[April 16, 2019] One of the most powerful lessons in military leadership tells us that the best leaders are those that are visible and accessible. On the battlefield or the assembly line or the boardroom, those leaders who can be seen, heard, and talked to, will always be the most successful.
As a Private in the U.S. Army, I learned a valuable early lesson that would influence the way I lead as a senior officer. As a young, new soldier I never saw my company commander. He was either in his office, out at the higher headquarters, or somewhere mysterious (to me anyway). As a consequence, I never knew what he wanted from the unit.
Maybe it didn’t matter much that a Private (there was over half a million of us at the time) didn’t know what was going on. My belief later in my military career was exactly the opposite. Everyone must know what’s going on from the Private to the General. Otherwise, failure will be knocking at the leader’s door.
“Leadership is about people and the most direct means to show the importance of anything is with the physical presence of a leader.”1 – at theLeaderMaker.com, August 20, 2016
When the leader is present, people are more confident and at ease in their work. There is some deep psychological need for leadership and, according to several social scientists, this manifests itself in positive outcomes when the leader is both visible and accessible.
In the movie The Patriot (2000), starring Mel Gibson as a Revolutionary War leader, Gibson is seen in numerous battle scenes personally leading attacks against the British. While it is true that movies are notoriously inaccurate, this movie does portray the personal leadership of Andrew Pickens (played by Gibson) that helped win the war.
Pickens understood the need for leaders to be present on the battlefield; otherwise, the American foot soldiers tended to retreat when confronted by the highly disciplined British Army. After the war when he served in politics from 1781 to 1795, he carried this same philosophy into politics that made him part of many victories on the battlefield. He was visible and accessible.