What’s “Leadership” All About Anyway?

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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.

Dynamic Dozen: Setting The Example

Posted Posted in GeneralLeadership.com
Maxwell AFB, Ala. - Officer Training School inducts Gen (ret) Lance Smith, former commander, US Joint Forces Command and NATO Supreme Allied commander for Transformation, and Brigadier General Paul Johnson, deputy US Military Representative NATO Headquarters into the OTS Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame at Maxwell AFB on Feb. 17, 2012. (US Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)
(US Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)

Always do everything you ask of those you command.
– General George S. Patton

When I was an instructor at the Air Force’s Officer Training School, I noticed the uncanny way the groups of officer trainees we led became mirrors of their Flight Commander. It was a little scary, really. If the Flight Commander was cerebral, quiet, competitive, gung-ho, or whatever: so were his or her trainees. During our Instructor Qualification Course the seasoned Flight Commanders warned us this would happen, but to see it in action was startling to me as a brand new instructor. It also impressed upon me the weight of my responsibility to set the example.

Military Leaders Know Setting the Example is Key

Setting the example is crucial to motivating others to follow, because people pay far more attention to what leaders do than what we say. Like it or not, people will emulate their leader if they respect them. A key to earning and maintaining the team’s respect is setting a good example.

It’s a truism of military leadership that we must never ask our teams to do anything we’re not willing to do themselves. We drill this idea into young military leaders from the very beginning. We expect young lieutenants and sergeants to set the example for the troops they lead in what they say and how they act. A lieutenant cannot expect his troops to follow the rules if he doesn’t, and he cannot expect loyalty if he doesn’t demonstrate loyalty both up and down the chain of command. That’s the essence of setting an example: to model exactly what we expect of those we lead. A model is much more compelling than any speech or motivational poster.

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.

-Albert Einstein

Setting the example works both ways, of course. If you are late or sloppy or disloyal, your team will soon follow suit. Leaders who fail to recognize their own responsibility to follow their own rules and set a good example become responsible for their own failure. I’ve seen many high performing team descend into mediocrity when a poor leader replaces a good one. People naturally rise to the expectations of the leader, and the example leaders set for the team are their expectations of them.

It’s Really Not Hard

Setting a good example is really not very hard, we just have to possess the discipline to do what we say. Be on time, follow your own dress code, follow the company travel rules, etc. These are simple ways to make sure your team understands what’s expected of them. Believe me, your people are watching your actions–they notice the good behavior. Besides just setting expectations, there’s also the added benefit of being able to enforce the rules with a clear conscience. People will accept correction from a leader they know is only asking them to do what the leader does him- or herself.

Setting a good example is the keystone to leadership. Set a good one and see your team soar!

Originally posted on GeneralLeadership.com


cropped-20141026_102425.jpgMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world.  He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of six books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, and GeneralLeadership.com.