"Captain Winters was a good leader. He wouldn't ask you to do anything he didn't plan on doing himself" A paratrooper from Company E 2/506 PIR 101st Airborne Division interviewed for "Band of Brothers" on the company commander.
"You men are well led. Your leaders were the first ones in the building, not hiding in a cave." Bill Clinton to New York City Fire Fighters and Police Officers at the "Concert for Heroes" 10/20/01.
In a former life as a college professor I once taught a course on leadership (something sorely lacking at that institution by the way). Most business schools continue to teach courses on leadership. If you took my course or another leadership course you could have saved a lot of money simply by reading the above quotes. As these quotes show, leadership is nothing more than being willing to put yourself in the line of fire. It is not about grids or touchy feely habits or titles or theories or cheese. Leadership is about not asking the people you are supposed to be leading to do anything you are not willing to do, and what you are willing to do is the right thing.
If we had effective leaders in the corporate world we would know why tires on SUV's blow up. Somebody in this whole Ford/Bridgestone/Firestone/Flintstone (sorry Fred) mess needs to own up to something. How can we expect anyone down the corporate food chain to step up and tell the truth if guys like Jacques Nasser, CEO of Ford hides behind lawyers and "statistics" (see the October issue of Quality Progress for more details). Even the great Jack Welch is taking some hits for his comments about pcb's in the Hudson River. Well Jack, if GE didn't put them there who did, the pcb fairy?
What is it that the leaders cited in the quotes above do that the CEO's cited above do not. They embody the simple essence of leadership:
Lead by example
Be clear in your behavior and words
Act for the right reasons (not the politically correct or organizationally expedient reasons)
The right reasons are for the greater good (not just for their stock options)
A few days after the September 11th attack there was a photograph in the local newspaper that provides evidence of great leadership. It was a photograph of a FDNY fire truck that had been crushed when the towers fell. Hand written on the truck were words of praise for a fire captain (the brother of a neighbor of mine) and a fire chief who were killed when the towers collapsed. Raise your hands if you think some auto worker is going to write Nasser's name on the side of a rolled over SUV.
"Henry the V" by William Shakespeare. The best example of leadership ever written. Prince Harry's speech to his troops before the battle of Agincourt is so inspiring and enduring a British commando colonel read it to his men in a landing craft on the way to Gold Beach in Normandy on D-Day. (By the way, if you are like most of us and have trouble reading Shakespeare, see the movie starring Kenneth Brannaugh).
"American Caesar" by William Manchester. The definitive biography of one of the great leaders of the 20th Century, General Douglas MacArthur. He was egotistical and arrogant, his men did not like him, his colleagues hated, but he stood by his word and gained more territory with fewer casualties than any other commander in the Pacific Theater.
"Patton: Ordeal and Triumph" by Ladislas Farago. My personal favorite. Like MacArthur he cared as much for his men as he did for getting the job done. More than one G.I. has a story of Patton standing straight up in the line of fire.
And by the way, if somebody moved your cheese it probably smelled anyway. And if your manager only gave you a minute, that's about how long you followed him.