Blazing Flashes of the Obvious about Leadership

MG Perry M. Smith
Class of 1956
President, Visionary Leadership


NBC Links Homepage

Humor Page

The article was published in Assembly, a magazine by the Association of Graduates (AOG), US Military Academy. (p. 72, date and volume unknown)

1. KNOW YOURSELF: Each of us is really 5 people: who we are; who we think we are; who our subordinates think we are; who our peers think we are; and who our boss thinks we are. Those who seek feedback from many sources are more than likely to understand their various selves-- and be better leaders.

2. DEVELOP MENTAL TOUGHNESS: Leaders must be brutally honest with themselves or they slip into the terrible habit of self-deception. Even the best leaders make mistakes. By acknowledging and correcting them quickly, a good leader can become a superb leader.

3. BE MAGNANIMOUS: Leaders who share their power and their time can accomplish the extraordinary. Leadership is the liberation of talent; hence you gain power by constantly giving it away-- and not grabbing it back.

4. SQUINT WITH YOUR EARS: Listening is the most important leader skill. Introverts have an edge, since they tend to listen quietly. Too many extroverts are thinking about what they will say next, rather than hearing what is being said.

5. PROTECT THE INNOVATORS: For three years I had a Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient working for me---the most innovative person I have ever known. Although well over half his ideas were awful, buried among the bad was an occasional pearl of great wisdom. I learned to protect him from his bad ideas while encouraging his best suggestions and insights.

6. DON'T BECOME INDISPENSABLE: We need indispensable organization but not indispensable people. Leaders should not become indispensable or let others become so. When that indispensable person gets sick, retires, or transfers, the organization will be damaged badly.

7. AVOID THE COWARDICE OF SILENCE: So-called leaders often sit on their hands when it is time to speak up. Leadership requires the courage to make waves, the courage to confront bosses when they are wrong, and the courage of one's convictions. Every Lee needs a Longstreet.

8. DON'T WASTE PEOPLE'S TIME: The best question to ask a subordinate during a counseling session is, "How am I wasting your time?" Not everyone will tell your -- but cherish the ones that do, for they will help you keep your priorities in order and dramatically reduce wasted time.

9. REWARD THE INVISIBLE PEOPLE: Many fine people who do great work seldom get thanked because they are "invisible." They work so quietly and competently that they are never noticed by the leader. Over time, their morale suffers. Conversely, beware of those who seek too much "face time" with the boss. These are primarily concerned with their ambitions and egos.

10. AVOID CRONYISM: Too many bosses promote people out of friendship rather than competence. Not only does this undermine morale, it also moves friends to positions at their level of incompetence, and everyone suffers.

11. SMOKE THOSE OF LOW INTEGRITY: Leaders must endure that high standards are maintained. In most large organizations, someone is almost always walking out the back door with something. Expense accounts, personnel records, training reports and contracts need constant scrutiny. Also, beware of the problem of "integrity once removed." Just because you and your immediate associates are honest doesn't mean there aren't integrity problems elsewhere.

12. CONCENTRATE ON PERFORMANCE NOT JUST RESULTS: How you get results is vitally important: both process and performance. Constantly ask yourself what it took to get those great results.

13. MAINTAIN A SENSE OF OUTRAGE: Too many super-cool managers concentrate on keeping the boss happy and staying out of trouble. They are never outraged when the system does serious damage to their subordinates. The best leaders get mad occasionally and, using controlled outrage, correct the wrongs levied against their people.

14. BEWARE OF INTIMIDATION: Some bosses allow themselves to be intimidated by their bosses, outsiders, or even their subordinates. An intimidated boss can never be a great leader. Robert McNamara's intimidation of the chiefs of the military services during the Vietnam War is a stark example.

15. AVOID THE ACTIVITY TRAP: The overly busy manager seldom plans for the long term; this leads to strategic drift. The micromanager and the workaholic are seldom visionary leaders.

16. ANTICIPATE CRISES: The very best leaders see problems coming and solve them before they become full-fledged crises. They ask the right questions and perfect their anticipation skills. If a crisis occurs, have a transition plan, make decisions quickly and form an " opportunity team" to exploit the crisis.

17. DO SERIOUS READING ON LEADERSHIP: Read at least one good book a month. My favorites on leadership include Killer Angels (Shaara); Leaders (Bennis); Integrity (Carter); and the New Realities (Drucker). Leaders who do not read are slowly but surely going brain dead--not a pleasant sight.

18. DON'T BECOME A PRISONER OF YOUR OWN PARADIGM: While serving as CNN's military analyst during the Gulf War, I noticed that the New York Times was unable to grasp how dramatically weapons and warfare had changed. For over 20 years, the Times had criticized the military for acquiring systems that were overly complex. It took weeks before the editors grasped the significance of the triple paradigm of reliability, precision and stealth.

19. DON'T SEND "I DON'T TRUST YOU" MESSAGES: Leaders who say, "I don't like surprises" or "Check with me before you start anything" or "I'll call you in every morning for an update" are sending their subordinates "I do not trust you" messages. Such employees never will contribute at their full potential.

20. FIND AN ANCHOR AND HOLD ON TO IT: My wife of over 38 years has lifted me when down and eased me down when my ego become inflated. My two adult children have been very helpful, especially on issues of integrity. Close friends and classmates have helped with advice, comfort, solace, and support.

21. DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF: And its corollary, most everything is small stuff. Leaders who are perfectionist should recall that often "the best is the enemy of the good."

22. FIGHT THE TENDENCY TO CLONE YOURSELF: It is a mistake to hire people who look, act, and think as you do. Always ask if the person under consideration brings fresh perspective, background or point of view. Also, actively resist the tendency to encourage subordinates to act as you do.

23. PERPARE FOR THE FUTURE: I suggest joining the World Future Society (301-951-0394). At its annual July convention, some of the smartest long-range thinkers in the world present workshops. I also suggest reading The Futurist and Business Week.

24. REMEMBER: Leadership is not maintaining control, gaining power, keeping the boss happy, avoiding trouble or getting to the bottom of your in-box. Leadership is accomplishing the mission, serving your people, giving power away, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and raising the level of integrity and dignity in your organization.

E-mail me if you have any comments!

Copyright (c) 2001-2011 Placke & Associates.