Learning to Let People Lead, and Sometimes Fail, Develops Leaders

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Leaders have to grow their company’s future leaders, because even those with natural leadership ability need training and mentoring. This means that branch managers, assistant managers, team leaders, project managers, etc., have to deliberately develop their teammates’ and employees’ leadership skills by giving them opportunities to lead and then letting them.

Give people the opportunity to excel, given them the tools to be successful, and then guide them to success.  This idea of setting people up for success and then getting out of the way means that leaders have to be willing to allow their mentees to fail.  Sometimes the personal and professional growth from a failure is greater than from success

Tom Landry, Air Force Officer and Dallas Cowboys Head Coach on Leadership

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Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, right, shares a shovel with coach Tom Landry at the ground breaking of the Cowboys practice facility in Irving, Tex., In this Nov. 30, 1983 file photo. (AP Photo/File) 

One of my heroes, the late Tom Landry, former Dallas Cowboys’ head coach, once said, the art of leadership is “to get people to do what they don’t want to do to achieve what they want to achieve.”

What Coach Landry understood was that the basic leadership dilemma: how to motivate people to accomplish some task, or mission, and to do that in such a way that they get some value out of the deal.  That requires leaders who can move people without breaking them in the process.

An effective leader has integrity and models it.  He respects his boss, the institution, and his subordinates.  He exercises the authority his organization had vested in him, stepping up to lead.  He requires teamwork, and actively seeks out teammates.  And he knows that little things matter, and add up to big things.

Ronald Reagan on Character & Leadership

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders, Quotes by Famous Leaders

President Ronald Reagan sums up the idea of the fundamental nature of character and what it takes to make good decisions as a leader.  In a May 1993 speech to the cadets at The Citadel in South Carolina, Reagan said:

The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined. It has been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments. It has been determined by all the little choices of years past…by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation…whispering the lie that it really doesn’t matter. It has been determined by all the day-to-day decisions made when life seemed easy and crises seemed far away…the decisions that, piece by piece, bit by bit, developed habits of discipline or of laziness, habits of self-sacrifice or of self-indulgence, habits of duty and honor and integrity-or dishonor and shame.

In reflecting on this statement from President Reagan, it’s important to recognize that he wasn’t necessarily speaking about heroes or larger than life figures, although those words could certainly fit the heroes in our midst.  He was talking about the common person, and the idea that people rarely “rise to the occasion;” rather most people fall into habits and thought patterns where they’re comfortable.  That’s why seemingly unimportant decisions can become the building blocks of character, for good or bad. We have to remember that as leaders we are always “out front.”

Leading Leaders Book Preview: No Real Leader “Phones It In”

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Leadership by Experience, Practical Leadership

My upcoming book, Leading Leaders, is filled with stories about leaders and personal stories from my own life since leadership is inherently a personal experience. Leadership is not the application of skills as much as it’s the focused attention on human interaction. Humans are complex beings that are the amalgamation of their own experiences, learned and innate behaviors, and the situations leaders and teams find themselves in over the course of the job at hand. We can learn a lot from our own experiences, and others’, so long as we’re open to the lesson. That’s the real secret of effective leaders: they care enough about the team and the job at hand to invest themselves in the effort.  Leaders have to be present and engaged.  No effective leader ever “phones it in.”

A great story to illustrate my point: I once accompanied an Army 2-star general to the signing ceremony of an agreement on enhancing military spouse employment between four military bases in the Rocky Mountain Front Range.  It was a typical ceremonial military function, with local officials, base officials from two military Services, and a host of military spouses.  As the Army major general made his way through the crowded corridor, staff in tow, toward the ball room to get ready to start the event, he found himself shaking hands with a volunteer who was also the wife of one of his deployed soldiers.   The general could have shaken her hand, smiled perfunctorily, and moved on.  No one would have blamed him, since he commanded thousands of soldiers and certainly had a full schedule.

But that’s not what he did.

He stopped and gave that young woman his full attention.  He asked her how she was doing with specific questions, and after listening to her intently, assured her of his support by making certain his aide had her name and her husband’s unit.  I have no doubt that he checked on her and her husband later, probably personally.  It made a huge impression on me to see such focus and presence by a senior leader!

That’s presence…that’s leadership…and it’s applicable to leadership in any situation.

Looking for Reviewers…

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Are you interested in reviewing Leading Leaders, or the second editions of For God and Country or Saturday Morning Catechism? Would you like Editingto have your “blurb” published in the book? If so, please comment below (and include your email address) or email me directly!!

At present, I’m working with Blue Mantle Publishing (thanks Maria!) and expect Leading Leaders to be published this March or April.  Of course if a large publisher decides to take me on those timelines could change!  The second editions of  For God and Country and Saturday Morning Catechism will be released by October of this year.

Thanks in advance!

Seeking Feedback on Book Title

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Start Here is the working title for my third book about leadership…and I’m thinking about Leading Leaders as the title I’ll publish.  I’d love to get feedback, any thoughts?

The primary target audience is leaders who lead groups that have subordinate leaders, but the principles are applicable to any size team or company.

A Leadership Lesson in 1,000 Vertical Feet

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Manitou Incline
1Lt Suzanne McCurdy and me at the summit of the Manitou Incline

What does a hike up the Manitou Incline have to do with leadership?  Well, lots…for starters there’s the necessity for a person to master themselves in order to get to the top. Before a person can lead others, he/she has to see their goals, know their own limits, and most often persevere through a little pain in order to achieve something.  A tough physical challenge like the Incline is a perfect opportunity to practice those skills.

The Manitou Incline is less than a mile from bottom to top, but it’s almost 1,000 vertical feet of lung pounding, quad burning climbing along an old cog railway to an altitude of 9,000 feet above sea level.  There are plenty of chances to quit…including a “bail out” trail halfway up…and it takes between 40 and 60 minutes to make the climb depending on how hard you go.

This past Saturday, my executive officer 1Lt Suzanne McCurdy (photo, left) and I made the climb.  It was my first time up the trail and her upteenth…and with a few quick hints for making it to the top we started the climb together.  Suzanne is an outstanding athlete (and 15 years younger than me!) and I’m proud to report that she beat me to the top by a full 5 minutes.  She is in great physical condition, but the real secret to getting to the top of the Incline is determination and willingness to “suffer” a little to achieve something.

One of my favorite leadership quotes comes from Coach Tom Landry…and I was thinking about Coach Landry as I put one foot in front of the other during the climb.  He said, “The art of leadership is to get people to do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they want to achieve.”  While I wasn’t leading anyone on Saturday, I could see the summit and I wanted to be up there. I definitely had to “do what I didn’t want to do” (endure the pain) to “achieve what I want to achieve” (reach the summit). When I started, the summit seemed so far away, but with Pandora blasting some Classic Rock in my ears, and with one step in front of the other, soon I was making progress.

I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath and admire the view.  About halfway up I looked around…”Boy,” I thought, “If the view is this good here, I’ll bet the view from the top is amazing!”  That (and seeing that Suzanne was getting ahead of me!) was enough motivation to continue the climb.  When we got to the top we were rewarded with a spectacular view….but the real reward was a sense of accomplishment for persevering through the pain of the climb to reach the summit.  A leadership lesson in 1,000 vertical feet.