[August 24, 2020] Rummaging around with some old books of mine (when I first read about leadership), I kept seeing a common theme. I get time to do that now; more reading, looking out the window at on green trees and blue skies and thinking. What I see is that old leadership principles never seem to die; they just keep getting rediscovered.
“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus, Greek philosopher
In my blog on leadership, everything I have written is about discovering the qualities required for successful leaders. There are, of course, many qualities such as intelligence, initiative, mental and physical courage, judgment, and common sense. But one fundamental quality stands out among all the others. All successful leaders have it to a substantial degree.
All successful leaders have the quality of human understanding. That should be evident for anyone who studies leadership from what is on the written page. How can you be a successful military leader, for example, unless you understand them? The Army, like any organization, is full of humans, and humans act and react to life. As a leader, we must understand this element.
In his book What are Generals Made of? Maj. Gen. Aubrey “Red” Newman referred to a study at the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, VA. Their curriculum is what makes the college such a great place to be and to study. A questionnaire went out, from the school to all major military commands across the world, asking for changes to the curriculum.
The only meaningful reply was this, “Teach them how to get along with people!” Dr. Jordan Peters, whom I’ve quoted on several occasions, tells us the primary job of parents is to teach their children to get along with others. This idea should come as no surprise to those of us in the business of getting people to do things outside what they would typically do.
Giving orders to the right people at the right time, and providing them with the right resources is not enough. A leader must do so in the right way, considering the nature and special situations of the individual. In the exercise of authority, the human element is the first person you must deal with is yourself. Failure to do so – to admit to one’s own shortcomings and successes is the first step the breakdown in the trust humans hold so dear.
There is no simple formula for commanding soldiers, and no two officers exercise command and leadership the same way. A general rule from Maj. Gen. Newman is a good start:
“Put them on the back when they deserve it, kick them in the behind when they need it – but not too much of either – and never forget that every soldier is a very separate and unique individual.”