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July 28, 2004

Bill asks, I answer.

Bill and I have been having a discussion on a different topic, in this email he changes the subject and asks a different question:

...As I had mentioned, I'm a 20-year IBMer and several of us were sitting around and discussing "leadership". In the marketing arena, the guy who sells the most is touted as a Leader. Most of us pooh pooh the very idea. Selling a large volume doesn't do anything for anyone else to increase their sales.

I added that a fine young fellow I met at the University of Colorado was a Marine Sgt. who was getting ready to go to OCS. He was not only a sniper, but he taught at Quantico. I asked him what his definition of "leadership" is, he replied that it is making the right decision for your team while under pressure.

He said that they have the trainees run for five miles and on their return to camp that are instructed to circle an "enemy" campsite and to memorize they see. They are later briefed on what they saw. The direction of a cigarette and how far it had been smoked for example.

What do you think constitutes Leadership? I ask you because you are retired military and I (unfortunately) have no experience like that.

My response is in the Flash Traffic.

The Sergeant had a pretty good working definition of leadership at the Sergeant's level - and was combat focused, which I would expect from a young warrior. Especially in todays operational environment.

My definition is a bit more expansive, but then, I'm a bloviating officer...

A leader is someone who sees what needs to be done, and gets people to do it.

A successful leader is the person who see the *right* things that need to be done, and gets people to do them. Both types of leader exist, you'd rather work for the latter than the former.. 8^)

Within that general framework what do I mean?

The leader:

Has a vision for where the organization should go.

Has a plan on how to get there, or knows how to get talented people to develop that plan - i.e., he recognizes good ideas and good people when he sees them - and doesn't have to do everything himself.

Knows that if he is truly loyal to the unit - that he can't make himself indispensable to the unit. (Arlington is full of indispensable people, yet the Republic still stands) Custer is an especially good example of a bad leader in that regard. I am not a fan.

Understands the difference between being respected and being liked - and understands that respect is more important than liked, but that earning one will generally (though not always) segue to the other - but not vice-versa.

Trains and develops his subordinates, passes out recognition liberally, knowing that he will benefit from the overall glow.

Trains hard to hard standards - because the the Romans and Prussians had it right: Sweat in peacetime saves blood in wartime.

Understands that politics exist in any organization, and learns how to move in that environment without sacrificing his people or his integrity - but will sacrifice himself before his integrity.

Too many of us fail on that last one.

Regardless of what your politics may be, here's an example at the Presidential level:

Clinton rarely, if ever, led. And when he did, it was generally by proxy, with him prepared to take the credit, but pin the blame elsewhere such as letting Hillary run the Health Care Task Force. More often than not, Clinton looked at where the polls said people wanted to go, he then metaphorically ran to the head of the herd and said, "Follow me!".

That is not leadership.

Bush, by contrast stands up and says, "Let's go here." or, "We don't want to go there." And then (with varying degrees of success) he tries to influence people to get them to go where he thinks they should go. The key point is he has a vision of where to go and lays it out and says "That's where I'm going, come along." And he doesn't sway with the wind, but that doesn't mean he can't be swayed.

That's leading. We'll find out in November is it's successful leadership or not, but it *is* leading, as opposed to what Clinton did. Part of the definition, remember, is being able to influence people that your vision is correct.

Now, if you have the wrong vision, can't implement it, etc, well, that's where the successful part comes in.

I prefer leaders who lead, rather than figureheads who pander and then take credit.

Panderers succeed, especially in times where there is no real stress. This is true in the corporate world as well. Enron, Arthur Andersen, and Worldcom are examples of that (with lots of other complicating factors).

Don't beat yourself up about not having served, Bill. There's only 1.5 million of us in uniform out of 280 million citizens. The reason we have the military we do is because of all the rest of you who's productivity is such that we can afford to have the military we do. In that regard, we all do our bit. Just like you don't have to feel bad you weren't a cop, or a fireman, either. Though, I gotta admit,
if I can lose another 40lbs I'm gonna join the local volunteer fire department. I did that while I was in college and it's great fun.

You want to serve? Donate your time and talents. Join a service club like Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Optimists (I'm partial to Rotary, being a third generation Rotarian). Volunteer with local charities (I sit on the board of one local charity - a job I got solicited for via Rotary and it's fun and not too demanding). If you are retired and have a decent steady income, become a Red Cross volunteer and do disaster relief. If you've got some organizational experience, contact FEMA and see if they need any reservists. FEMA maintains a cadre of people (many like me, because we've run operations centers and know how to gather and disseminate information) to augment Disaster Field Offices. It's not full time work, you only get called up when they need you, and it's hard work when you are doing it, if only in terms of hours - but you want to do a little serving, and have the time to do it, those are venues where you can have a real, true impact. If my financial plans didn't require it while I'm getting my kids through school and beyond, I would be a FEMA reservist now.