I recently read an article that provided an interesting story related to leadership. In the Corps today we are working to establish a culture that includes “practicing the way you are going to play”. By that, we mean that cadets should be developing and practicing leadership the way they will engage with others after graduation. Cadets (and the rest of us) can fall into the trap of simply relying on our rank and position to influence people, without realizing that in the long term that will foster minimalist performance by the people we lead.
Here’s the story I recently read:
April 23, 2012 in Leadership, Military, Self-Improvement
There appears to be a figurative fork in the road in the journey we take while forming our own personal leadership style.
It’s almost as if we all come to a point where we must decide how we will manage the increased responsibility and decreased oversight- and we take one path or the other.
I’ve witnessed the damage that a leader can do when they abide by the old military adage of R.H.I.P. (Rank Hath Its Privileges), and the dramatic impact a leader can have when they never forget what it’s like to live in the trenches.
Let me tell you a story.
Close to a battlefield nearly 200 years ago, a man in civilian clothes rode upon a small group of exhausted, battle-weary soldiers digging an obviously important defensive position. The section leader, making no effort to help, was shouting orders and threatening punishment if the work was not completed within the hour.
“What are you doing?” asked the stranger on horseback from across the trench.
“I am in charge of leading these men- they do as I tell them. We must fortify this position- the orders came directly from the top!” said the section leader.
“So why aren’t you helping them?” inquired the rider.
“I’m the ranking officer here- these are my men.” the Soldier shot back indignantly.
“So why don’t you help them?” the rider asked again seeming vexed.
“I just told you why, but help them yourself if you feel so strongly about it!” the section leader retorted.
To his great surprise, the stranger dismounted his horse, removed his jacket and jumped into the trench along with the other men and helped until the job was finished.
Before the stranger climbed out of the trench, he walked down the line to congratulate each of the men for their success and thanked them for their hard work. Afterward he wiped his dirty hands on his saddle blanket, donned his jacket and approached the young section leader saying, “You should notify higher command the next time your rank prevents you from supporting your men – and I will happily provide a more permanent solution.”
As he began to mutter a snappy retort, the young man found himself standing face to face with the stranger. The section leader fell utterly silent and snapped to the position of attention to render a proper (albeit shaky) salute.
General George Washington had just helped to dig his fighting position while he stood idly by. Without another word, Washington mounted his horse and rode away leaving the young leader with a new outlook on leadership.