By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
Welcome to Leadership 101, a new feature here at Unto the Breach. I call it Leadership 101, because basic leadership is exactly what we are going to address – tackling the fundamentals of good leadership – but from a unique perspective. We’ll do it in such a way as to give you the tools needed to both ramp up your leadership skills (yes, seeing results immediately) and develop your leadership capabilities for the long haul. And we will do so no matter what your leadership experience and skill level may be.
This unique version of Leadership 101 is based on my own perspective, gleaned from other leaders (many of the world’s great masters of the art of leadership) as well as my own training and experience leading people. It is a perspective based on years of serving as a military (primarily small-unit infantry) leader and yes, a follower; learning from the best military leaders and counterterrorism experts in peace and in war; being a business, committee, and team leader; and – like most of us – having been thrust into unexpected (sometimes unwanted), immediate, temporary, varied positions of leadership at various evolutions throughout my life to this point.
As I told a group of cadets and midshipmen from West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy back in 2010; “Leadership – that sometimes vague, somewhat ambiguous magic of getting people to do what needs to be done – has been discussed, written about, and mused-over since armies first marched and navies first sailed, and every leader has tried to convince others that he or she has the perfect formula for that particular kind of magic.”
But far too often we are so focused on the so-called fast-track formulas and all the great soundbites associated with those formulas that we neglect or completely ignore the pure fundamentals necessary to good leadership, whether we are talking about military leadership or business leadership (both of which are related yet different, and we’ll discuss how in a future piece).
I’m not going to waste your time (or mine) with a bunch of feel-good nonsense about leadership. Nor will I attempt – like so many so-called experts – to wax philosophic about what leadership really is by talking over readers’ heads with clinical terms and jargony formulas.
This, you will discover, is red-meat, right-now leadership.
Let’s jump into it; first with the foundation (before we get to the fundamentals) because if we don’t have a foundation upon which to build the leader, the end result – no matter how good that result might look on paper or in person – might fail at the front, in the trenches, where the leader finds himself or herself struggling to make decisions in those terrible, unforgiving, high-stakes moments when direction is critically needed.
I will refer to this all-important foundation as simply the development of the whole man or whole woman. The idea being, you will never be a good leader if your own physical body and brain (including your intellectual capability and capacity), emotional state, intuition, and soul (spirit) are not first in order, and with each of the five living components working in concert with one another. And they will never be what they need to be – for you as a leader – if you neglect any one of them by wrongly convincing yourself that you are a good person with integrity.
You have to work at it, and it has to become a daily lifestyle thing.
For instance, you might see yourself as a great person of integrity because you are running five miles a day, hitting the gym several times a week, eating right, and being a nice guy or gal who handles all of his or her daily responsibilities. And those things are important to be sure.
But if you truly desire to develop yourself as a leader, it is not enough to work-out regularly and generally be a good, responsible person. You must also exercise your mind (reading, intellectual problem solving). You need to work diligently to eliminate that secret or overt anger problem (people with anger problems do not do well under conditions of extreme stress) or that fear problem you so-often ignore (you need to do what needs to be done despite your fear). You need to enhance your ability to always-be situationally aware. You must serve others (and not just those you love, which requires no real effort or sacrifice). You must deepen your spirituality and relationship with God. And you have to begin doing these things every day; starting today.
U.S. Navy SEAL (Res.) Commander Mark Divine – an experienced combat veteran, martial artist, the honorman graduate of his Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL class (meaning top man in his SEAL class), and the developer of the successful SEALFIT program – refers to the aforementioned development of the physical body, the mind (brain), emotional control and awareness, intuition, and soul (spirit) as “mastering the five mountains.”
He tells us, “It is accepted among the SEALs and all authentic warrior traditions that you can’t master yourself intellectually as a means to an end. You must develop [oneself] in a ‘whole-person-integral’ manner, guided by spiritual principles and supported by strong intellectual, emotional, physical and awareness development.”
Divine – my good friend of many years who I’ve worked with on myriad projects and who today directs an amazing warrior mind-conditioning program I’m presently enrolled in (http://SEALfit.com) – is right on target when it comes to developing the whole person as a foundation for leadership. But we’re just scratching the proverbial surface.
In the coming weeks, we will have more from Divine and other leadership experts. So stay with us. I believe in time you’ll view this feature to be an interesting and important educational tool in the development of your life as a leader. If you have questions or suggestions, I’m at email@example.com.
– W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor who writes about military/defense issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq and Lebanon. He directs the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team. He is the author of six books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications. Smith’s website is uswriter.com.