We’re willing to bet that at some point in time, you’ve thought “I wish I were a better leader.” Whether you’re a student trying to pull together an extra-curricular club on a school campus, a parent trying to prepare your kids for the “real world,” a mid-level supervisor, or the CEO of a major corporation, chances are you’ve said to yourself “well… I didn’t see that one coming… what’s the best way to handle this one?” Most good leaders (we’ll define that in a minute) realize that leadership is a learned skill that requires practice through execution, and good leadership qualities can atrophy if not used on a regular basis. When it comes to learning about leadership, there’s no shortage of data in today’s information age. For example, we just did a Google search for “how to be a better leader,” and got over 19,200,000 results. Why so many, you ask? Maybe it’s because you don’t need a unique gene, personality trait or skillset to be a good leader… and therefore there are plenty of qualified leaders out there to learn from. And now, there are a few more…
Our company, Two Blue Aces Consulting, is comprised of five General Officers who collectively have over 100 years of leadership experience running organizations in the most demanding environments, where mission failure simply isn’t an option. We haven’t cornered the market on leadership by any measure—we all continue to read about it and learn from others each and every day. However, by leading organizations ranging from a few hundred people to well over 29,000 people dispersed around the world, we’ve learned a few things about leadership along the way.
We recently asked our senior consultants to provide their personal definition of effective leadership - not a dictionary definition, but rather the key attributes that make someone a leader others want to emulate. When we compared the lists, we found they were remarkably similar, and determined the major attributes largely fell into five categories: Competence, Character, Courage, Commitment and Compassion.
Competence: A highly competent leader needs to understand the organization and the business well enough to make smart decisions and build a high-performance team.
Character: People want to trust their leader, and that he or she knows the organization’s success is more important than their own personal success. Leadership should never be viewed as an
entitlement, but rather a privilege that is earned every day.
Courage: Effective leaders are willing to make tough decisions based on the best information available, take risks, challenge the norm and be the dissenting voice when necessary.
Commitment: Good leaders weather the tough times when everything seems to be going wrong, and keep the organization focused on what is needed for success.
Compassion: Good leaders know their people, want to take care of them and help every one of them succeed.
As military officers, we recognized the importance of mentoring in our units and teaching people how to become effective leaders. The U.S. military’s mission requires strong leaders at all echelons of the organization to ensure success. We have all retired from active duty, but are still passionate about helping others become more effective leaders. Therefore, we intend to post a new entry every week that expands on the “5 C’s” to pass along our leadership lessons learned during our tenure in uniform. We hope our short vignettes and leadership philosophy give you something to think about, and perhaps add to your confidence in leading others.
“People are born – Leaders are formed by deliberate training and experience…”
Rev Jones is a retired USAF Major General, and was assigned to the Pentagon as the Headquarters USAF Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Requirements when he retired in 2014.
Jake Polumbo is also a retired Major General, who served as the 9th Air Force Commander prior to his retirement in 2015.