“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm” –Publilius Syrus (100 B.C.)
Leaders. They are everywhere. Every organization needs them, from schools to corporations to government. However, there are very few quality leaders. This is due to a general lack of leadership skills, which are not readily apparent. Many people feel that anyone can be a leader. This is simply not the case. That is akin to saying everyone can be a baseball player or dancer or fighter jet pilot. Good leadership requires certain skills, that can be learned to a varying degree, and instincts that you must be born with.
The first category involves skills that can be learned and honed. Anyone can become proficient in these and thus can exhibit limited leadership capabilities. People who can master these skills can easily rise to middle management positions, though they should refrain from climbing higher for their own safety, as well as for the safety of those under them. For the convention of discussion, let us call the lower caliber leaders “Managers”, and the higher caliber leaders “Commanders“. Some of these traits are: Personal Responsibility, Sense of Duty, Trustworthiness, Organizational Skills, and Resource Management. Let us examine these skills.
The first quality a Manager must posses is a strong sense of Personal Responsibility. As a leader, he is responsible for both his own actions, and his subordinate’s actions. He must own his decisions, his actions, his lack of decision, or lack of action. The Manager is also responsible for what he doesn’t know, in addition to what he knows; He should always know what is going on, and what his people are doing. A leader will be held responsible for his team and their actions. A leader must never “throw his team under the bus”. They are only doing what you told them to, and if they fail, it is due to bad coaching, bad resource management, and a profound lack of understanding regarding his teammates’ strengths and weaknesses.
A Manager must develop a strong sense of Duty. The most basic job of a leader is to bring a group of people together, facilitate their interaction and roles for the purpose of accomplishing a task. That sense of duty is an offshoot of personal responsibility relating to the task at hand. It is a compulsion to act in such a way to further the progress toward the desired goals. A leader must exhibit a tireless dedication to the task at hand, and an inner strength channeled into accomplishing the Goal. Leaders cannot be “flakes”. They must do what they set their minds to, and achieve the goals they set forth. They must believe in the goal at hand. This sense of duty empowers the leader, and motivates him. The forges of duty; are rooted in personal excellence (Arête), and a obsession with winning, which are learned characteristics that must be carefully cultivated.
Managers must morally be above reproach. They must have an impeccable character. Subordinates and followers should never have cause to suspect decay or corruption of virtue. Leaders must act according to higher guiding principles; not merely subject to their whims and fancies. They must act with a conviction and according to a consistent moral Ethic. This compass need not be religious in nature, but instead can be derived from the whole of human experience, distilled into a cohesive universal ethic. Morally flexible leaders promote doubt, and distrust among their followers. It also creates an environment where dishonesty and treachery are promoted, which destroys cohesion and morale. Corruption also breeds traitors, who will undermine the leader for their own gains. This will destroy any chance a leader has of winning. In addition, people are more likely to listen to the strong voice that also seems to be channeling something beyond their day-to-day existence. Living by a ethical code creates the impression of being somehow “higher” or “deserving of respect”.
Good organizational skills and proper resource management are also essential learnable skills of a Manager. It certainly helps, if you come by either of these skill sets naturally, but they are both well within the realm of learned accessibility. Task Organization and Prioritization is key: Proper priorities allow for an efficient use of time, which effectively accomplishes more, faster. The more quickly a task can be accomplished, the sooner goals and milestones can be reached. Ergo, Leaders should be efficiency experts. Setting appropriate priorities and then assigning the correct people and resources to the task to most efficiently cause the whole team to move forward to the goal as a unified whole is a delicate balancing act, but it is more of a science than an art and the reasoned observer can learn much from experience.
If an aspiring leader can master those skills, then he will become a successful Manager and flourish. Indeed, many people do learn these skills and apply them to their home lives, and corporate lives. Of course, innately having any of those skills certainly makes growth easier, but there is always room to grow and learn.
The second leadership category or “Commanders” have skills that cannot be learned, but must already reside within the soul of the aspiring leader; however, they must be developed. These skills must be nurtured, and grown, until they can be shaped and honed to a fine keen edge. These skills are what separate the Commanders, from the Managers and Subordinates. The more finely honed the skills are, the higher the apex of potential for the Commander. These skills are usually manifest directly from the personality types of the aspiring Commanders. Each personality type has strengths and skills which are an innate part of the personality, and those applicable to leadership are no different. Effective Leaders must have mastered the aforementioned skills in addition to the following. Some of these innate traits are Vision, Indomitable Spirit, An inner calm, Decisive, Bravery or Boldness, Grace and Dignity, Awe-inspiring and Loyalty-inspiring Charisma, A Clever Strategic mind, Keen judgement regarding people, Situational Awareness, A sense of Power, Creativity, An Iron Will, A Fiery Passion.
The most important skill a Commander must posses is Vision. He must not only accurately see what is currently possible, and see what currently exists, but he must see the future of possibility. This innate creativity must express itself in all aspects of his work. People call business creativity “out-of-the-box thinking”, but in reality it is just creativity applied to situations and problems. Creativity and Vision go hand-in-hand. Vision is an outlet for creativity, and when properly applied and combined with strategic thinking, a course may be set. A Creative Vision sees the end goal, and develops the course and sets mile markers and auxiliary goals. Sometimes Leaders will envision a circuitous path that achieves multiple goals and ends. Rarely is their vision straightforward, and usually they keep the finer details to themselves.
Commanders must have a powerful mind that generates an unshakeable confidence in themselves and in their Vision. They must rest in their extensive knowledge, and wisdom. They must be and have a strong sense of calm, that can weather even the fiercest storms. Their Keen eye must be ever on the horizon, their hands gripping the helm tight, ever fighting the maelstrom with their indomitable spirit. A Commander’s Will can never bend, break, or quit. Their lives are tough, and that is how they prefer them. A Commander lives for that challenge, and gets great satisfaction from meeting his match, or being overwhelmed, and then overcoming the adversity. That Iron Will, that sense of gritted determination, and rock-hard resolve are essential: they give strength to the Commander and allow the weaker followers to gather strength from their leader.
This Iron Will also provides the strength and discipline necessary to make the hard decisions. There comes a time in every leaders tenure that a unforeseen difficulty arises: much like in Ulysses’ journey home he had to face either Scylla or Charybdis. Of course the third option was equally dangerous: He could attempt to back track and go around both, risking the open seas, growing discontent, and withering supplies. Speed was of great importance. The men followed him into the jaws of death, trusting his plan, trusting his decisions, trusting his wisdom which he demonstrated time and time again. He desired to bring his men home safe, as quickly as possible, and his men knew that he had their overall best interests at heart. Sometimes there was unavoidable collateral damage resulting in the loss of select crew members. Though their sacrifice allowed the majority of the crew to return safely, it was Ulysses who had to make and live with that decision.
A Commander must be able to see past the immediate circumstances, and clearly see how the minutiae of the moment plays into the overarching strategy. He cannot get lost in the storm, but instead must focus on reaching the clear skies at the distant horizon. Even when monstrous waves threaten to capsize his vessel; his calm, his boldness, his creative vision, his iron will, and fiery spirit must guide the clipper safely through the gale. One wrong decision, and all will be lost. That wealth of personal experience, the tutelage from other captains, and the sage advice of his trusted first officers are essential in the successful completion of his lofty and risky goals.
A Captain knows that in all great ventures of pith and merit, the risk of failure looms large. There is no certainty, no guarantee that the quest at hand is even achievable. Having a capable and talented General leading the brigade helps even the odds a touch.
No great actions happen without great men (or women) dreaming large dreams, imagining the possibilities, and then creatively designing a route or path to accomplish these phantasmic dreams. However, dreams are nothing without the bold decisive action of the dreamers. It is not merely enough to dream big dreams – though this is the essential first step – the Dreamer must also be a man of action who believes that he can reshape and fashion the world in the manner of his dreams. It is this ability to dream, believe, and act that defines a true Leader among men.
A Commander is nothing with out power. Power comes from the willing or coerced assent of those subject to his rule. With in these constraints, Power comes from a variety of sources; religion is a powerful tool often used in human history to expedite one’s ascent to power. However the primary source of power comes from people’s fear: people fear the uncommon, the unknown, uncertainty, and responsibility. They fear death, disease, discomfort, and pain. People naturally look to a leader to make decisions for them, and for someone to take care of them, like a parent. This weakness is the primary source of Power. Someone unafraid to make difficult decisions, who makes enough decisions correctly, and who manages to somewhat care for certain needs, or provide the illusion of these things will naturally acquire power. The height to which one climbs is directly related to creativity, intelligence, and vision. Power comes from people. Money buys power, because people want to dip their fingers into the wealthy coffer. People see the money of the Government and of “Celebrities” as a solution to their problems. Also, merely acquiring great wealth gives a certain air of affluence, which inherently confers power. This affluence causes less affluent people to feel self-conscious and uncertain of themselves. Money provides the illusion of value, which increases one’s power. Influence garners power: Powerful people who listen to a man’s thoughts and opinions and weigh his words carefully confer a certain power upon a man. Power also can be derived from fame: fame is merely the ability to have large amounts of people hear your words, thoughts, opinions, and ideas. It is a “common” form of influence, and can be quite powerful: people listen closely to Voices they believe others are listening closely to. The perception of influence garners greater influence. Fame, used properly, breeds more fame and usually more money, which can be easily converted to greater power.
One of the greatest sources of power comes from the strength of the Vision. When people resonate with a powerful vision, they will literally sacrifice everything they have and even themselves to help make a better world. This Vision allows people to glean personal meaning and purpose, in an otherwise meaningless life. People are always searching for meaning, and when a Vision with a large enough scope, and a strong enough resonance moves people at a fundamental level, they will be swept along in a passionate server, for people desire passion, and love to be in love. They want vibrant vivid existences, and when someone can offer them a taste of this meaning, then they will feel a sense of rightness at the core of their being and a sense of patriotism, belonging, and adoration for their Commander and his Glorious Vision and will do anything for him. This fundamental LOVE is the most powerful and truest source of all Power.