Men make history & not the other way round. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. – Harry S. Truman
Leadership is not merely a term or designation. It is the driving force that makes people work not only towards a cause or goal, but also for themselves. Leadership cannot have a single definition, it should not have have a single definition. One size cannot fit all here. What we must look to identify are leadership traits & principles that enable in creating a leader.
Elliott Peterson in his article, “Improve Employee Relationship with Ideas Borrowed from the Military” talks about 13 traits that are the bedrock of leadership.
Principles of Leadership
Principles of leadership are basic guidelines explaining how a leader will apply/implement the above mentioned traits. World over, the armed forces follow certain basic leadership principles. First principle is to know oneself, learn & constantly seek self improvement. Second principle is to know your soldiers and look after their welfare. Third principle is to ensure that the assigned task is understood correctly, undertaken, supervised & accomplished.
A Successful Military Leader
A corporate leader can learn a lot from a military leader. Korn Ferry International, a global executive search firm has researched & written about “Military Experience & CEOs”. They share statistics that show the average tenure of a CEO with a military background is 7.2 years as opposed to the tenure of a CEO without a military background, that is 4.6 years.
- Building a Personal Relationship – a leader in the armed forces knows the members of his unit up close. He/she knows their personal backgrounds, their potential and also how they will react given a situation. It is his/her duty to motivate the unit members & improve their performance; be it physical tests, exams they have to pass or overall knowledge acquisition – the responsibility lies with the leader. This can only be done if there is a personal rapport between the leader & the men. A corporate leader can imbibe the same tenets and understand the team he/she is leading. Very often, in the corporate world business & personal lives are so strongly compartmentalised that leaders don’t even know where the team member lives.
- Decision Making – Taking decisions and taking right decisions at the right time is one of the most important tasks of a leader. Both, easy & tough decisions have to be made by a leader. The decision to choose the right people for the right task; the right strategy to implement for the desired results; decision to delegate correctly and the quick, timely decisions so as not to miss the opportunities presented. Every officer of the armed forces is schooled & groomed for this. Unfortunately, our education system does not allow for this. Hence, one of the biggest handicaps of corporate leadership is the ability to take decisions; taking right decisions at the right time is a step way, way ahead.
- Mission First & Always – in the armed forces everything revolves around the mission at hand. A leader there is driven by the mission he is striving for. The focus is completely on the mission. He/she has to follow orders to complete the mission while fulfilling all other responsibilities as a leader. There is complete alignment within the unit at all times and at any cost. End result is completion of the task on hand. Corporate leaders struggle to get the alignment in place – the main reason this happens is as leader, they fail to understand how to manage the personal & career aspirations of their team members.
- Evolving Right Strategies – A leader’s decision can be made right if he/she uses the right strategies. To evolve a right strategy one has to use the acquired knowledge, experience, observations and analyse them. As a leader it is critical to communicate the strategic intent & enable others to act upon that intent. This is specially critical in crises situations. Very often in the corporate world, while grooming the second line, they are not mentored or coached to build strategies for various situations. A lot can be learnt from ‘war game’ activities conducted in the military.
- Communication, Feedback & Response – a well established communication & feedback process is important for any unit/team to function effectively. Participation in the communication process & response enable to build understanding among all stake holders. Asking & accepting feedback is also a very important part of strengthening team bonds. One thing every military leader I have observed, leaves the operational implementation to experts in the field and doesn’t pull rant there. For example, a soldier handling guns will know the intricacies of the gun and his platoon commander will take his feedback regarding guns.
- Present at the Right Place – being present at the right place at the right time is something a leader will have to learn & develop. It is always assumed that a leader will have to lead from the front always. Not necessarily so. There are occasions when the leader will be effective wherever there is a difficult situation or a crisis or friction. The right place will depend on the priority of what has to be achieved at that moment.
Building Authentic Leaders in the System
The visible corporate leadership failures in recent years globally, have deeply shaken public confidence in business leaders. We see leaders placing self-interest ahead of the well-being of their organizations. A look at social media posts and informal surveys show that there is a leadership crisis globally with politicians, media, finance, and business leaders getting the lowest ratings. “Far too many leaders have been selected more for charisma than character, for style over substance, and for image rather than integrity.” says Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor.
Leaders do not fail because of low Intelligence Quotient (IQ); they fail because of low/no Emotional Quotient (EQ). It has been observed that failed leaders seem to lack an awareness of themselves, their actions & the resulting impact on their surroundings. Deeper motivations are not understood, fears & earlier failures are not accepted & primarily these cause leaders to lose sight of their of their values, especially when they are under pressure to sustain their success. In some other cases, leaders who lack self-awareness get enamoured by success and its rewards – money, power, and recognition.
The emergence of a new generation of authentic leaders is vital and must happen at all levels of society to rebuild the trust deficit experienced by customers & citizens alike. A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent. In the end, leaders are much like eagles… they don’t flock, you find them one at a time. That’s what the armed forces teaches and that’s what the rest must learn.