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Principles of Leadership

Douglas MacArthur was one of the greatest military leaders the United States of America ever produced. General MacArthur’s discipline and leadership extended beyond his military service. He was of course an effective general but also a renowned statesman, administrator and corporate leader.

Through the years, biographies of MacArthur have noted what they call “The MacArthur Tenets,” and they developed a series of questions that reflect the human relations and leadership principles that people saw in him.

These are the types of questions that all leaders should be asking themselves from time to time. Better yet, perhaps they should be asking their mentor or maybe even their followers. 

I am not particularly found of the term “subordinate” and the tone of some of the questions is a bit terse but given the fact the both MacArthur and at least some of his biographers had military backgrounds I understand their use of the term and the inclusive, direct nature of the questions.

Here are the questions the biographers came up with:

  • Do I heckle my subordinates or strengthen and encourage them?
  • Do I use moral courage in getting rid of subordinates who have proven themselves beyond doubt to be unfit?
  • Have I done all in my power by encouragement, incentive and spur to salvage the weak and erring?
  • Do I know by NAME and CHARACTER a maximum number of subordinates for whom I am responsible? Do I know them intimately?
  • Am I thoroughly familiar with the technique, necessities, objectives and administration of my job?
  • Do I lose my temper at individuals?
  • Do I act in such a way as to make my subordinates WANT to follow me?
  • Do I delegate tasks that should be mine?
  • Do I arrogate everything to myself and delegate nothing?
  • Do I develop my subordinates by placing on each one as much responsibility as he can stand?
  • Am I interested in the personal welfare of each of my subordinates, as if he were a member of my family?
  • Have I the calmness of voice and manner to inspire confidence, or am I inclined to irascibility and excitability?
  • Am I a constant example to my subordinates in character, dress, deportment and courtesy?
  • Am I inclined to be nice to my superiors and mean to my subordinates?
  • Is my door open to my subordinates?
  • Do I think more of POSITION than JOB?
  • Do I correct a subordinate in the presence of others?

Your answer to these questions can go a long way towards helping you become the type of leader people want to follow, regardless of your position or title. How would you answer them and how would the people you are responsible to lead answer them?

Oh by the way, honesty absolutely counts when answering.

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Shadow Leadership

Shadow Leaders are leaders in name only. They may have an impressive sounding title or hold a lofty position on an organizational chart but they exhibit few if any leadership characteristics.

They keep their head down, usually do solid work, and are relatively good followers but they stay in the shadows to hide from risk and they do not lead.

Risk involves making decisions, charting a new course, dealing with conflicts, or just trying new things. A Shadow Leader’s first priority is to protect their position and the income that comes with it.

Shadow Leaders focus on what is with little regard for the possibilities of what could be.

Shadow Leaders bring a larger than average expense to their organization for two reasons. First, their good work could be accomplished by someone without the lofty title and compensation. Second and this is worse, far worse actually, because they don’t lead they do nothing to develop the next generation of leaders within their organization.

Their lack of leadership negatively impacts their organization even after they are gone. They leave little behind except a leadership void and perhaps a few other Shadow Leaders who are simply modeling the behavior they saw.

Shadow Leaders aren’t bad people, they just make the all too common mistake of believing that their title or position is what makes them a leader. The fact is that their title or position only gives them a better chance to lead than someone without the fancy title and position.

True Authentic Leadership comes from a person’s disposition not their position. Authentic Leaders know that they can lead from anywhere in their organization, with or without a title and position. They know they can lead down, across and even up.

Authentic Leaders know what is but they see what could be. They limit their time investment in mere “things” so that they can invest the majority of their time in people. Authentic Leaders do not concern themselves with building more followers, they focus on building more leaders including the leader who will one day succeed them. 

While Shadow Leaders are desperate to avoid conflict Authentic Leaders deal with it head-on. They do not let small problems become bigger ones through avoidance. Authentic Leaders do not like conflict more than anyone else but they do understand that when it is dealt with properly growth is almost always the end result.

Authentic Leaders have the courage to operate in broad daylight, with their actions, decisions, mistakes and limitations on display for everyone to see. They willingly risk looking bad in order to do something good.

Here’s the thing, when you’re an Authentic Leader everyone knows you’re leading. If you’re a Shadow Leader the only person who thinks you’re leading is you. 

So if you’re in a leadership position you need to turn around once in a while to see who, if anyone, is following you. If no one is there it just might be that they can’t see you in the shadows.

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The People Business

I was very fortunate years ago to have a mentor who was also a great salesperson. Whenever someone asked him what business he was in he would answer “the people business.” 

My mentor’s name was Jack and for 40 years he owned a commercial heating and air conditioning company. When asked how he got “people business” out of heating and air conditioning he replied, “simple, my business is about helping other businesses and organizations provide a comfortable and productive working environment for their people.” 

Jack believed that every business and every product was in some way about helping people. He often said that if your product or service didn’t in some way benefit people then you wouldn’t be in business for very long. He taught me to never sell my product, he taught me to sell what it could do for the people who might buy it. 

The moment a business or it’s leadership lose sight of the fact that, regardless of what they sell, they are in the people business their potential for long-term success begins to decline.

If you’re in business, any business, then you are in the people business.

There should never be a policy, process, or procedure that is more important than people. Your people are your business, both the people who work for your business and the people who are served by your business.

Years ago the pilots of the now merged Northwest Airlines went on strike. It was very contentious and both sides, the airlines and the pilots union, starting running ads on local radio to “get their side of the story out.” Basically each side said the other were complete idiots. 

I wasn’t too sure about flying on an airline run by idiots but I was certain I didn’t what to fly on a plane piloted by someone considered to be an idiot by the very airline that hired them. I don’t really know much about the airline business but I do know some stuff about the people business. Something one of the striking pilots said during a radio interview has stuck with me to this day.

The pilot said the airlines whole problem was that they were trying to make customers happy while doing nothing to make their own people happy. He said he believed it impossible to have happy customers if the people tasked with making them happy were unhappy.

I doubt whether that was the airlines “whole problem” but it was absolutely one of the biggest. Northwest Airlines forgot that they were in the people business and they also forgot that their employees were people too.

I believe in measuring pretty much everything a business does, you need a yardstick to see progress and determine opportunities for improvement. However, when your metrics become more important than your customer…or your own people, then you have a problem. Metrics are a guide to success, they are not a bible for success. 

When people are involved in your business you will sometimes need to throw the numbers out to do the right thing and remember, people are always involved in your business.

Put people first and your business will last!

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Negative Voices

Stephen Curry is a professional basketball player for the Golden State Warriors. He was recently selected as the 2016 Most Valuable Player of the National Basketball Association (NBA). With his selection he became the first player in NBA history to be selected unanimously for this very prestigious award. 

Most of his fellow professionals were effusive in their praise of his abilities and agreed with his selection for the award.

Most.

One fellow NBA player said that while Curry was unquestionably a great player whether or not he was of MVP caliber was a little more debatable. 

Curry’s response was …. nothing. He did tell one reporter that he had learned long ago to pay no attention to the negative voices all around him. He added that their only goal was to “mess” with his head. You kind of get the feeling that one trait contributing to Curry’s success is that he controls the thoughts that go into his brain.

Friends, colleagues, co-workers, and even family members will sometimes tell you that you cannot succeed. They will say “that” was tried years before and didn’t work. They will say “don’t reinvent the wheel” or “if it ain’t broke don’t fit it,” and even more negative type statements. Some may have your best interests in mind but many, even most, will not.

You need to be very careful when listening to those comments because you may start to believe them if you’re not.

There will always be people who think you can’t succeed but here is an absolute key to your success; make sure you’re never one of them. Do not, never ever, talk negatively about yourself to yourself. Never never never tell yourself that you cannot succeed.

Always, always, always believe in the incredible power of you!

It’s easy to focus on the negative because negativity can seem to be everywhere. It requires discipline to see what’s good. Virtually every problem brings with it an opportunity and successful people find that opportunity. Successful people know that just because something “ain’t broke” doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be broke and rebuilt…. better.

All that matters at the end of the day… well nothing really matters at the end of the day so long as you have another day to do better, to be better, and to appreciate all that you have received, both the bad you’ve learned from and the good you’ve been able to share.

There will always be negative voices trying to mess with your head, make sure you don’t add your own to the noise of negativism. When you control what goes into your brain then you also control what comes out.

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DOA Leadership

There are many character flaws that can make an otherwise strong leader weak. There is one flaw however which will absolutely kill the opportunity to lead; it makes a person’s leadership potential Dead on Arrival upon being promoted to a leadership position. 

That flaw, and flaw is almost too small a word to fully describe this catastrophic mistake, but that flaw is believing that you can’t be wrong simple because you occupy a position of leadership.

Believing that somehow your position makes you always right, about everything, all the time, will quickly kill the morale of what could have been your team. You will never (I know that never is an incredibly strong word but never is the correct word in this instance) be able to earn the commitment of your people, you will have to settle for their compliance. If you even get that.

Believing that your position makes you right all the time crushes the creativity of your people. They will quickly learn to keep their ideas to themselves since you’ve “led” them to understand that they can’t be right. By the way, this further increases your delusion that your position always makes you right. 

Authentic Servant Leaders understand that they can be wrong about almost anything, at almost any time, just like any other human on the planet. Authentic Servant Leaders value thinking different than their own and they understand that if their people are always in full agreement with them then their people aren’t really thinking at all.

Authentic Servant Leaders know that their position doesn’t make them right about everything, all their position really does is give them the opportunity to have a positive influence on their organization and it’s people.  

Authentic Servant Leaders let the best idea win, whether it was their idea or not. 

If you’re a leader who believes for even a minute that your position somehow makes you smarter than the people you try to lead then you should know that you’re not only sometimes wrong, you’re likely often dead wrong. 

Leadership potential is a terrible thing to waste, don’t let your potential be DOA!

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When Silence is Golden…and When It’s Not

One of the greatest freedoms in the United States is the freedom of speech. Or is it?

In this age of political correctness Americans are still free to say whatever we want. That’s in the Constitution of the United States. But just because you can say it doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. It’s unlikely the consequences will be criminal but there can be consequences none the less. 

The fact that you can say almost anything also doesn’t mean that you should. Some things truly are better left unsaid. The thing is, sometimes it takes even more courage to let it remain unsaid then it takes to actually say it. 

Which brings me to one Mr. Donald Trump. As an American, Mr. Trump is free to say whatever he would like. That doesn’t mean he should. He may very well be right (he may very well be wrong) that a judge of Mexican heritage could have some bias against him. It might even be a subconscious bias. That doesn’t make the judge a bad person or even a bad judge, it makes him human. 

We all have biases and we have them for a huge variety of reasons. If Mr. Trump found himself a different judge that judge too would have some sort of bias. Such is life.

None of that however means Mr. Trump needs to say anything about a biased judge. It was dumb to say, not because it might not be true but because even if it were true there was nothing to be gained by saying it. He would have been better off just being silent on the issue. 

One can only conclude that Mr. Trump simply doesn’t have the courage to remain silent…about anything. He seems to lack the courage all true leaders have to risk looking disconnected by remaining silent when they would really rather say something. This lack of courage puts him in an untenable position when it comes to earning the trust of those he would lead. 

A leader who lacks the courage to remain silent when silence is called for is a very limited leader.

On the other hand there are times when a leader really needs the courage to speak up, to admit a failing and simply accept the consequences that come with it. 

Like maybe when, for whatever reason, you violated standard practices and written guidelines that come with a very trusted position. Instead of just admitting that you messed up royally, and maybe even criminally, and saying you will accept the consequences and try to do much better next time, you pretend it’s no big deal. 

I’m writing of course of Mrs. Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency. Her denials, twisted words and revisionist history in the face of a scathing report from her own State Department shows a complete lack of courage to share the full story with those she would lead. Withholding information is a much of a lie as is providing the wrong information.

A leader who lacks the courage to speak up and tell the truth is a very limited leader. 

Sometimes it takes courage to speak and sometimes it takes courage to remain silent. Effective leaders have the courage to do both. One thing seems certain, when Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump say their opponent is not qualified as a leader to be President of the United States they are both correct. 

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When Your “Leader” is Really a Manager

I’ve written from time to time about the differences between leading and managing. Basically you lead people and you manage things. Things include budgets, processes, schedules, inventories, etc. People on the other hand actually resist being managed, they truly need leadership to prosper and thrive. 

So, what do you do when the person above you is a manager who happens to occupy a leadership position? What do you do when your boss doesn’t understand the difference between leading and managing? What do you do when your boss treats you like a thing to be managed?

Well, the first thing you do is NOT add to the problem by behaving like somebody who needs to be managed rather than led. Your role is never to point out the weaknesses of the person above you in the organization. Like it or not your role is to actually try and fill whatever “gaps” your boss may have. 

I am fully aware of how difficult that can be on many levels. It’s very tough on your ego because if you do your job well your boss may receive most of the credit. The fact that they are not a leader virtually guarantees that they won’t be sharing any of the credit with you. You must fight through that and continue to perform at the highest level possible because it’s the right thing to do. If that sounds too simplistic do the right thing anyway. Doing the right thing in difficult circumstances can be one of the hardest things you will ever have do, do the right thing anyway.

Never use the fact that the person above you in your organization is a poor leader as an excuse to be a poor leader yourself. 

I normally recommend that leaders in the middle of an organization “lead up” in their organization and try to be a positive influence on those above them in the organization. In short, be a help, not a hindrance. That can be a tremendous challenge when the person in the leadership position above you is a manager and not a leader. 

Here’s why.

Good leaders either were or still are great followers. They allowed or still allow themselves to be taught, mentored, and developed. If the person in the leadership position above you has somehow gotten there without ever really leading it’s also likely that they were not very good as a follower either. That makes it very challenging for you to be a positive influence on them. They live in a misguided world were they apparently believe they already know everything there is to know. They are not very open to outside influences.

As a leader yourself you need to understand that “challenging” does not mean impossible so “lead up” anyway. Continually try to help the person above you grow as a leader because you just never know and besides, leading up is the right thing to do.

In my first job after college I was managed by someone in a leadership position. I did not respond well. I was most certainly a hindrance and if I must say so myself I was damn good at it. But I was a crummy employee who was almost completely devoid of leadership skills. If only I knew then what I know now…

In the last 30 years of my career I’ve been blessed to never experience being “led” by a manager again. I think I’m unusual in that regard. All too often I see people whose potential is limited by a manager sitting in a position of leadership. But the fact of the matter is, successful people also lead themselves exceptionally well. If your boss isn’t a leader then lead yourself. Find a mentor to help you, but always take it upon yourself to reach your potential. 

It’s YOUR success so ultimately YOU must make it happen!