Sunday, May 04, 2014

On Leadership


I have always been fascinated by leadership.  Now, I don't mean power. I think people often confuse power and leadership, and do so without understanding the distinction.  Granted, some people with power exude leadership, but quite often, people with leadership often have little or no power.  So, what is, in my mind, the difference.


Power is what is either bestowed upon someone, or seized.  The President of the United States (and I am NOT being specific as to which individual president) is given incredible powers by the Constitution and by the Office itself, and sways great power that is often misused (take Nixon and Watergate).  But this doesn't mean that the person in the Oval Office is a leader.  And quite frankly, we've had some poor Presidents who actually were good leaders, and good Presidents who were poor leaders.  Vladimir Putin has power, but is a poor leader.  The current Great Leader of North Korea has unbelievable power, but is obviously a terrible leader.  Leaders are not necessarily persons with power.

One example, though, of tremendous power married with natural leadership was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Forces, who commanded the overall invasion of Europe in WWII and eventually, defeated the German military.  I find Eisenhower - Ike - to be a fascinating man, as were many men and women during that time.  Born to a farming family in Kansas, one of several brothers, Ike never really stood out militarily.  He was not remarkable or flamboyant as say General Pershing or even his West Point friend, General George Patton.  He was calm, monotone in speech, bald, physically not intimidating.  Yet he wielded the utmost authority and power during those last crucial years of WWII, as he planned the invasion of Europe.  But what made him such an effective leader?  Frankly, it was his ability to build a coalition, and to get it moving in the same direction.  He recognized that in order to do the job he had to get commanders that spanned not just American interests, but British as well.  He listened to ideas and suggestions, and then made decisions.  He became a leader because he recognized that there was a bigger picture, and that his ego, and the egos of those under him (Field Marshal Montgomery's was the biggest, along with Patton's) had to be subservient to the mission.  He never forgot that it was the soldiers, the "jumpers" as he called the paratroopers, that would take the brunt of the mission on D-Day.  It's well-documented that he visited the jumpers and spent time with them.  He knew that their casualties would be high, and he valued those men enough to give them his full attention.  Eisenhower as a President wasn't as noteworthy, but as a general, he was the supreme leader.

Another example of leadership, also from that time, is President Harry Truman.  Another colorless individual with monotone speech and plain looks, Truman had the Presidency shoved upon him.  He made mistakes.  But he also knew that he had people with ideas and intelligence working for him, and he cultivated those ideas, and allowed for them to be freely expressed.  If he adopted those ideas, he'd give credit to the person when it was due.  If the idea didn't work, he took responsibility for it.  He never pointed the finger and said "I was advised to do so and so".  It was HIS responsibility.  And Truman knew from that first horrible day in April 1945, when Eleanor Roosevelt told him he was now the President, that he could not do the job alone.  Truman had, through his honest and frank nature, built up a base of friends and supporters in the Senate.  On that day, after he was told he was now the President, he returned to the Senate and met with those friends, and told them that he'd need their help.  To me, a leader recognizes that he or she is only as good as the team that supports them.  Eisenhower knew this, and so did Truman.

I will unabashedly admit that I'm a fan of "Star Trek: The Next Generation".  Now, I do not follow it for the technology, or the stories.  I follow it because I find the character of Captain Picard to be of such interest.  He is both a captain with powers given to him by that rank, and a leader.  He makes decisions based on the overall mission, yet balancing those with the needs of the ship and its crew.  He fosters creativity and outside-of-the-box thinking by his officers, yet holds them accountable for their errors.  Everyone on that fictional ship knows that they have latitude to do their jobs, yet are still tied to him through the chain of command.  Picard has high standards for himself, his ship and his crew.  He allows for the freedom of his officers to speak their minds, and disagree with him, yet once he makes a decision, they back him up.  And I have to think that as the series was filming, Patrick Stewart, a highly trained actor, provided a certain sense of leadership to the actors (some of whom were pretty much unknowns).  You watch the first season and the stiff acting, compared to the last season, with fully realized and real characters, and you sense that it had a lot to do with Stewart's leadership.

But finally, sometimes leadership is even in those who are not generals, presidents or ships captains.  I'm sure we can all find examples of those types of positions of responsibility with failed leadership.  You can have a team leader in the ballplayer who's only hitting .206, but is a positive influence to the younger players on the team.  You can have a leader in a woman who keeps her family going and finds time to do volunteer work at a local food bank.  You can have a leader in a teenager who sees that there are younger kids at his church that are without a parent or a supportive home, and that teenager takes those other kids under his or her wing, and fosters a sense of self-worth.  Leadership isn't power: leadership is taking ownership of whatever it is in front of you, accepting it, and making the best of it.  Leadership is earned, but sometimes it's naturally presented.  Some people have the gift, and some people develop it over time.  But to work for a true leader is often inspiring, and often, it's hard work, because they themselves are hard workers and require that from those they lead.

1 comment:

randy said...

Great post John!

You are spot on in splitting up true leadership that is earned, and power that is granted or taken.

I find there are two common factors in leaders that people look up to.

First, leaders have the ability, either naturally or cultivated, to paint a vision of where the team is going, why they are going there, and that they are capable of doing it.

Second, the most influential leaders do not issue orders from on high. They roll up their sleeves and get into the thick of it. They are the best servants, and like your example of Harry Truman, they freely give credit to those who accomplished the task.