As a second lieutenant in the Air Force, I quickly learned the basic tenets of real leadership. During that 26-year career, as in other ventures, they served me well. They aren’t complicated or hard to learn, but as is often the case with doing the right thing, they aren’t always easy to do.
I understand many people voted for our president because they were tired of the status quo and wanted someone who would “drain the swamp.” Some just couldn’t stomach the alternative. I also recognize that many believed he represented their values and endorsed him with their votes.
Winning a leadership role doesn’t automatically make one a leader. Rather, it is by character and practice that a leader develops. And, it is by adherence to those basic tenets that the leader hones his or her skills.
Effective leaders model the behavior they want from others. How best to get the point across is something good parents learn quickly. It doesn’t take long to realize that setting the right example is more important than saying the right words. Effective leaders don’t preach “America First” while buying raw materials from the cheapest source in the world and having their products manufactured in other countries. That’s “globalization,” not America First.
Real leadership looks like Sen. John McCain’s vote against repealing Obamacare. It was a tough call for him, but he realized what was at stake and it forced the health-care change efforts back into the normal channels that allow citizen involvement — exactly what he spoke of on the Senate floor.
Leaders must also have a vision and set a clear course toward that vision. In fact, the bigger the organization, the further ahead that course must be set. A helpful visual is to compare steering a speedboat to steering an aircraft carrier. Whereas a speedboat can turn on a dime, the captain of an aircraft carrier must plan miles in advance to turn the ship.
The federal government is a big ship, and its leader can’t effectively guide it by constantly shifting positions to fit the latest news cycle, nor by tweeting out policy changes at 3 a.m.
Speaking of tweets, good leaders know that no one cares about their problems. Have an issue with the reported size of the inaugural crowds? Guess what? Nobody cares! There are many people who have real problems in our country. They want a leader focused on making their lives better, not on complaining about something that happened six months ago and never was important.
The bottom line is, when it is all about the leader, it isn’t about his people. Plain and simple, leaders need thick skin, big hearts and a consistent focus on the goal.
Another important tenet of leadership is that leaders must praise in public and criticize in private. Just like our mothers told us: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it in a tweet. Leaders succeed only when their people succeed. A president succeeds when the country succeeds.
The mantle of leadership is heavy and there are ample rewards, but they come at a cost. Effective leaders understand they must subordinate their “I” in the interest of the larger “we.” In the end, a true leader never has to remind anyone he or she is the boss.
As “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher once famously said, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”