Academic journal article Military Review

Ten Ways Great Leaders Lead

Academic journal article Military Review

Ten Ways Great Leaders Lead

Article excerpt

OVER THE PAST 19 YEARS, I have been fortunate to have served with and studied under some great officers and noncommissioned officers from whom I have gleaned the following 10 examples of excellence in leadership.

"Those fools at Platoon Headquarters!" the soldier grumbles. Substitute (whatever echelon of command you wish) and still many soldiers will say that their superiors are incompetent, misguided, or just plain dumb. Generally, the farther away the headquarters is geographically and in level of responsibility, the more vociferous are the complaints against it. True incompetents do exist, but most leaders are hard-working folks trying to do their best they can with the resources available to make their units, the Army, and the world a better place. Some policies and decisions are not good, and might even be silly, but where one stands is often determined by where one sits. Decisions at platoon headquarters might be great for the platoon but not so great for 3d Squad, The necessity for (or wisdom of) policies and decisions at one level might not be apparent at another level.

One response is to spew bile and venom at the powers-that-be. Venting one's spleen can be a catharsis. You can appear to have far greater wisdom than those of much higher rank and greater experience and even become a prophet with a circle of devotees. This is the strategy for those who enjoy spitting into the wind. Focusing intellectual and emotional energy on something one cannot influence or control is self-defeating.

A more productive approach is to tend your own garden. Make your squad, platoon, or battalion the best place it can possibly be. Focus your talents and energies on areas you can directly influence and control. Make life better and more meaningful for those around you. Be committed to excellence in every facet of existence. Sometimes I have lousy neighbors, sometimes a lousy neighborhood. Nevertheless, my garden is mine to tend. How we live our lives in a moral sense is up to each one of us. The same can be said in large measure about our units: the quality of excellence is up to us.

One way of tending your garden is to pick your battles. Beyond our area of control is another area, the area of influence, which we do not control but which we can help shape. Events in the area of influence affect our gardens, but events we control in our gardens can also affect the area of influence.

Sometimes events in our areas of influence have a marginal, but annoying effect in the areas we control. Although there is little reason to stew over these effects, people do so, and eventually become like the little boy who cried wolf. Because of all the noise made making mountains out of molehills, the important issues get lost. When we complain about everything, those around us cannot decide which problems are truly important and which are merely annoying. Eventually, we become the annoyance, and what we regard as the truly important issue gets lost. Fighting everything, like attempting to be strong everywhere tactically, undermines effectiveness. The focus should be on the important battles. Your commander will appreciate that you can make the distinction, and so will your unit. You will also find that you generally "win" when you pick your battles, and so do those around you.

Those who tend their gardens discover that excellence is infectious. People want to be on winning teams, and they want to make their teams winners. Engaging in petty rivalries and jealousies is counterproductive. Do not play such silly games. Focus on excellence and those around you will follow stilt. Winners contribute to their surroundings; losers complain about them. Winners are problem solvers; losers are problem identifiers. Be a winner.

If the issue or idea is bigger than your unit and chain of command, and if you have a solution that would contribute to the force as a whole, write an article and make a difference. …

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