I was recently asked to make some comments about leadership to a small group. In the conversation that followed, it became clear that people often equate leadership to senior level leadership… the kind associated with providing guidance to a large enough organization that you don’t know everyone personally, but opportunities for leadership exist everywhere. This campus is filled with experienced and accomplished leaders and I am certainly not the final authority on the subject but I am going to share some thoughts on the subject to perhaps stimulate some discussions in each of your work places. At its core leadership is influence… positively influencing people who work for you, with you and those you work for. With this description it should be obvious that EVERYONE can have a role as a leader.
There are truckloads of books and other materials out there discussing leadership. I think the volume of information speaks to the fact that leadership is not easy and each situation and each individual require their own individualized approach. While each individual has to find their own way there are a few key guide posts that have helped over time.
Your standards are what you accept.Or in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Your actions speak so loud I cannot hear your words.” We are judged by our actions and our inactions. While communication is very important and clear expectations are critical for anyone to perform to their best potential, at the end of the day you have to consistently act in concert with your stated expectations or you will lose credibility quickly.
From my first days in military service I was told by many to, “Take care of your people” and you will be well on your way to succeeding in whatever role you have. I always had trouble understanding exactly what that meant I should do until I heard essentially the same message stated as, “Your people won’t care what you know until they know that you care.”For me this resonates better. What this says is first listen to what your workmates are saying and try to honestly and truly understand their concerns then start considering and suggesting solutions. By sincerely listening, you will show that you care about their concerns, then (and only then) will they be ready to hear your thoughts. It is not always easy to take the time to listen like this, but it is always time well spent.
Character matters… a lot. Character is not something we are born with but rather something we create in ourselves by our daily actions. When we act consistently and fairly to others, even when in those times when it feels hard to do it, we exhibit the character that will make you someone people can trust. Your influence (remember leadership is influence) will expand as you continually earn the trust of people around you by demonstrating that you are thoughtful and fair.
This is certainly not all there is to leadership or a definitive essay on the subject, but hopefully leads at least a few of you to have some interesting conversations around your work place over the next week.
Capt. Frederick Kass
Naval Support Activity Bethesda