[February 22, 2018] The idea that leaders are where the action is has a long history both glorious and practical. Ride to the sounds of the guns is an old catchphrase of militaries around the world.1 It is an appeal to aggressive action at the point of battle and is a central idea in great leadership.
The best leaders in any environment, organization, or circumstance are those that are where the action is. My old Platoon Sergeant from my first active duty assignment always said that it was of utmost importance that every soldier “walk into the fire” if he were expected to be a real leader and demonstrate courage, loyalty, and sense of duty.
Likewise, leaders today are expected to be physically present, be seen and heard, and be a demonstrable leader whenever important decisions are to be made. That is why, as often the case, we see politicians showing up at scenes of disasters and also at places that hold large numbers of people. Yes, they are looking for votes in the next election but more significant is that they show that they are “present” and prepared.
The phrase, ride to the sounds of the guns, became commonplace during the American Civil War. Before communications were advanced, written orders often provided a plan of action that could easily be outpaced by events on the ground. Advanced communications has not had much of an impact on this and today it is a call for leaders during battle to make important decisions.
Leaders who are present and can “see” what is happening are more capable of making the right decisions. That is why leaders must be where the action is happening.
- Joachim-Napoléon Murat, who served under the great Napoléon Bonaparte, is credited with this appeal at the Battle of Waterloo.