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Tuesday, April 19, 2005 | My only formal exposure to leadership principles was in a long and comprehensive class in Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Okla.
I remember most of the material to this day and as I think about it, and its importance, I wonder why leadership was (and is) not part of the high school curriculum. Leadership was taught indirectly in high school: to do good things, you have to do things good, and if you succeed, people will look up to you.
But the principles were not laid out until Fort Sill. Learning them must have required more motivation than high school could provide. At Fort Sill we were taught that leadership principles were important to staying alive, and so we listened.
Variations on these principles appear in probably hundreds of so-called “leadership” books, but I prefer them as they were presented at Fort Sill, in Army Field Manual 22-100. They were the definitive source on national leadership, because FM 22-100 applied to the soldier’s commander-in-chief, the president of the United States.
The first thing I remember about FM 22-100 is how it defined responsibility. A leader, or a commander, is responsible for everything his or her organization does or does not do. Simple as that. It was the “does not do” that got to me then and gets to me now, big-time, because it explains perfectly my own recent conclusion, that winning without principle is the saddest form of defeat, not only for the loser, but for us all.
When the spark struck, it made a person instantly different, and distant, and everybody knew it. This person had accepted responsibility, and everybody was glad, because they knew somebody had to do it, and now they had someone to follow.
From responsibility, the original leadership principle, other principles emerged, created by and for people as they desperately needed to be led, and the leaders responding to the need. The leader was strong and brave, but not only that, to his group, the leader seemed to understand things that they didn’t, or couldn’t. He seemed to know the land and the sky and sounds and the wind, and as he grew comfortable in his responsibilities – leaders are scared as hell, too – principles of leadership emerged.
The principles are essentially unchanged today. Authority can be delegated, but responsibility can’t. A leader has courage. A leader has humility. A leader honors and is honored. A leader is alone.
A leader understands that leadership is situational. A leader knows the best he can do is anticipate situations and react quickly in the interest of the people. A leader leads all of the people all of the time. Leaders get people to do things they may not want to do. Leaders take care of their people.
People know a leader when they see one. The principles, after all, were formed from their needs. Leadership principles were the first pencil marks of humanity, on the doorjamb, that measured human growth. The pencil marks are there still, can’t be erased, negotiated or litigated, and if you stand a man against them – mayor, councilman, governor, CEO, educator, clergy, president – you can tell instantly in your heart, because that is the source of leadership: if the man is a leader or not.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.