On Leadership

Recently, on the recommendation of State Command Chief Master Sergeant Hayley of the WA Air National Guard (a true stand-up Gentleman), I just read the two following books, and thought I would share my thoughts:



Leadership, by Rudolph Giuliani


The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell, by Oren Harari

Both books were quite motivating, although one minor (but key) factor annoyed me about Rudolph Giuliani’s book.  He was the author.  In a 407-page-long book that lists in excruciating detail how awesome someone is… don’t write that book about yourself.  It is much easier to stomach the life lessons when they come from a biographer who can speak objectively about the subject.  Reading page after page FROM Governor Giuliani about how he “revolutionized inner city neighborhoods” or “engaged in meticulous preparation, a lifelong habit” got pretty annoying after a while.  While “Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell” also portrayed the picture of someone born to lead who rose to their proper station in life with spot-on command decisions at all critical paths in his life, the fact that the writing came from a 3rd party (Oren Harari, Ph.D. professor of management at the Mclaren Graduate School of Business), made the lessons palatable.

Some important lessons that I picked up from both books were:

1) The people you work with and lead are critical to your success.  Surround yourself with the most intelligent, creative, driven people you can hire.

2) Loyalty is extremely important. 

3) Lead by example.  Even if (your team, your kids, etc) do  not appear to be listening, they are always watching, and learn (and act) according to your actions.

From Rudolph’s book:

“Surround yourself with great people. Have beliefs and communicate them. See things for yourself. Set an example. Stand up to bullies. Deal with first things first. Loyalty is the vital virtue. Prepare relentlessly. Under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t assume a damn thing.”

From Powell:

1. When you hire, look for intelligence, judgment, and most importantly, a capacity to anticipate. Seek people who will show loyalty, integrity, high energy, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.
2. Don’t rely just on a resume, which only describes past performance.
3. Decentralize execution and strategy so people can innovate and use their best judgment, but monitor and intervene as necessary to keep people focused.
4. Don’t overly depend on organizational charts and job titles. Leadership is based on the ability to influence and inspire others.
5. Spread optimism around your organization.
6. Seek balance: Don’t neglect your home and family life.
7. Enjoy your leadership and make your organization a balanced, fun environment for others.

There was also a great discussion in the Powell book about the need for honest, critical, and open feedback during the decision making process.  One should not be afraid to speak their mind on the topic at hand, or suggest a different course of action.  That having been said, once the decision has been made, it is incumbent upon the entire team to implement the decision as if it were their own.

I have worked on projects in the past that did not succeed simply by virtue of the fact that they were sabotaged from within by team members that did not agree with the strategic decision behind the project.  I have also worked on projects with successful outcomes due to the fact that everyone was working towards a common goal, even if they did not agree with some particular aspect of the project or the decisions behind it.  A leader that can spread infectious enthusiasm and effectively share “the vision” to the team, will more often than not end up with a successful team, product, and career.

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