Having the privilege to lead others is one of the most rewarding experiences of one’s career. To be a successful leader takes some work. For me, that work started with a decision I made very early in my career. Years ago I joined the United States Army and was told that I had to make decision that has guided me throughout my life. While attending Officer Candidate School (OCS) and sitting in one of the many lectures on leadership, one of our instructors told us that there were two types of leaders. The first were leaders that people followed for what they wore. In the military, he was referring to of course, the rank insignia which is worn by Noncommissioned Officers (NCOs) and Officers. The second type of leader is the one people follow because who they are, the person. The instructor challenged each of us, future Army officers, to make a choice. It would be a choice that would affect us the rest of our career. It was a decision that I took seriously. I decided then that I wanted to be the kind of leader that people would want to follow even if they didn’t know my rank or position.
I know this discussion thus far has focused on military leaders, but it also holds true for the civilian sector. Look at your leaders and ask yourself why do you follow them. Would you follow them if you weren’t being paid to? If you are currently in a leadership position, do a self-evaluation and determine what type of leader you are. If you can’t determine this by yourself then ask for feedback from someone who knows you well and that you trust. This is a good strategy, but the real acid-test will come from the people you lead. You must be receptive and open to feedback, both positive and negative. People will follow you and do some extraordinary things and all that most will asked is for in return is for you to be a consistent and fair leader. They want to know that you are concerned about them and their needs. The mission must be accomplished; however, it won’t be done well without the support of your people. Every organization needs good leaders, but you must first decide what type of leader we want to be.