Monday, November 10, 2014

Veterans can teach us, a lot, about leadership.

How do you build a sense of shared purpose among people of many ages and skill sets?  By listening and learning—and addressing the possibility of failure.   ~Four-star General Stanley McChrystal

Given it is Veteran's Day, it seemed only fitting to learn about leadership from a Four-star General.  

Because of the many military images that have been burned into our minds from Hollywood, when we think of military leadership we tend to think of officers shouting orders and rank dictating process and strategy.  Like much of Hollywood, this doesn't reflect reality but it certainly drives revenues.

On a number of occasions I've done research and searches on servant leadership for various clients.  What still seems to catch me off-guard is the number of servant leader examples from the military.  Actually, most of the real life examples I find are from our armed services.  Simon Sinek's most recent book, Leaders Eat Last, is based upon military leadership.  It's even in the title, officers always let the enlisted men and women eat first.  In the military, it's common practice for officers not to eat until everyone else does.  They sacrifice personal interest and self-serving actions to support their team.  This is symbolic of what drives many of their decisions.

In that same spirit, Four-star General Stanley McChrystal delivered a TED Talk that I use periodically in leadership training to dissuade the idea that servant leadership is a "weak" form of leadership.  The following was excerpted from McChrystal's talk:

Instead of giving orders, you're now building consensus and you're building a sense of shared purpose.  
I probably learned the most about relationships.  I learned they are the sinew which holds the force together.  I grew up much of my career in the Ranger regiment.  And every morning in the Ranger regiment, every Ranger – and there are more than 2,000 of them – says a six-stanza Ranger creed.  You may know one line of it, it says, "I'll never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy."  And it's not a mindless mantra, and it's not a poem. It's a promise.  Every Ranger promises every other Ranger, "No matter what happens, no matter what it costs me, if you need me, I'm coming."  And every Ranger gets that same promise from every other Ranger.  Think about it.  It's extraordinarily powerful.  It's probably more powerful than marriage vows.  And they've lived up to it, which gives it special power.  And so the organizational relationship that bonds them is just amazing. 
I came to believe that a leader isn't good because they're right; they're good because they're willing to learn and to trust.  This isn't easy stuff.  And it isn't always fair.  You can get knocked down, and it hurts and it leaves scars.  But if you're a leader, the people you've counted on will help you up.  And if you're a leader, the people who count on you need you on your feet.

Well said, General McChrystal! 

Not only do we owe a thing or two to our veterans regarding our knowledge of leadership, but we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for our freedom.  Let's each go out of our way this week to thank a veteran for both their service and what they've taught us about leadership.

1 comment:

  1. The general was right and his comments were well said. I wouldn't add or subtract anything from his speech.

    There is another model of a man who walked this earth and left us with a real model of servant leadership. Jesus continues to be referenced by endless numbers of people. Many have commented about the miracles he performed, his eloquently messages he gave, and so many other things that people are still trying to understand.

    One thing that he demonstrated was being a servant leader. Almost at the end of his life on earth, he had a dinner with his closest friends, his buddies that would continue to share his words with the rest of the world. He told them that in order to be a leader it required being a servant. He could have simply said that and left it. But he performed a service for these guys that would be done only by the lowest servant. He got up from the table, wrapped a garment around his waist, and washed the feet of every man there. That one act had an enormous impact on every man there that night. The story is still impactful today and helps to illustrate servant leadership.

    I agree that Leaders should listen, learn, and put the needs of others ahead of their own. Somewhere along the way, really great leaders realize that the needs of others are so much more important than the needs of their own. Somehow it helps ordinary men and women become extraordinary leaders, servant leaders of others.

    Veterans are extraordinary servant leaders because they choose to put the needs and the safety of a nation ahead of their own.