Over the past few weeks, I have been asked about leadership and what leadership means to me.
Leadership is a trait that many profess to have, yet few display when the pressure comes to bear. It is not necessarily something you are born with. It is something you learn and earn. Whether as part of a team or on the inside of an agency or company, leaders emerge because their peers need it or the times demand it.
John Kenneth Galbraith perhaps said it best when he stated, “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”
Where are leaders needed? On the battlefield. In the classroom. In public policy. Certainly, in the workplace. Often times, people will confuse managers with leaders. But there is a very large difference between the two.
Managers work to get their employees to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper. Leaders, on the other hand, know where they'd like to go, but understand that they can't get there without their tribe, without giving those they lead the tools to make something happen.
Managers want authority. Leaders take responsibility. The fact is: We need both in the workplace. But we have to be careful not to confuse them. And it helps to remember that leaders are scarce and thus more valuable.
Leaders are able to take a vision, navigate the complexities of the private market, and revolutionize whole industries. When I think of the term “leadership,” I cannot help but think of one accomplished Tennessean who was told his idea would never work.
When he was at business school, Fred Smith developed the idea for a logistics and shipping company that would serve the world. He was told his idea would never work and that, even if it became a reality, no average citizen would ever use the service he would provide. Fred struck out on his own, determined to make it work. Today, FedEx is one of the great American success stories of our time. Headquartered right here in Tennessee, last year its total revenue exceeded $39 billion. Obviously, Fred Smith is a leader.
Perhaps some of our most vivid images of leaders come from American history. Whether it is our Founding Fathers — a collection of leaders who came together to create a new nation founded on Christian principles and the rule of law — or Tennessee’s own Davy Crockett, who decided to conquer the American frontier, it seems all the individuals who helped shape this nation exuded a certain quality about them that made them leaders. One recent leader who displayed a lot of character during some very trying times, was Condoleeza Rice. She was the 66th U.S. secretary of state and the first African American woman to serve in this capacity. Dr. Rice was asked about her thoughts on leadership.
She gave a very insightful answer.
“The defining characteristic of a true leader,” she said, “is that he or she never accepts the world as it is, but strives always to make the world as it should be.”
One of the great institutions that cultivates true leaders is the United States Armed Forces. Any of us who are veterans or know veterans can attest to that fact. What is it the military does that molds and forms the leadership characteristics in our service members? Well, let’s go straight to the source.
The U.S. Navy utilizes 11 principles of leadership. Each is strong and equally significant in the development of leaders.
Next week, I will discuss each of these principles and how they contribute in the building of inspirational leaders. I will present them in a universal context that can be applied to both the corporate and military environments.
Until then, please allow me to repeat my initial thoughts that began this column. Truly, I am humbled by your support in the recent election that will allow me to return to Nashville to serve as your voice, your vote and your conscience.
As in the past, I will remain dedicated to our conservative values — and to repeat myself — I will work to do everything within my power to promote job growth across the state, in our Southeast Tennessee region and specifically in the counties that comprise the 22nd Legislative District — Bradley, Meigs and Polk.
Thank you again for your vote of confidence and for your continuing support.