[November 10, 2017] My commander’s Kevlar helmet went flying across the tent, bouncing off a table, and rolling onto the grass outside. He’d thrown it out of frustration; his tactical center not getting him the analysis of the “opposing force” battle formation. Something I had learned long before this event was that there was something you should never do as a leader; I was determined not to get into a situation where I could never win the trust and confidence of those who worked for me.
“I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.” Sophocles, ancient Greek tragedian
The training exercise was conducted here in the United States and was meant to simulate combat conditions so we worked under stress; lack of sleep, constant changing operation orders, relocating 50 miles or more to another spot, hard physical activity, etc. What our junior leaders learned in that exercise would carry them for a long time. They learned that leaders never win by doing certain things.
Here are a few behaviors that leaders should never engage in if they want to remain trusted leaders:
- Pitting groups against one another: a common tactic of the narcissist leader is to get groups to squabble, pick fights, and turn on each other out of design. We all did this as kids but never as an adult without backlash. As a leader, everyone sees it and will lose respect for that leader.
- Ignoring the truth: Whether it’s sacrificing principles for greed, cutting corners, or failing to do the right thing out of fear of repercussions, as with deceit, it’s a slippery sloop. You might get away with it once or twice, but it will catch up with you.
- Acting inappropriately (immorally), unethically, illegally: The news has been full of Hollywood film producers and actors that were caught sexually harassing vulnerable women and engaging in sex with those not their spouse. Such behavior will quickly turn the tables on any leader regardless of their rank, position, wealth, or popularity.
- Playing favorites and creating in-groups: A common tactic of teenagers is showing they prefer some of their friends over others. Most of us learn quickly that is a fast way to lose friends. Adults should not be playing immature games with others in such a manner.
- Whining: Few behaviors are less leader-like than whining, making excuses, pointing fingers, or playing the blame game. It shows a lack of maturity, self-confidence, respect, and accountability.
- Making Threats: Confident, competent, mature leaders never make threats. It’s tantamount to a child throwing a temper tantrum. It destroys your credibility. Be decisive. Do what you say you are going to do or don’t say it in the first place.
- Sugarcoating problems: Speaking the truth and doing it in a timely manner is the only way for a leader. Hiding problems only makes them worse in the long run.
- Lose control: Good leaders keep their emotions in check. Unlike my commander with his helmet in the grass, keeping on top of what’s going on requires diligence and hard work.
- Fear making decisions or making them slowly: How frustrating this is to those who have a leader that cannot make up their mind about things. Making timely and accurate decisions is the mark of a good leader.
- Quitting: This should speak for itself. Anyone who is willing to give up should not be a leader. I’m reminded of my favorite professional football coach, Vince Lombardi, who said that “Winners never quit and quitters never win.”
Truer words were never spoken.
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