[August 13, 2014] At a recent graduation ceremony, the speaker said that “People just hate to fail, but there’s simply no escaping the fact that success is the daughter of failure.” U.S. Navy Admiral “Sandy” Winnefeld, Jr.,1 speaks frequently and passionately about the art of command. For him, command means leading change, as well as possessing certain values and leadership traits to be successful. A small group of U.S. military flag officers had the chance to ask him about the “art of command” and what he considered the key components that makes a senior leader more likely to succeed.
He said that effective leaders “blend extreme personal humility with intense professional will.”2 The key here, I think Admiral Winnefeld will say, is humility. Humility was important because leaders will fail. From failure are the seeds of growth. He asks us, almost pleaded with us, to expect and learn well from our failures. Our society today does not tolerate failure well and therefore we must make the most of our experiences and also learn from the inability of others to do well.
He told us there are a number of things that determine a successful senior leader and here is a short list of that discussion:
- Personal courage
- Personal presence
- Integrity, credibility, and accountability
- Transparent adherence to the law
- Strategic perspective … the long view
- Understanding of power, access, and influence
- Empathy and cultural awareness
- Relationships and consensus building
- Understanding of and willingness to take risks
He also told us that the most effective leaders in these trying times combine discipline, creativity, and a little paranoia so as to far exceed expectations. This is where military officers generally do not do very well and thus where we should pay closer attention in order to achieve better results. And, do all this without believing you are superior to or better than others. Such is the proper test of humility and knowing that success is truly the daughter of failure.
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