Personal Leadership Profile

I am a fortunate man. During my life I have been fortunate to work with some very fine leaders from whom I have learned several effective leadership skills. I have also been fortunate to work with a few extremely bad leaders from whom I have been able to learn the value of good leadership abilities and who by their bad examples have taught me good lessons.

My personal leadership profile is based on a series of basic guidelines for leadership.

Rule #1: Do Not Panic.

Many years ago when I was learning and later teaching first aid, the first lesson was always “in any emergency situation, don’t panic.” In my own life, and in my personal leadership framework, I have made this Rule # 1. If in any situation you panic, you lose the ability to reason, the ability to be effective, the ability to have empathy or feel. An individual who panics can no longer act but can only react, often without the benefit of any other cognitive abilities.

In addition to this basic benefit I have over time found an additional benefit: people respect and admire a person who is not subject to panic. To paraphrase the words of Kipling, “If you can keep your head when all around are losing theirs, you’ll be a leader.”

Rule #2: Take a stand.

Know what you believe in, and make sure that those around you know also. Vision is a vital aspect of leadership. In order to communicate that vision to those around you, you must not only formulate, understand and internalize your personal vision; you must constantly and consistently live the philosophy you espouse. It is not simply a matter of writing a few words on paper, posting it on the wall, or printing it on a card in your wallet. It is a matter of living this vision faithfully, enduringly and openly.

Rule #3: Do what is right.

Often when a person has to analyze a problem, they begin to look for a specific solution. What will be cheapest? What will be easiest? Which answer will cause me the least personal difficulty or discomfort? While these may be possible ways of looking for solutions, the final solution must be to do the right thing. How does a person know what is the right thing? They never really do until they attempt the solution. One good test is to examine what you think is the right thing; if it is the cheapest, the easiest and causes no personal difficulty or discomfort, then it is probably not the right thing. Doing the right thing is almost never easy, but it must be done. A leader knows this and accepts the responsibility.

Rule #4: Be Adaptable - Be Flexible - But do not compromise your principles.

If one only reads Rule #2” Take a Stand,” and Rule #3, “Do what is right,” he might assume that my leadership style is rigid and authoritarian. To avoid this I have made Rule #4 “Be Adaptive.” Rule #4 started out as simply “be flexible”, but upon closer examination I found that this was simply too broad of a statement. The word adaptive seemed better to me because in embodied both positive change and growth. This does not mean that in being adaptive you quickly abandon the principles which you established and are part of the first three rules, but rather that you be open and accepting of the fact that situations change, new facts are discovered, and a leader must use take this into consideration.

Rule #5: Plan like a pessimist. Think like a realist. Act like an optimist.

When you are preparing, take into account everything of which you can think that might possibly go wrong. There is a saying referred to as Murphy’s Law “Anything which can go wrong, will go wrong, and usually at the worst possible time.” If a leader, in formulating his vision for success, plans for the things that could go wrong, he will be better prepared for them should they ever occur. This does not mean that he should lead his life as a pessimist. No instead he or she should look at how things are, not how he or she would want them to be, and formulate actions based on this information. In Collins’ book Good to Great he speaks of the “Stockdale Paradox” - the ability to ”maintain an unwavering faith in the endgame, and a commitment to prevail despite the brutal facts.” This statement explains well the concepts I wish to embody in Rule #5.

Rule #6: If the problem seems too large to solve, solve the part you can.

I originally learned this principle when I was studying mathematics. If I could not work the entire problem as one step, I could break it down into smaller more manageable problems and work the parts I understood and get help from others on the parts of the problem I did not understand. Later I realized how important this skill would be in life and also in leadership. You do not have to know how to solve the problem, simply believe that the problem can be solved and find the right person to help you solve it.

Rule #7: Operate in the open.

I have seen many times, the problems and distrust that can arise when a leader tries to hide or keep secret plans or actions which others ought to know. Good team members do not like to blindly follow the incomprehensible plans of a secretive leader. This is not to say that there are not items a leader should keep confidential, but rather that this should not be a normal operating procedure. In my experience most competent capable leaders have little to hide. They are not afraid of the facts, for they have confidence that the facts will vindicate them. If they have understood and followed the previous rules, they have little to worry about.

Rule #8: Share Credit - Give more than your share of credit. Take less than your share of praise.

A leader, any leader, is part of a team. The team is more important than any one player and having the right people working together will make the team more effective than any individual effort. People prefer to work with leaders who give credit where it is due and accept responsibility for the blame.

In Good to Great Jim Collins refers to this as “the window and the mirror.” When a level 5 leader is asked, “What lead to the greatness of your company?” He or she will look out the window at the members of the team and say with confidence, “They made us great.” In the same manner when asked, “Who is responsible for the mistakes that were made?” The level 5 leader will look into the mirror and with equal confidence proclaim, “ I am responsible.”

Rule #9: Under Promise - Over Deliver.

When I look at this rule I like to think of a particular individual who had a great deal to do with my personal growth as an individual, a team member, and a leader; He had a confidant and quiet manner but an inner strength which those around him respected and admired. He was not the type given to bragging or calling attention to himself but rather let his professionalism and accomplishments speak for themselves. Whenever he undertook a task he performed to the best of his abilities. When he completed a task, he looked not for praise or recognition, but rather for a new task, a new challenge. A leader is not a person who comes in and says, “I am great and I am here to solve all of your problems,” but rather a person who comes and says, “I understand you have a problem and I am here to do what I can to help.” This to me is the mark of a true leader, one interested not in praise but in performance.

Rule #10: Remember if at the end of the day, everyone goes home; it has been a good day, nobody died.

This last rule means a lot to me personally as it is advice given to me once at the end of a really hard day. I was a young man just out of college; I was working in my first full time professional position. I was a Special Agent of the United States Treasury Department. On this particular day nothing seemed to have gone right for anyone in the entire office. As I left the office at the end of the day I shared the elevator with the oldest Senior Special Agent in our office, as the doors closed and the elevator began to descend he said simply, “Well, it’s been a good day.” I could not believe my ears and I asked him how he could possibly think that this had been a good day. He looked at me and said in a simple quiet voice, “It’s been a good day; nobody died,” and walked through the just-opening doors of the elevator. I went home that night feeling not downtrodden but grateful, and so I added that statement to my leadership list.

Each of the items above is only a brief description of the rule and the ideas behind them. I hope they serve to give an idea of the personal leadership framework that I have developed and on which I continually strive to improve.

I have been fortunate to work with many leaders who follow some or all of the rules I have set down as my own leadership framework. I can only hope that in my experiences of the past and the actions I will undertake in the future, I will be capable of following this framework. It is my hope to one day become the kind of leader that these talented men and women have tried to teach me to be.