Tuesday, August 27, 2013

We Don't Take Nothing From Nobody: Leadership Rebooted For My Generation

*An ironic note is that as I was writing this, Miley Cyrus managed to twerk her way through at least half of these tenets. Read this if you need faith restored in my generation...

Leadership is one of the most ancient practices in civilization. A complex and expansive paradigm, it must be rigid enough to be applied in any situation, situationally or theoretically, yet fluid enough to allow itself to mold to the generation wielding the "Big Stick," as put forward by Teddy Roosevelt. In this context, I would like to reboot my earlier writings on leadership from college in order to incorporate my experiences since then. As frivolous as this exercise may be, I fear a leadership vacuum in my generation as we struggle to manage the monster of social media we have grown up with. We may be on-deck to be leaders, but our paradigm of leadership has not quite set in its mold. Only the next few years will tell how we will approach the problems of a now truly global humanity. 

(The questions below were taken from an essay contest for junior officers presented by the United States Naval Institute, one of the key pillars in my leadership continuum.)

What does leadership look like to the ledfrom below? from beside?

Leadership should look the same to all who participate in or are influenced by it. I believe the first and last word of leadership is sacrifice. A selfless ethos and grateful pathos from a leader will do wonders for morale and begin to create an atmosphere of results, not salutes. The led should see their leader as separate, but equal: a person like themselves but in an extraordinary position of command. Someone who is willing to do all the work it takes to succeed, but also be able to provide guidance when it is called for. From below, a leader should be a paragon of ethics and humility and a role model to aspire to, regardless of age, race, or rank. From beside, a leader should be a calming example to their peers and one who has complete situational and theoretical awareness, even when they are not on watch. 

What qualities and characteristics define leadership for those who are themselves young leaders who aspire to command?

Leadership is no longer about intimidation. It has been realized that building a crew through positive encouragement is the best way to realize results. A leader in the contemporary sense of the word and one entering command in today's world should understand their every move will be dissected to the masses and filleted by the media if they happen to pull the short straw that day. With this unsavory thought in mind, a leader must be compassionate to his team's needs and understand the underlying causes of a poor performance. It is not enough to preach "the process." Many leaders are very good at this and their victories come in a singular fashion, with no development from their team's secondary and tertiary skill sets. A great leader focuses on a holistic education of their team and attacks even the most menial parts of training with a zeal and enthusiasm not matched by anyone else. A great leader is competitive, encouraging, ethical, humble, and selfless. 

Can leadership be defined … or only recognized?

As leadership is such a fluid paradigm, it can only be defined in the terms and context of every leader's situation. What worked in Colonial times may not necessarily work in the digital age. The recognition of great leadership characteristics, however, may lead to the definition of a great leader in any age or era. 

Can leadership be taught … or only learned?

Leadership can be taught. It must be taught. However, like all battle plans, the depth and scope of the commitment of command cannot fully be realized until that commitment comes under fire. To paraphrase Shakespeare, all the world's a laboratory, and all the men and women are leaders. This leadership laboratory we live in serves as a real world applicator for the lessons taught to us through our mentors and the stories and shanties we grow up with. There is never a terminal level of leadership education. We are continuously learning and leading, especially when we do not feel like we are. 

How can leadership be nurtured?

Leadership can be nurtured through study and practice. I wrote earlier on theoretical awareness. Much like a fantasy sport season where we extrapolate real life conditions onto a virtual contest, one is able to prepare a myriad of tests and gauntlets for their newfound knowledge and test themselves and others. As training is the lifeblood of the workforce, it is a critical pillar in the development and nurturing of an organic leadership. 

What does character have to do with leadership?

Exceptional character is the be all and end all of leadership. Quite simply, a team emulates their leader and if their leader values egotism and selfishness above all else, a leadership vacuum will emerge. New members of the team will become disillusioned with the paradigm that leader is creating and the relentless pursuit of self-promotion will turn a cohesive group of individuals into a confederation of loosely related self-seekers who will eventually hang separately. 

What is the role of mentors?

Mentors come in every shape and size and their impact on a leader is immeasurable. It is with a mentor one begins to see the microcosm of their own leadership. In every success, a small lesson is learned and filed away for recollection. In every failure, an even larger lesson is committed to rote. One does not need to be a clone of their mentor, that would be a mistake as no one is a perfect person or leader. However, the true value of a mentor or teacher does not lie in the empirical facts or lessons learned. It lies in the intangible value they have unknowingly impacted you with. The marks on your soul that you carry until the next person in line needs them. A truly great leader will know these marks innately and strive to seek those mentors who will impart such wisdom and do it without ego and with a purpose. 

This is a sliver of what I'm thinking right now and it will change. Stay tuned. 

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