The Truth About Leadership
This is a collection of notes and ideas I developed as I completed reading The Truth About Leadership.
The Truth About Leadership was written by the bestselling authors of ‘The Leadership Challenge’. The fundamentals of leadership are enduring and unending. We must learn the basics of leadership, hone those basics, and then implement and implement again those basics into our every day life. The most basic aspects of leadership are nearly universal across age, gender, and generational gaps. When we are learning a new skills, we obviously start with the basics in order to best set the ground work for further improvement. You master the basics and often times you will discover that many skills consist of only minor tweaks to the basics in order to attain advanced mastery.
The Truth About Leadership is focused on developing the basics. An emphasis is placed on understanding the role, benefits, and intentions of leadership. We can only be as effective as we believe ourselves to be. The ‘truth’ is that we must know when, where, and how to implement our skills in order to best serve our subordinates, selves, and our leaders. We must challenge ourselves to develop our skill set, focus on skill development, and provide value in every thing we do.
Leadership is universal. Every culture around the globe has structure, intention, and some form of leadership. We as humans have a natural pack animal mentality that has been improved over the years with skills and developments such as tolerance, inclusion, and a willingness to sacrifice of self for the betterment of the pack. We see these same behaviors in animals and insects that are social. While no pack of wolves has ever built a skyscraper or sent a member of their pack into space - we have. It is in leadership that we succeed as a whole.
You make a difference
You matter. Every action you take as a leader will contribute or detract from the success of the mission. Children, teens, and adults can be leaders. You can lead a friend or a family member. You can lead a club or a business. You can be a leader at any time in your life and could lead any number of peoples. The most important aspect of leadership is understanding that your actions matter and your intentions and efforts can and will make a difference. You may not always make a positive difference. It can be a poor performance or even a bad one. Regardless of the outcome you must be ready to take responsibility and accept responsibility.
You have everything you need to lead. You do not need special powers, a magic ring, or some kind of spell. You can begin to implement leadership with something as simple as a phone call, a well placed question, or a letter. Even young children can take the role of leader through grass roots efforts and time well spent. You are a leader, right now!
Leadership starts at home. The majority of respondents to the poll presented felt that family members were the most important leaders in their life. Understanding leadership begins at home. Parents, siblings, and the people you meet early and often will be a great influence on you. You should consider this in your actions. Especially those of us working in law enforcement must understand that the young will look up to us and we should put our best foot forward for those who may be looking up to us.
Good leaders will follow the five practices of exemplary leadership. These principles are very similar to those found in the book ‘Extreme Ownership’ and with good reason. They are basic. You must implement the basics if you plan to lead because they are the simplest, fastest, and easiest way to inspire others to do the job you need of them. They build ownership and this builds quality.
The Five Practices Of Exemplary Leadership
- Model the way
- Inspire a shared vision
- Challenge the process
- Enable others to act
- Encourage the heart
Credibility is the foundation of leadership
Leadership starts with yourself. It can only continue with the faith and belief of others. Any one has the capability to lead but only those leaders who can build credibility will be able to stay leaders. Leaders who are not credible are the leaders I both remember the best as well as hated the most. If you can not inspire confidence, build rapport, and keep yourself from being a source of untruth, then I do not have any faith in you. In law enforcement I will often call it the ‘careful’ comment. You can say things without revealing sources, or betraying the mission. You can be kept from saying thing. But if you actively lie, abuse, or otherwise betray those around you, you will find their willingness to help you plummet. You need to be honest, forward thinking, inspiring, and competent.
In law enforcement we must develop and foster our credibility at all times. The general public will often find themselves face to face with law enforcement in only their most dire or trying times. It is rare for them to be afforded the opportunity to learn from, interact with, or develop relationships with the men and women who represent the law within their communities in a stress free environment. I have spoken to people who develop anxiety just from seeing an Officer in uniform due to an irrational fear they may be singled out or harmed simply due to the presence of the Officer. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the public felt inspired or heartened when they see a Police Officer? If a vehicle branded Police did not strike fear and anxiety into the hearts of the general public? If our credibility was so great and our public trust so deep that we could interact with the community in a consistently positive way?
We must always remember that it is easy to loose trust and difficult to build it. A thousand successes can be cleaned from the slate with only a single falter or mistake. We should do our best to develop trust, accept ownership of the circumstance, and strive to develop relationships with the public that instills faith. Leaders should show case the successes of their subordinates so more people can see how well we do on such a consistent basis.
Values drive commitment
Who are you? The people you interact with want to know who you are. It is one of the most important parts of being a leader. You need to be able to describe who you are as a person. Many people will rely entirely on their title or position to define them. A Lieutenant, Sergeant, or Chief Executive Officer may fall back to their title to describe themselves when asked to do so. We should be able to describe ourselves with our experiences, needs, and wants.
I am a computer programmer with ten years of experience in software development who believes strongly in the Free Software Foundation and their mission. I feel that privacy, education, and community are extremely important. I also feel that service in some capacity is important and therefore I have five years of experience in the State Guard as well as several years spent working in a support role for Law Enforcement. I also spend much of my free time teaching others about technology.
It is easy to see from my description that I believe in law, individual rights, and service to the community and others. My values easily line up with the stated values of my career choice.
One of the best ways to define who you are is to better understand your values. Your personal values are more important than anything else. You will rarely find successful people in careers that have counter values to the ones they hold personally. This is because it is much easier to do a job when you believe it to be worthy and take responsibility for it.
Focusing on the future sets leaders apart
What is your vision? Where do you see yourself, the company, and most importantly, your subordinates in 1, 3, 5, and 10 years? A leader is capable of peering into the future and seeing what will benefit themselves and others. The working person is usually concerned about their future in the company, their career future on a whole, and what they need to be doing to meet the grade. The leader must be looking at themselves, the company, the employees, and the competition.
In law enforcement, I feel we must be ready to adapt as criminal activity changes. Crime is becoming high tech and is more likely to be committed over state lines, across international borders, and in diverse and foreign places. How do we focus on such major upheaval? We plan, we practice, and we put in effort to make sure that our employees are developing the skills and techniques necessary to stay relevant.
You can’t do it alone
You cannot be a leader without some one willing to follow you. Our greatest achievements and our failures will be a team effort that we must take ownership for. The only way to be a leader is to inspire the confidence in others to follow you. You can inspire confidence by encouraging others to take responsibility for their work, to develop their skill set, and to build a personal interest in the success of the mission.
Build relationships. Develop your personal skills. Focus on how you can inspire others to do great. Build the skills you need to unlock the potential of others. It is in their success that you can rapidly build up a culture of winning.
Trust is the foundation of following. The individuals whom you are expected to lead will not be able to take your advice, work towards higher needs, or contribute to the cohesiveness of the group if they live in fear or are unable to believe that you are looking out for them. It is easy to see how people have only two things they can worry about at work. They can worry about lower order needs like their position, work, pay, and the entirety of their microcosm or they can worry about higher order needs. Higher order needs include the mission, the company, their self improvement necessary to fit the job, and building the relationships at work necessary to raise all members of the team up.
If your employees believe and know you are looking out for their lower order needs, they need not worry about them as much. They can focus on big picture work while feeling confidence that you as a leader will look out for their careers. They will also be more likely to take responsibility and put in more work and effort if they feel that you as a leader and the company are willing to foster learning and help them overcome mistakes in a positive manner.
Building trust is a tangible endeavor. You build trust with deed and action. If you are willing to say what you mean and then follow through with it, people will take you seriously. You cannot make promises or be flippant in when and how you break your word. People expect the truth and they expect to be trusted. You do not have to be transparent in all things but it is helpful if you tell the people you are working with when and why you cannot be absolutely truthful with them. A simple ‘I cannot divulge at this time but please trust that I will do … when I can.’ will do wonders to build that trust.
Trust is mandatory to build a desire for value added behavior in those who work for you.
Challenge is the crucible for greatness
You must understand that all actions will develop some form of adversity. Any thing you do or fail to do will cause a fundamental change in your current life path that you must be prepared for. Leaders are resilient and they are willing to do the work and put in the effort necessary to cause positive change. It can take time but the ultimate goal is to turn adversity and work into positives that benefit the workers, the self, and the company above. Leaders are forged in challenge.
Adversity, strife, and challenges are your future. When you choose leadership, you are not choosing the easy path. You are making the decision to actively work towards constructive goals while functioning under the most demanding and grueling expectations. You are choosing a path that requires you to persevere and survive on a daily basis with little ability to fly under the radar. You are choosing to lead.
Failure happens. You should accept now that if you are not pushing yourself then you will be successful at all times. Only by pushing yourself forward can you develop the skills you need from the experiences of failure. We should not hope for failure or make mistakes on purpose to test ourselves. What we should be doing is building the drive and grit required to keep pushing ourselves even when we make mistakes or fall down.
You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all
Be consistent in word and deed. Law enforcement requires that we uphold the law while living within it. One of the most embarrassing and problematic events that can occur is when a law enforcement officer lives outside the law. We have seen this in the news countless times and every time the public is angered and disgusted. How could someone espouse law and order while living a life style that is anything but? So what should we remember? Develop your values, understand your path, and walk it to the fullest.
We must provide the text book example as best we can. While failure does happen and missteps will occur, it is our eternal struggle to always try our best to follow through and do what is correct. This spiritual cohesion is not just for the sake of the public but also for our subordinates and the leadership above us. Lead by example.
Even in a desk job, when doing ‘customer service’ related functions, I attempt to lead by example. If someone comes to my office for help, I do not stop helping until we get them to a satisfactory hand off point. If I cannot help them, I take them to the person who can help them, introduce them, and explain in short their issue and then perform a hand off. It will verify that no one can feel left out or abandoned in action or inaction. You must develop follow through, ownership, and finalize all things to their conclusion. This also builds trust.
Also remember that we make mistakes and if we do we should be honest and up front about it. Do not flippantly dismiss your own mistakes while exacting severe punishment on others. This makes you seem petty and weak of spirit. You should handle every incident with the same even hand that fosters growth and learning and now just reliance on negative reinforcement.
The best leaders are the best learners
Learn. You can learn to be a leader, you can learn to cook, and you can learn how a rocket works. In the act of learning, more is more. We should focus on all skills and all abilities. The ultimate leader is the ultimate learner. I like to tell people “If I do not know it, I will find out for you.” when asked about something I am not familiar with. As a teacher, I would often be asked questions by students that I could not answer in a satisfactory method and I would then write down the question, research it, and come back with links, proof, and explanation. I was told that I was an inspiration due to my method of honesty and then research on topics I did not know.
The world is changing at an incredible rate. We have new technology that is changing every day, a better education system around the globe, and fierce international competition in almost every work or job. We should be focused on improving ourselves and encouraging others to build themselves up as well. Learn how to learn and do it. Even this article I write now is an attempt at bettering others and myself. I am reading a book, writing notes, creating an article, and then releasing it to the world for someone to read.
Learning to learn is important. We need deliberate practice with an intent to improve. What ever skills or knowledge you want to improve requires practice and effort. It will rarely be fun but it will be a way to improve ourselves. Practice your handgun draw, learn to draw a dog, or any thing else you can imagine or set your heart on. Experts believe we need 10,000 hours of practice over 10 years. Get to work.
Leadership is an affair of the heart
You cannot be a leader if you do not want to be a leader. Our desires, our hopes, and our willingness all hinge on our ability to take ownership for the mission and follow through. You have to want it. Times will suck and things will be bad. We will be unhappy. But we cannot lead if we do not put effort into it.
Servant leadership is the act of leading while also bringing attention to the efforts, success, and capabilities of those we lead. You do not seek the spotlight but instead you shine it on others. You do not look for awards but instead bestow them on others. You do not flaunt your abilities but instead you show off the accomplishments of those who work for you. You must become the unit cheerleader who helps when others are down and focuses on the positive in public.
Be visible, available, and present. Show up to awards ceremonies even if you are not on the bill. Support others. Celebrate with the team. Eat lunch together. Do what is necessary to make yourself visible and approachable. It helps build trust.
Leaders are positive. You cannot be positive if you are not happy with your work and contribution. You can provide a positive word, an uplifting hand, or an ear for someone to speak to. All of these things breed positive attitudes. The more positive that we are, the more likely that others will be positive as well. This infectious behavior leads to greater success and more wins.
Say yes. Yes you can be a leader. Yes you can make a difference. Yes you have the ability to lead. Yes. The change that we want to make and the positive benefits that we want to bring all come from yes. Being willing to try, fail, and try again. An endless cycle of yes is what will help us to accomplish the mission. You may have to answer yes when someone asked if you failed, but you can also answer yes when asked if you still solved the issue or tried again at the least.
My final takeaways -
You matter. You wouldn’t be interested in leadership if you didn’t.
You can do it. Leaders are taught.
Be credible. Your word matters. Do what you say.
Leaders only exist because of their followers. You can’t do it alone.
Build trust and keep it.
Bad things happen. Take responsibility and learn from it.
Lead by example.
Take ownership of the situation. You need to want to be a leader.
Don’t be afraid to fail.