When I was going through the US Border Patrol Academy, way back when…, we had a legal instructor who was a former trial attorney. Any time you asked him a legal question, no matter what it was, his answer was always the same. “It depends” (imagine a strong southern drawl here…it depeyands…). We would then explore all the nuances and issues that could influence the outcome of that question – and it was amazing how many different answers we came up with for what seemed like a very simple question.
Leadership seems to be one of those questions. What is it? Well, who’s asking? Are we talking military leadership? Corporate leadership? Government leadership? Political leadership? Sports leadership? The list seems endless.
First, let’s distinguish between management and leadership. Managers manage programs or organizational functions, etc. Leaders lead people. Pretty much everyone has experienced a leader in their life. It’s one of those things that if you’ve never experienced it, you’re not sure, but if you have…you know. I’ve known some truly inspirational leaders in my time, but then like I always say, “I’ve been in the wrong places at the right time” many times in my life…and many times, that’s where true leadership is most apparent.
Leadership is selfless. It is not about grandstanding, it is not about the person themselves. It is about the people the person leads. A true leader puts others before themselves, s/he serves others, not the other way around.
I’ve been a Force level Sergeant Major during war; a federal Senior Executive Service member and Director in some of the most stressful situations imaginable; a front-line first responder (an EMT, a Firefighter, and a Law Enforcement Officer) in charge of life or death situations; a corporate executive (Vice President, President & CEO) during intense contract negotiations and business development campaigns; a national level political candidate (US Congress, TX-15); and a dad of two boys and a girl who all went through their teens… I’ve seen and experienced true leadership.
During many of these situations, like corporate leadership for example, I’ve been asked “how do you know all of this?” (referring to the ability to plan, organize, lead, delegate, inspire, etc…), and my answer was always the same. I learned this as a young Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps, my first leadership position. Now I’m not saying the only way to learn leadership is in the Marine Corps…there are many, many places to learn – in other branches of the military, public service, business settings and schools, churches, etc., etc…as well as one of the best places, from your parents.
However, if you’d like to read a couple of great articles from Inc. Magazine, one of the premiere business and finance magazines, “providing insight into the world of business in the United States and around the world…an authority on the fastest growing, most-innovative companies as well as the people behind them”, then read these:
“Preparing for Business Battles? Learn Some Lessons from the Marines.” This is a quick article from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, and talks about the leadership lessons they learned at the Marine’s Officer Candidate School.
The second one, “Corps Values”, is a deeper dive into the makeup of the Marines, and the leadership values and principles that are taught – and lived – there. I really thought this one was excellent, and showed why Marines have been successful in pretty much anything they’ve been involved with.
Both Inc. Magazine and the Wharton School of Business look to these experiences to find leadership. Leadership transcends all genres; military, business, sports, life, etc.
All this, and many other examples, show leadership in action, explain leadership, and give examples of great leaders…but nothing here actually defines leadership. Many have tried, varying from very simplistic definitions to in-depth analyses attempting to define leadership. No definition has satisfied everyone – because everyone has their own definition of leadership.
Leadership is based on the situation. It is dependent upon the culture, the tasks, the environment, and many, many other factors.
In my opinion, leadership has universal traits, however. Selfless service to the people being led, the mission that is to be accomplished, and consideration for the value of all those who are being led. A leader is compassionate, focused, driven, delegates to those best suited to accomplish various portions of the task or mission, and drives authority for decisions down to the lowest level feasible. S/he leads from the front, and by example – and takes responsibility for their decisions – good or bad. They are not afraid to admit a mistake, and to learn from those mistakes.
Above all, they lead with and from integrity.
Think about true leadership, find someone you admire, a definition you believe, a cause you are passionate about…and step out. Lead.
That is leadership.
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