must live in. His list of the ten most toxic people one should “avoid like the plague” is spot on. It has been very helpful as I process my current professional predicament.

The president of a client board has put a target on my back to get me fired. She admitted as much to my assistant manager, in “secret”; not realizing, perhaps, that my assistant’s loyalty is to me; not to her. Ergo, he told me her plans. This particular woman is toxic, possessing at least three of Bradberry’s ten toxins. Many of us who have interacted with her conclude she is consumed with hate and anger. She especially hates men; all the more men who are strong; ones over which she cannot trample or ride rough shod. At her core she is a bully, often highly irrational; living in a world of rage and anger just below the surface that is easily triggered. She is not, by any measure, a leader. She is self-flagellating, often becoming demonstrably angry when anyone dares to disagree with her opinion or her point of view. If you are “in her sights”, she will cleverly set you up for an attack. When someone holds that much authority, they can and will commit serious damage even to the suspecting.
Dr. Bradberry has posited, “One cannot be rational with an irrational person.” This particular board president’s behavior and demeanor underscore the reality perfectly!
I want to hear Dr. Bradberry’s views on survival in such toxic situations. Such environments are, after all, war zones and minefields. Most often, it is difficult to extract oneself quickly from battle fields such as these. Those who find ourselves in highly toxic work settings must follow rules and guidelines to survive the nefariously driven chaos. Finding another job is the logical goal. But in the meantime, the abused must summon up the psychic energy to survive; not play into the hand of the villain. Anyone who finds themselves in such cancerous surroundings must deftly strive to extract themselves — permanently.
Toxic people motivated by hate, the origins of their hate often not known to them, are destructive. They are a poison in both the professional and the social environments. When they hold a “seat of power” where they can lord over those they want to “get rid of” or do harm to, they are relentless. Dr. Bradberry’s words and theories are powerful. Dr. Bradberry works through the light; from the bright side. Regrettably, certain real world settings are so negative and disruptive that applying Dr. Bradberry’s axioms may not work.
Those under attack must be ever-vigilant. We must summon up our strengths and keep our defenses and wits about us. We must not play into the pernicious hand of the villain, for they are set upon seeing us fail; destroyed. Once an escape has availed itself, take it post haste! Never give up. Never give in. Good souls ultimately victor over the bad ones, but the road can be treacherous along the way.