To grads: Leadership skills a lifelong pursuit

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to hear General Bill Looney speak at the Admiral Nimitz Foundation’s Leadership Seminar at the Nimitz Museum.

The four-star Air Force general, now retired, said the most important thing a leader can do is to create an environment where all employees are motivated to exceed expectations.

To achieve that, he or she must inspire, lead by example, focus on objective achievement and get rid of as many of your staff’s obstacles as possible.

And Looney would know. He led a fighter squadron based in Europe from worst to first in flying skills and effectiveness.

A lot of what he chronicled that day is found in his book “Exceeding Expectations: Reflections on Leadership,” which is available in the Nimitz Outpost Store.

So what do “followers,” whether they be employees or volunteers, want from their leader?

Guidance, opportunity, consistency, belief in the organization’s objectives and honesty. They also want their leader to demonstrate the “four Cs”:

Competency — Leaders need to be well-versed in the subject matter and be able to show the above leadership traits.

Commitment to the cause and to the employees and their needs, which sometimes become personal. (He did caution against employees who can demand too much of a leader’s time.)

Confidence in what can be achieved. “Let’s face it. There is never enough time or money or people to accomplish everything we need or want. But we have to learn to deal with disappointment.” When presented with an exceptional challenge, Looney said he told his airmen, “I don’t know if we can do this, but if any organization can, we can.”

Compassion — Leaders have to show they care about their workforce. We’re all human and we all face trials from time to time, whether they are health-related, deaths in the family or simple hard times.

How we set up our organization can determine its effectiveness, Looney said.

He said the military and most big organizations are hierarchal or “top-down.” And while an organization can never be truly “flat,” the traditional structure can sometimes say, “It’s all about me.” The military has additional perks as one moves up the ranks. And corporations today tend to make mini-celebrities out of their CEOs which, when combined with income differences, can make big egos even bigger.

Looney insisted on standing in the mess hall line just like everyone else. That’s a small thing that people notice, and it’s one sign of a good leader.

The general also spoke of humility and being able to ’fess up to mistakes, even in front of a big crowd of military men and women, or even just saying that you don’t know an answer. There’s a humility that comes with good leaders — ones who admit they are not perfect.

Gen. Mike Hagee, the foundation president, added that leadership is “about knowing yourself. I admire Chester Nimitz, but I can’t be Chester Nimitz. Part of being a good leader is realizing your own shortcomings and knowing who you are.”

To our graduates, I would simply add that for most of us, that’s a lifelong pursuit.

As always, thanks to the Nimitz Foundation for bringing in special programs like this.




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