We’re Promoting the Wrong People

A person of authority does not automatically immediately become respected or trusted; it is earned.

– Lt. General Harold Moore

In 1992 NPR published an outstanding piece on Lt. General Harold “Hal” Moore and Joseph Galloway. General Moore’s actions in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam inspired the book “We Were Soldiers Once, And Young” as well as the 2002 movie “We Were Soldiers” starring Mel Gibson, Sam Elliot, and Madeline Stowe (among many others). Hal Moore passed away last Friday at the age of 94, leaving a legacy of leadership and volumes of inspiration and experience learned through decades of training and exposure to wars both in Korea and Vietnam.

I was saddened to hear of his passing, and hearing his words again over the radio led me to believe men cut from his cloth are a rare thing today. Indeed, men possessing his level of leadership ability in the business world are few and far between, or so it seems in my field of technology. More and more it seems companies are selecting not leaders, but managers; people with a long list of education credentials and academic accomplishments, but few very tangible leadership skills.

The purpose of this article is to take a sample of General Moore’s leadership quotes as well as drawing from my own experience in business and technology, and hopefully provide a helpful bit of insight into what business really needs in terms of leadership.

A leader must be visible and exhibit confidence under any set of circumstances. The determination to prevail must be felt by all.

How many managers do you know that are either unable or unwilling to commit to a decision? How many managers have you worked for that simply tow the company line rather than listening and enacting change for the better? If you’re like me in business, it’s probably too many to recall. A leader isn’t a “yes man”. A leader has a spine, and they exude confidence in every aspect, whether it’s on a conference call or in an email. They are articulate and they do not crack, at least not visibly.

To do well in any field of endeavor, it is an advantage to work with good people.

The impact of good people cannot be understated. The very best people will not always agree with you, and that is absolutely a benefit to an organization. Conflict can be a positive thing provided it is kept professional, and that boundaries are respected on both sides of the fence. A quality leader will understand the skills and strengths of their people and leverage them to achieve results, meanwhile encouraging growth and discourse. All too often a manager surrounds himself with people who will agree with every decision, and this leads to stagnation.

Great leaders learn to lead self first. Before you can lead others, leading self successfully must be accomplished day in and day out.

Does your manager have their life together? Do they bring their home or personal problems to work and air them in front of everyone? Or are they cool, composed, and confident? Do they encourage you to pursue healthy goals, both in your career and in person? A leader is polished, both at work and at home, and they carry that confidence with them. While they are not infallible, and may have a spotted past, they have overcome and have gotten in gear, striving for self confidence, and that very confidence is infectious.

Spend quality time with the team, learning who they are and what motivates them. Create a family.

This is absolutely integral to team and business success. An effective and strong leader coaxes greatness from those around them. They do not take credit, hide away in an office, or govern through email. They manage people, not spreadsheets or reports. Excellent leaders know names, family members, and can ask caring questions of even the most sour or most difficult employees that will encourage openness and camaraderie.

There are few people in this world who are truly effective leaders, but they do exist. The key to effective leadership can be summed up by General Moore’s greatest (in my opinion) quote:

Study history and leadership qualities. Pay special attention to why leaders fail.

As the saying goes, “You are not a leader until you have created other leaders.”

Rest in peace, General Moore. The watch is kept.

This article is in no way an indictment of my current organization. To the contrary, I am extremely fortunate in my current position to have a very competent and skilled leadership organization who “gets it”. My commentary here is intended to be overarching and not to condemn any one organization or person. My thoughts are my own and in no way represent those of my company, good, bad or otherwise.


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