Where Have All The Leaders Gone? By William Isaac

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View Original / William Isaac / Forbes
DeM Banter: I ponder this question often…and then quickly go to Bill Isaac’s comment in his conclusion…a “more important question is how will we produce the new leaders we so desperately need?” Any thoughts?

Where have all the leaders gone? That’s the question I hear everywhere I travel at home and abroad. I can’t answer the question, but it caused me to reflect on what makes a good leader.

When I think of leaders I admire, the first thing that stands out is their vision. A leader knows where he or she wants to go and communicates it well. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were great leaders because they had very clear visions of where they wanted to take their countries. They articulated a few major priorities and devoted their administrations to achieving them. Reagan’s predecessor, Jimmy Carter, was a good and principled man but did not have a successful presidency primarily because he couldn’t – or at least didn’t – adequately explain to the nation where he wanted to lead us.

A leader is strong and confident, someone who will not be deterred by criticism, setbacks, or even threats to his or her life.

A leader is disciplined, focused, hard-working, and unrelenting. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did not create Microsoft Microsoft and Apple Apple by working nine-to-five. Creating those companies consumed their lives and changed the world. Great leaders are driven to leave their mark and impact on society.

Leaders inspire people to believe in themselves. Most coaches in sport understand well the game they are coaching. The truly great ones, however, are able to make their players believe that they can perform at a higher level than other players and can achieve anything and everything.

Genuine leaders inspire us by example, not by command or flowery rhetoric. We all know people who govern through intimidation but are not truly leading. Genuine leaders set higher standards and expectations for themselves than for anyone who follows them.

Leaders are curious about how things work and what the future holds. They surround themselves with good people and encourage them to offer advice and guidance. My dad was fond of saying, “You can’t learn anything with your mouth open,” which is another way of saying that a good leader is a good listener.

Trust is another essential ingredient of leadership. How many people have you known that no one wanted to follow because they were too self-absorbed and could not be trusted to place the well-being of the group, company, or team before their own interests?

Related to trust is that a good leader takes responsibility when things don’t go according to plan. A leader has big shoulders and does not point the finger at others when mistakes are made.

Also related to trust, a good leader is direct and honest with those around him or her, whether it’s a board of directors, constituents, a colleague, a subordinate, or a friend. You are not entitled to trust if you are not honest with those who are counting on you.

Finally, great leaders have goodness in their hearts and souls. While people like Stalin and Hitler might have had many leadership qualities, they were evil and believed that any means justified the end.

Sadly, as I look at the world stage today, I do not see great leaders – leaders who are willing to make the difficult decisions required to move us out of economic and political crisis. Can you think of a single current political leader who stands tall alongside the likes of Lincoln, Gandhi, Churchill, Eisenhower, Reagan, Mandela, Thatcher, Gorbachev, Martin Luther King, or Franklin Roosevelt?

Whether we agreed with or even liked these people – and most of them were very controversial during their day – we cannot doubt that they were true leaders in every way. They were strong, inspiring, disciplined, unrelenting, and focused. They had clearly articulated visions, believed in something larger than themselves, had goodness in their hearts, and were undeterred by criticism or even death.

For all of its faults, the world has arguably never been a better place than it is today. As a whole – and with some glaring exceptions – the world is more civilized, better educated, less threatened by wars and disease, better integrated, less discriminatory, better fed and housed, and more democratic and peaceful than just a few centuries or even a few decades ago.

We have come a very long way in a relatively short time, but much remains to be done. We need a new generation of business, education, religious, and political leaders to help us get to an even better place.

I don’t know where all the leaders have gone, but I’ve concluded that a more important question is how will we produce the new leaders we so desperately need?

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One thought on “Where Have All The Leaders Gone? By William Isaac

  1. The third to last paragraph is what caught my eye in this article… All of those things. Each combined are part of the problem as well. Because we have all those advances and our world is “easier” to live in… It has been part of what created the Age of Entitlement. Everyone gets a trophy because there are enough people out there more interested in telling you how great you are than how you can be even better. While there’s a place for compliments and positive feedback, our inability to institutionalize something like 360 feedback says all there needs to be said about our current feedback systems. There is money to be made in doing a research paper on the affects of 360 feedback in one organization while another goes through the status quo method. I’m willing to bet my career on the fact that 360 feedback increases productivity for both the leaders and the subordinates.

    360 feedback is one method of raising our methods of accountability. By truly holding people accountable, leaders will be forced to evolve or find a new profession. With that being said, feedback will only help so much. As we’ve discussed many times, our Leadership Education needs to evolve. The tools are there for really revolutionizing the future of leadership in our organization. We are in the absolute best positions to make a change, if only we were funded and given the chance to help the evolution process. By equipping young leaders with modern leadership tools, not the antiquated Cold War lessons, we will be able to produce a different caliber leader. Will they all succeed? Probably not… but by equipping them with leadership tools, they will have a barrage of options to fall back on when they are faced with adversity. (This is a stream of conscious rant and I know we’ve talked about most of this before but it’s frustrating to see the problem, see a potential solution…. and still be forced to live in status quo.)

    My wrap-up thought is this… If we install 360 feedback into the service as well as evolve our leadership education process (throughout the force… SOS, ACSC, AWC can help us w/ this)… When leaders are given feedback on things they are doing well, wrong or indifferent, LTs will have a foundation of tools they can reach into to improve… Capts and Majs will have the tools and some experience to reach into to be better (not to mention their mentors)… and Lt Cols and Cols will have even more experience to reach into but not only that, but they will have a competent staff of young leaders who can help make their lives even better.

    The solution is there. The problem is identified…. How in the HECK do we break through the other parts of the Problems solving process here!?

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