Normally when I write a post the idea has found its form in something that struck me during that week; it is usually a comment I took away from a conversation or something I have read that stuck with me. My favorite inspiration to write comes from those times when I seem to be drawn to the keyboard (or in my case pencil and paper) and the words just have to get out. The latter is where I find myself this week. A profound event occurred in my life about 12 days ago which has conjured up all kinds of emotions. That event was the death of my father. My father was a Navy man who achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer where he served our country for 30 years. He rose up through the ranks from Seaman Recruit to Chief Petty Officer, all along the way proving himself capable of leading.
The night my father passed away I was tasked with looking through his dusty old briefcase full of naval papers looking for the forms required to request a full military burial. The form I was looking for in particular was his DD214. The DD214 is a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. There is a lot of important information on the form, but what caught my eye were the multiple medals and commendations he earned during his service to our country. As I read through the list; two Meritorious Unit Commendations, five Good Conduct Awards, Armed Forces Expeditionary, National Defense Service Medal, 3 tours of Vietnam that earned him the Vietnam Service Medal, and the Vietnam Campaign Service Medal. I could not help but think about the sacrifice he made over those 30 years to receive such honors. This got me thinking, how did my father become a leader? How did he influence all those men to literally “go into battle” with him, believing in him as their leader? Did he have mentors over the years? Did he take leadership courses to improve himself? I really do not know the answers to all those questions, but the one thing I do know about my father was that he was not a reader. I guarantee you that he did not read any of 115,238 leadership books that Amazon has to offer. So, what did he do? How did he lead all these men and how did his leadership influence others?
There have been many books written and debates on whether a leader is born or made. In the case of my father you could argue that his military training provided the direction for him to become a great leader. However, if that were the case, why then are not all men and woman in the military great leaders? Many men walked out of boot camp on the same day as my father, all started out on equal footing, yet not all ended up leading a squadron of men or becoming Chief. If you think about it, the career ambitions my father had in the Navy are not much different from what you and I strive for in the civilian world. We graduate from college, we enter into the business world, chances are the day we start there are 3-5 others right next to us in HR orientation with similar experiences and aspirations; yet we do not all end up leading. What is it then that sets up apart? Is it politics, being at the right place at the right time, who we know, that one leadership seminar you decided to take that your colleges buddies bailed out on? Does someone become a leader simply by being given the proper title? Do I dare say leadership is something more fundamental? The gift of leadership is deeply rooted, foundational. I am not going to pick a side of the agrument that “Leaders are born not made” nor I am going to say that it takes an MBA to lead. What I want to do is challenge you to think.
If you are currently in a position of leadership in your organization:
- How did you get there?
- How do you know you are a leader?
- What motivates you to lead?
- When is the last time you looked around to see if anyone is really following your lead?
- When is the last time you invested in the growth of those you lead?
In the U.S. Navy all leaders are required make a promise; they promise to commit themselves to the personal and professional growth of their people.
My father spent the latter half of his career doing just that, sowing into the lives of the men and woman under his command. He recognized and treasured his gift of leadership and he lead with integrity, trust, honesty, pride, respect, hope, compassion, and loyalty. These values are foundational to great leadership.