When I think of leadership, I tend to picture the great leaders of history. George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, George Patton, Marshall, Eisenhower, General Powell, General Petraeus…the list goes on and on. What do all of these great men have in common that made them such great leaders? What trait, or common denominator, can be found among these men that I can personally emulate and harness to become a better leader myself?
What makes this question so difficult to even begin to answer is that each of these men had their own leadership style and lived in different time periods. However, what I did find common among them was their resiliency and service to their subordinates. To me, I personally believe that these two traits are the most important aspects of leadership for any Officer.
So, what exactly is resilience? To me, resiliency involves both the hardihood and courage to take on risks and challenges and the ability to bounce back from difficulties and disappointments. Vision… progress… and then crushing setback. Vision… progress… and then crushing setback. This is a very true reality that we face as leaders today and the same reality that the great leaders before us faced. Such a string of endless disappointments might make a lesser man want to curl up and die. But not a true leader. Again, resiliency is the mark of a real leader: the worse things get, the more cool and collected you must become.
Practicing resiliency as a leader can be as simple as concentrating, not on the things that can’t be altered and aren’t under your control, but on what you can do. I challenge you to study any great leader and not discover the supreme ability of these men to deal with the insurmountable challenges placed before them. From Washington’s cold wintery days at Valley Forge to General Petraeus’s need to fundamentally change how we fight unconventional wars (with the insurgency uprisings in Iraq and Afghanistan), these men displayed true resiliency.
Equal in importance to these leader’s supreme resilience, and their care, no, almost obsession, for the well-being of their men. These leaders thought of themselves as the father of their men and believed it was their responsibility to care for these men. This was a great weight to bear upon their shoulders, but they bore it stoically. I feel that oftentimes, our selfish career ambitions and egos blind of us of our real duty as a leader, and that is to serve our subordinates. We must always think of the needs of our Soldiers above our own, and always be ready to sacrifice our own comfort for them.
As leaders, we should feel the brunt of hardships well before our Soldiers do. When a leader who serves and loves his men as the great leaders of history did, it is a sacrifice that is not simply altruistic, but our actions have the effect of forging the deepest loyalty. Disagree? How else did Washington convince starving men with rags on their feet in the depths of winter to stand by his side? Despite his temperament and boldness, how did Patton maintain the love and affection of his Soldiers? Think of about it…
Read all the self-help books about leadership you want, but to me, nothing compares to studying the great legacies of those who came before us. You may have an author who is a “leadership expert”, but I doubt that this “expert” has the resume of success that these men do. There may be lots of little tips and tricks to being a better leader, but I hold a very firm conviction that unless you master the traits of resiliency and caring for your subordinates than you will only be a marginal leader.
Do you have any questions or added thoughts? Please post them below. Thank you.
Former Army Major (resigned)
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