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Leadership is More than Giving Orders and Dictating Policy

Sunset at Zion
Sunset at Zion
Danny M. Vaughn, Ph.D., CMS

Humans possess a somewhat contrary trait that enables our species to make rapid adjustments in the affairs of our existence, which is a good survival skill; yet some people are driven by an insatiable quest to control societies, including the environment that sustains us, which can be counter-productive and detrimental to the survival of many. As it turns out, a very small percentage of the population controls most of the monetary wealth and operating affairs of the world. When the decisions of those in positions of power and leadership (they can be mutually exclusive) do not follow prudent judgment and honorable intent, the results can be disastrous to the entire world community. We are an international village of varied religions, cultures, and human needs. The decisions that are made by one country’s leaders often have significant impacts on others. It is important that people in positions of authority adopt an awareness and sense of judgment that promotes a behavior beyond the selfish, arrogant, self-absorbed actions that can threaten the welfare of those they are appointed to serve. Of course this is an ideal scenario, and one would be naive to think the entire human race will ever reach a state of behavior that advances its actions specifically for the good and welfare of all concerned, but we should continue to try.

Leadership is practiced through an infinite number of styles, philosophies, and purposes. Volumes have been written on the topic, and everyone seems to have their own set of guidelines to identify an optimal candidate for the role. Any reasonably informed citizen would readily agree that there are folks in leadership positions that clearly have exceeded their “Peter Principle” of competence; while some in positions of control owe their status to less than scrupulous actions initiated through their own devices, or by others with monetary and/or political influence. Some people rise to the pinnacle of leadership positions having attended the most prestigious universities, and amassed very credible degrees; yet they lack basic analytic skills, and an acquired ability to accurately and clearly articulate a proper explanation for their actions. Many formally educated folks aspire to gain power and influential positions of authority sometime in their career; yet one should ask, what are the salient characteristics of an effective and successful leader?

Three words come to mind when I think of the best leaders I have worked with throughout my career as a professional educator, and particularly during my military experiences. They are likability, competence, and respect which should not be mutually exclusive. Competence speaks for itself, although regretfully, it is often overlooked in favor of likability (personality). Respect can be either for the position of authority, or for the person who is in control of making the decisions. Subordinates will generally follow a competent leader they like and respect; but they will at best only follow the orders given by someone they do not respect, is incompetent, or unlikable.

I cannot take credit for these next statements, but they sure seem wise and appropriate. The six most important words are, “I admit I made a mistake.” The five most important words are, “You did a good job.” The four most important words are, “What is your opinion?” The three most important words are, “If you please.” The two most important words are, “Thank you.” The one most important word is “We.” The least important word is “I.” When leadership is distilled to the most basic elements, it really is as simple as this.