Leadership—in General terms

Home Editorials Leadership—in General terms

by Al Wahnon

Colin Powell is an accomplished leader, a meticulous organizer and a dynamic influence on young men and women. He is a retired U.S. Army General, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. He has been in a leadership role for virtually all of his adult life. So, when he gave the keynote address on leadership at last month’s Greenbuild 2010 in Chicago, everyone paid rapt attention. He focused on his experience as an infantry unit commander and on his government service and recounted the lessons he learned as he advised and directed men and women in preparation for leadership roles. His opening salvo was dramatic, succinct and riveting: “Passion is the key to leadership.”

Powell believes concentrating on the purpose of the group allows good leaders to mold their members in a way that gets results. The goal of a leader, he feels, is not to lead, necessarily, but to instill the purpose of the group into the members. The passion the leader shows inspires the entire team. He went on to share six attributes a leader must possess to ensure the success of the training and the trained. First, “give them the tools they need to fulfill the group’s purpose.” Impress upon them the moral imperative and the physical attributes necessary to achieve their goals, whether it’s a military target or a sales objective. The stronger they believe in the cause, the more attentive they will be and the more receptive to the message.

“Change the ‘brainware,’ or mental attitude, of both the group and its competitors.” Pump heavy doses of optimism into the group and leave room for large quantities of confidence. Dispel any negativism that might seep into the learning process and stress the rewards that could result from the process. And, remind them that between themselves and the competition there could only be one winner—and that might as well be you. Remember, when your team thinks differently and changes its strategy, the competition must alter its plans to stay in the game.

“Get inside the ‘opponent’s’ decision cycle—who are they, how do they operate, what is their goal.” Actually, that’s simple. You can be sure of one thing: your competitor, opponent or enemy is much like you. You know who he is, his goals are the same as yours and he operates much as you do, perhaps with some exceptions. Well, he might not always be ethical, he may demean you and he may want to only cut his prices, but in the end promoting your product and yourself wins the day.

“Recognize performance—a hand- shake and a ‘congratulations’ often mean more than monetary rewards.” People love being noticed for their efforts; that’s why we award medals—in appreciation for a job well done. A person distinguishes himself by his deeds, the medals come later. When we recognize performance, there is usually an encore. When we fail to appreciate, often the show is over.

“Be tough—when someone isn’t performing or contributing to the team purpose, they need to be let go. Nothing holds the team back.” When building a team, the leader must have passion to embrace the positive and productive members and detachment to purge the weak links who are detrimental to the group’s goals. It is not an easy task to fire a team member but it often comes down to getting rid of the weak link or jeopardizing the entire chain.

And, finally, “Be empathetic—care about team members, even the ‘little guys.’” Little guys and gals become big guys and gals, and they often become the mainstay of the team.

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