“Amazon lists over 50,000 books with the word leadership in the title, so there is no dearth of understanding or application of leadership principles to problem solving… yet problem solving leadership principles are either unknown or ignored,” writes Stan Crowder.
Security leaders must reignite their interest, application and appreciation of leadership by examining some key points and examples. After all, many security professionals have some vitally important figure in their lives that set a course of action to set them where they find themselves today. No matter your station in life, you undoubtedly have leadership traits that can be enhanced, or perhaps even reestablished. Both authors come from many years in the military, and surely our view of this was shaped by our service. Leadership flows from the ability to get others to do what needs to be done because they want to do it, and do it with pride.
Leaders read. Reading on leadership reinforces our desire for self-improvement. President Harry Truman put it this way, “Readers of good books, particularly books on biography and history, are preparing themselves for leadership. Not all readers become leaders. But all leaders must be readers.” Carve out just 30 minutes to read per day. Always keep the goal in mind of, “What can I take away from this reading that I can use when working and developing others?”
You don’t need degrees to learn. Ben Franklin’s self-motivation in reading revealed a man with keen sense of science, history and philosophy. Learning from others and seeking the application of your learning to your tasks, conditions and your personal standards are also important leaders to remember. Studying the art of leadership can never be over-emphasized; rather, study must become habit.
“You don’t need wealth, education or status to be a great leader. You just need to be passionate about your cause and be willing to serve,” write Pat Williams and Jim Denney. Your passion for being a leader must rule over the rough days. It is the initiative to lead that separates you from your peers. You crave something, and you need to share that with your peers and subordinates. Perhaps you crave improving the operating system, maybe the conditions of the others, maybe solidifying the future for others, or maybe you want to develop those that will follow in your footsteps. Like many other professions, leaders are faced with many challenges, but none as important as finding, training and retaining staff. We must view leadership with a passion to make the system, and others, better by motivating, educating and mentoring others (including students) to change and improve the system.
Leadership also means saying no. You must say no… no to temptation, to ethical challenges, to anything that moves your moral compass away from true north. Leaders must make tough decisions. Successful leaders maintain strong boundaries and say no when they know that no is the right answer. Face it — it is often hard to say no, but often several weeks or maybe months later the person that was told no comes to realize, just as you did, that no was the right answer. You are not in a popularity contest; you are in a leadership position and that calls for a “no” sometimes.
Let’s review some basic, but important leadership principles that should be practiced and remembered. These principles are taught in countless leadership courses, but over the years, one could argue that these principles are lost in the monstrous demands of senior leaders:
People who do not have trust in their leader(s) will undoubtedly perform out of trepidation. These same followers will seldom go the extra mile, and show very little initiative. A leader must support staff, enable them to take risks and make mistakes, and reward initiative. Leading by example sets the stage for a trusting organization. Leaders must be seen as caring, genuine and empathetic. Gaining trust includes providing others with challenging assignments that show that you have faith in their abilities, and that you value their commitment. Recognizing accomplishments and making others feel safe contribute to building and maintaining trust.
Leading by example
“The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow,” said Colin Powell. Regardless of how busy a leader may be, it is imperative that they get out of their office to not only lead by example, but to be able to recognize those who do extraordinary work. The clichés “manage by walking around” and “catch people doing something right” may seem basic, but others will appreciate the effort, and it will set the stage for improved performance.
Recognizing a job well done doesn’t always mean a formal award presentation, but a simple “pat on the back” in public can show immediate and future organizational dividends. But, we shouldn’t forget the importance of formal recognition. “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon,” said Napoleon Bonaparte.
Former Georgia Institute of Technology President, Dr. Bud Peterson, frequently is quoted saying, “75% of all problems are due to poor communication, and the other 25% are due to really poor communication.” Everyone must understand the leader’s vision, strategy and priorities.
Great leaders make communication a priority, keep everyone moving in the right direction, and highlight the importance of teamwork. Informed staff are problem solvers and eager to jump in when there are unforeseen huddles and roadblocks. Be mindful that technology should enhance communication, but be wary of the whiteout effect of a steady and overwhelming barrage of email and social media to the point that it’s often overlooked, or even ignored.
Sadly, many people reflect back on examples of poor leadership, but these traits, too, provide reminders on what not to do, or simply serve as an incentive to do better. Some of these traits serve as red flags that may trigger others to look for work in another organization.
- Condescending attitude: Leaders should treat people as they would like to be treated. A great leader treats everyone with respect, not just those in higher-level positions. The person you are talking to may one day be your boss.
- Plays by a different set of guidelines: In other words, not practicing what they preach. The “Do as I say, not as I do,” philosophy affects morale, teamwork and organizational success.
- Unwillingness to listen: Typically, leaders have the experience within the organization to set the standard on important aspects of the job, but a leader not willing to listen to ideas will likely show both a lack of respect and know it all attitude.
- Taking credit for others’ accomplishments: We’ve all seen it, and haven’t forgotten it. Underserving credit shows a complete lack of respect, and when it happens, the occasion will quickly spread throughout the organization.
Periodically take a few minutes to make sure you’re practicing good leadership behavior. Are you leading by example? Does your staff come see you? Are these same staff members unusually quite around you, or in your meetings? Are you cognizant of “quiet quitting” within your organization, and if so, what are you doing about it? Quiet quitting is a somewhat new term, but according to Gallup, "quiet quitters" make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce.
Leadership is taught in formal classroom settings, acquired by experience, and most importantly, learned from other leaders. Senior leaders themselves must be willing to continuously learn how to strengthen their leadership abilities, and if nothing else, periodically look in the mirror to make sure they haven’t forgotten the basics. You have an obligation to those that look to you for leadership — don’t fail them or yourself.