What Makes A Good Leader? Ask Uncle Sam

by Tim Knox
Copyright © 2005

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What do the major generals who are leading the war efforts in Iraq have in common with executives and entrepreneurs who are conducting business back home? When it comes to leadership, the answer is probably a lot more than you think.

In a recent study conducted by the Army War College, subordinates of the major generals who are leading the war efforts in Iraq were asked to rate the performance of their superiors.

The survey revealed that the best leaders:

* Keep cool under pressure
* Clearly explains the missions, sets standards and priorities
* See the big picture; provides context and perspective
* Make tough, sound decisions on time
* Adapt quickly to new situations; can handle bad news
* Give useful feedback; sets a high ethical tone
* Are positive, encouraging and realistically optimistic

According to retired Gen. Walter Ulmer, coauthor of the study, �The study showed that even when tactical and technical competences are excellent, interpersonal skills are critical.�

What�s that? People skills are critical in fighting a war? General Patton must be spinning in his four-star grave.

According to Ulmer the survey revealed that it is easier to teach technical skills than to teach people how to gain trust and build teams. In other words, trained tacticians are important, but the worth of a true leader may best be measured by how he leads, motivates, and treats his troops.

The study further showed that many key behaviors these generals exhibit were learned by example. Their former superiors displayed people skills and whether intended or not, taught those skills to their subordinates. This means that good leaders produced good leaders. I�m sure the flipside is just as true. Bad leaders often produce the next generation of bad leaders. We see it in business everyday. The recent rash of corporate scandals didn�t just involve the bad guys at the top. They often involved subordinate executives who were following the leader�s example and carrying out his not-so honorable plans.

Not surprisingly, the same traits found in the generals leading the effort in Iraq are the same traits found in many successful executives and entrepreneurs.

Keeps cool under pressure

Contrary to what many believe, being an entrepreneur is not always a walk in the park. There is constant pressure coming from many fronts. Pressure to make a sale, to meet payroll, to keep the doors open, to keep the employees in line, and on and on. The best entrepreneurs learn to thrive under pressure. Pressure becomes a motivator, not a detractor.

Clearly explains missions, sets the standards and priorities

Successful entrepreneurs understand that the organization runs smoother, better, faster if everyone is on the same page. A good leader makes sure his subordinates understand the mission at hand. He makes sure that everyone understands the expectations, goals and objectives. He shares his vision and lays out the plan of attack.

Sees the big picture; provides context and perspective

Many executives and entrepreneurs can not see beyond the edge of their desk. Great leaders not only see the big picture, they make sure their team sees it, as well. They share their vision and perspective for the long haul, not just the battle being waged today.

Makes tough, sound decisions on time

One trait of the successful entrepreneur is the ability to make decisions soundly and quickly. You must weigh your options and choose a direction with minimal consideration time. Procrastination has no place in battle or in business. Procrastinating entrepreneurs will quickly become someone else�s procrastinating employees.

Adapts quickly to new situations; can handle bad news

In business some days are diamonds and some days are coal. Successful entrepreneurs are prepared to deal with the day no matter what it brings. They do not stick their heads in the sand and wait for the bad news to go away.

Gives useful feedback; sets a high ethical tone

A good leader listens more than he speaks. He takes input from the team and makes decisions based on that input and his own expertise. He sets the example that he expects his team to follow.

Is positive, encouraging and realistically optimistic

A good leader never lets his team see him sweat. He does not broadcast his negativity because he knows negativity is contagious and will spread faster than the plague. A good leader encourages his team to perform no matter the odds. He is the positive force that keeps everyone motivated to win.

Every entrepreneur should take a lesson from these generals, as should every corporate executive. I�m sure it would cut down on the time many of them are now spending in the stockade.

Here�s to your success!

Tim Knox



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