Putting Leadership Back in Leader Development

Take a look at your unit calendar. Scan the clutter of appointments, meetings, formations, training events, ceremonies, and administrative commitments. Do you see any events dedicated to improving the quality of your people’s leadership? If not…if leadership development isn’t a separate line of effort…then how are you developing leaders?


A U.S. Army Ranger from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, keeps his sight on a target with an M240L machine gun during a company live fire training at Camp Roberts, Calif., Jan. 30, 2014. U.S. Army Photo Illustration by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade. I like this photo because it’s a reminder that all military leadership boils down to supporting this Soldier on the ground.

More Important than Rank

This weekend I was happy to discover that I had received my copy of What to Do When it’s Your Turn (and it’s Always Your Turn). Seth Godin has an understated, grassroots following in the marketing and social media world because he can convey keen insight in concise doses.

What’s impressive, too, is Seth’s understanding of the human psyche as it relates to interacting with the congested world of today. He sorts through the noise to deliver both the motivation and the reality needed for success. Here are a few Godin quotes worth writing down:

“If failure is not an option, then neither is success.”

“Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”

“If you can’t state your position in eight words, you don’t have a position.”

“If you’re brilliant and undiscovered and underappreciated
then you’re being too generous about your definition of brilliant.”

“I can tell you this: Leaders have nothing in common.”

And in his new book, this passage hit home with me…

Quotes for the Military Leader

I observed early on in my career that quotes have an cornerstone place in our military’s professional development. (Perhaps it was the hours of reciting them in the hallways of a Colorado Springs campus that gave me this notion.)

QuotesThe best quotes deliver rich insight with the fewest words. They elevate mediocre discourse and inspire fresh perspective on today’s challenges. They also cover the topics that we don’t typically weave into daily conversation…courage, service, inspiration, perseverance, honor, duty, sacrifice. But it seems that unless we structure quotes into our lives, it’s easy to forget about the long history of advice available to us.

To help, I invite you to visit The Military Leader Quote Page. I just added a bunch of new quotes like the ones below and will continue to build the list. And be sure to add your favorite quotes to the comment section on the page and share the ones that inspire you.


“When things go wrong in your command, start wading for the reason in increasing larger concentric circles around your own desk.”
– General Bruce D. Clark

“The good general is simply the good company commander in his post-graduate course. The idea that more godlike qualities are required of him and that he above others can achieve miracles through the working of his will is dismissed as idle superstition.”
– S.L.A. Marshall in “Men Against Fire”

“Success is peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
– Coach John Wooden

“There are three kinds of people: Those who are immovable, those who are moveable, and those who move them.”
– Li Hung

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Advice on Conduct Toward Friends and Enemies

23 There is a supreme rule of conduct required in these good men-at-arms…they should be humble among their friends, proud and bold against their foes, tender and merciful toward those who need assistance, cruel avengers against their enemies, pleasant and amiable with all others, for the men of worth tell you that you should not converse at any length nor hold speech with your enemies, for you should bear in mind that they do no speak to you for your own good but to draw out of you what they can use to do you the greatest harm.

Speak of the achievements of others but not of your own, and do not be envious of others. Above all, avoid quarrels, for a quarrel with one’s equal is dangerous, a quarrel with someone higher in rank is madness, and a quarrel with someone lower in rank is a vile thing, but a quarrel with a folk or a drunk is an even viler thing.

And make sure that you do not praise your own conduct nor criticize too much that of others. Do not desire to take away another’s honor, but, above all else, safeguard your own. Be sure that you do not despise poor men or those lesser in rank than you, for there are many poor men who are of greater worth than the rich.

Geoffroi de Charny (1356)
A Knight's Own Book of Chivalry (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 70-71

“We need to learn to set our course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”
     ~ Omar Bradley

“Opportunity is missed by most because is it dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
     ~ Thomas Edison

To spend a few minutes with people is simply not productive. If one wants to get anything across, one has to spend a fairly large minimum quantum of time.

The manager who things that he can discuss the plans, direction, and performance of one of his subordinates in fifteen minutes – and many managers believe this – is just deceiving himself. If one wants to get to the point of having an impact, one needs probably at least an hour and usually more.

And if one has to establish a human relationship, one needs infinitely more time.

Peter F. Drucker
The Effective Executive (New York: Harper, 2006), 29

Be selective about whom you take on as friends, colleagues, and neighbors. The world is full of agreeable and talented folk. The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.

But remember that our moral influence is a two-way street, and we should thus make sure by our own thoughts, words, and deeds to be a positive influence on those we deal with. The real test of personal excellence lies in the attention we give to the often neglected small details of our conduct. Make it your business to draw out the best in others by being an exemplar yourself.

The Art of Living (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994), 54

General Colin Powell’s Rules:

1. It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
2. Get mad, then get over it.
3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
4. It can be done!
5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.
8. Check small things.
9. Share credit.
10. Remain calm. Be kind.
11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

Colin Powell
My American Journey (New York: Random House, 1995), 613