Practical Leadership

What’s “Leadership” All About Anyway?

Ultimately, leadership is both highly personal and highly situational. There are all sorts of teams and leaders, and the themes and truisms I lay out in this book are universal; each leader has to adapt their own style and personal ethos. I submit that the personal ethos is the first thing a serious leader should reflect on when he takes on a new leadership role. No matter how long a job lasts, be it days or years, the leader should constantly review her ethos in light of the task at hand. My ethos, the philosophy outlined in my book Leading Leaders, is the man I want to be when I lead and the values I want my organization to manifest.

As an instructor at the Air Force Officer Training School (OTS), I saw the officer trainees take on the personality of their leaders time and time again. Each of us flight commanders were different in our approach to instruction. One thought of OTS as “adult education,” while another acted as if he’d just come off the set of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Each of the groups of officer trainees soon adopted the personality traits of their leader. The transformation was dramatic in some cases, and the military training environment intensified it. For me, it underscored my need to be sure I was the sort of leader I wanted people to emulate, because I knew they’d be taking my example as well as my instruction out into the Air Force.

What It Takes to Be Successful

I believe if a leader is truly successful, you see it in the demeanor and character of the people he leads. It’s often surprising to me how much organizations, even large ones, take on the personality of the leader. It’s incumbent, therefore, on the leader to be a person of character, because he has great influence on the character of others. Once a leader understands that essential mandate—truly gets it—he is never the same person again. Integrity must be our watchword, because, without it, we cannot hope to build teams that trust each other. Respect is the common ground teammates join on to accomplish their professional and personal goals. Leaders Lead when they take charge and motivate others to achieve and grow. Teamwork is essential to reaching any end; individual achievement is almost always the result of shared effort. Finally, a leader’s strict attention to detail means that he fully understands the task and which Little Things Matter to getting things done. These are basic ideas, but without these principles as a solid foundation, a leader is without a starting place.

Before the satellite navigation, Global Positioning System, the most advanced navigation system was called the Inertial Navigation System (INS). In order to navigate from place to place, an INS device had to know precisely where it was at the start. Knowing that, the machine used speed and time to calculate distance and precise location along the route. The device was even used to navigate to the moon and back during the Apollo missions.

Like the fixed starting point for the INS, the principles described in this book are the starting point: a precise location to launch from for any leadership journey. If your personal leadership ethos is based on character, you’ll have a solid foundation no matter whether you’re leading a Boy Scout troop, a small business or major corporation, or battalions in combat.

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