Suddenly I am of sufficient age and experience that young people occasionally contact me in search of mentorship. Based upon my military, intelligence community, and interagency experience, they often think I can provide them a road map to the career of their dreams.
These young people ask, “How do I get a job at Department W?” “How do I get a job at Agency X?” “I am thinking of doing Y or Z, what should I do?” I typically respond by asking the young person to take a moment of pause, then I share a routine I call Traits and Obituaries.
A Marine participates in a field training exercise during Iron Sword 16, a training exercise, in Rukla Training Area, Lithuania, Nov. 29, 2016. The annual multinational exercise involves 11 NATO allies training to increase combined infantry capabilities and forge relationships. Marine Corps photo
by Sgt. Kirstin Merrimarahajara.
The question shouldn’t have been a surprise. “So, you just came from command. What did you learn?” Here was my chance to impart all the wisdom I had accumulated over the previous 18 years, culminating in command of a Navy Super Hornet squadron. “So, what did you learn?…”, the inquisitor repeated. “Um…” I sputtered. I had no clue what to say.
A VFA-147 Argonaut jet in “Star Wars Canyon,” Panamint Valley, CA.
The best leaders don’t use anger as a leadership tool. Anger is not a mandatory component of leadership because there are countless examples of successful leaders who never get angry. Yet, we can think of many leaders whose anger has compromised their effectiveness. The question is: what does anger get you? And then at what cost?
Marine Corps Cpl. Benjamin Peagler yells out an order to his team while participating in a platoon assault drill as a part of Exercise Cold Response 16 on range U-3 in Frigard, Norway, Feb. 23, 2016. U.S. Marine Corps photo
by Cpl. Rebecca Floto.
Leadership is as diverse as the individuals who exercise it. We influence through distinct talents, shaped by experiences, personality traits, core values, and an endless list of other factors. Nonetheless, when we look back at the leaders we’ve encountered, it’s easy to identify behavior trends that point to a set of defining leadership styles. The aggressive risk taker. The deliberate planner. The encouraging coach. The intense micromanager.
Each profession has its own set of styles that generally lead to success. The military is no different. Here are three types of military leaders you’ll find that, for better or worse, produce results.
A Marine points in the direction of the next objective on a security patrol during an Integrated Training Exercise aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., July 19, 2015. Link
What I love about leadership is that it is highly individualized. We may strive to display common-held principles for successful leadership…lead by example, mentor junior leaders, exhibit poise during stress. But the way we describe our leadership styles, the personality traits we employ, the perspectives we adopt, the anecdotes we use…they’re all different, shaped by unique experiences and beliefs. This individualization creates an endless reservoir of leadership insight from which to draw out of others and learn from.
This summer, a mentor of mine virtually introduced me to a successful Air Force Colonel living in the city I was traveling to. We linked up for a beer and not only did the conversation turn to leadership, but he delivered a dose of wisdom so fundamental that it instantly related to everything I do as a leader and revamped my approach to bringing out the best in organizations.
U.S. Army Spc. Rasjiem Holmes, of the Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, looks into the distance as he waits to return home from the field at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif. Photo
by U.S. Army Spc. Danny D. Woo
We are all familiar with the warning that “power corrupts.” And if you’re like me, when you hear the phrase the first type of corrupted power you think of is greed. The ruthless Gordon Gekko from Wall Street comes to mind. If you shift the phrase to the military frame of reference, you might think of generals breaking joint ethics regulations on TDY travel and contracting, or perhaps the senior leader with the moral lapse.
The commonality among them is a feeling of invincibility that either distorts judgment or severs behavior from prudent thought. When power is involved, we are all at risk.
A U.S. soldier stands in formation during Exercise Rapid Trident’s opening ceremony in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Sept. 15, 2014. The soldier is assigned to U.S. Army Europe’s 173rd Airborne Brigade. Link
Today, I want to share a framework for thinking about personal development as a leader. It’s a “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” approach that shines the spotlight on the personal habits that grow leaders into a position of effectiveness. Here you go:
When it comes to personal leadership development,
you are a content consumer, a content producer…or irrelevant.
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Clarence Washington, Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul security forces squad leader, takes accountability after an indirect fire attack in Qalat City, Zabul Province, July 27, 2010. Photo
by U.S. Air Force Sr. Airman Nathanael Callon.
If you were a fly on the wall of my high school 20 years ago, you’d see me walking to class with a copy of Colin Powell’s My American Journey. And why Powell’s 600 page autobiography and not, for instance, a car magazine or the latest Pearl Jam album? Because I’m a leadership nerd, that’s why…and still am.
I already had my sights on a career in the military, but this book seized my attention. Powell recounts his memorable career from Vietnam Captain to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and in plain language delivers poignant leadership lessons relevant for every profession. It’s not an overstatement to say that it became a foundational resource for my leader development…my leadership bible.
Although I underlined text on nearly every page of My American Journey, here are the quotes that have had a lasting effect on my career and have shaped my own leadership journey.