My 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.