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How many pieces on leadership have you read? 5? 10? Too many? Me too. However, one thing I have found to be true as I continue reading and continue leading, is that many (most…all) of the pieces I have read are from the perspective of learned lessons over a career. What about the here and now? What about leadership in real time? We live in an ever-changing environment, so leadership style, methodology, and practice must be fluid in order to accommodate such change. Throughout the blog, and amidst the varying topics I hope to cover, I plan on detailing leadership as I have experienced. This will include lessons I have had to learn the hard way, lessons that have been taught to me, and lessons I have witnessed. The hope is that readers will see these, apply them in some form or manner, and thus become a more dynamic group of leaders.
Patton vs. Eisenhower
I once had a boss that was from Texas. This being said, he was like what you may be imagining now: loves football, loves rock music, loves John Wayne movies, loves guns, and loves the military. Being a history major and in the National Guard myself, he took an immediate liking to me because we could discuss a wide variety of military topics . As I grew in the organization and promoted in position, he would often mentor me using military analogies; one such analogy has stuck with me, and I think on it often.
I tend to be a hands-on leader. Not out of a lack of trust for my subordinates. Not because I can do the job better. Not even because I necessarily want to perform the job others are doing. I simply feel as if I should be doing the job their doing. My father always taught me to lead by example, and never gave me a task or chore that I hadn’t seen him perform himself. I love rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty, turning wrenches, or cooking on the line. I love scrubbing the floors after hours, or helping out with some closeout paperwork. This can be a great trait to have, especially when building credibility with your staff. It shows concern for everybody’s job or task, competency in your own tasks and procedures, and character in that you are not above doing the work of your subordinates.
My boss told me this form of leadership is like that of General George Smith Patton Jr. General Patton was widely known to be a hands-on leader. Even in World War II, towards the end of his career, he was known to be out with his men on the frontline. His affinity for action and love of the fight is what earned him the name “Old Blood and Guts”, and his expectation of adherence to military protocol by his soldiers was only reinforced by his own commitment to Army standard. It was not uncommon to see him towards the heart of the fight, acting as a leader and motivator. In the workplace though, this can sometimes cloud judgment. This type of leadership makes it difficult to see the forest from the trees, or see the bigger picture. In order to make informed decisions in realtime, it is often necessary to step away from an immediate skirmish or situation, and get a broader perspective. In this way, a leader can pull from all resources and gather all facts. Often times, being in the middle of the battle keeps one from seeing the entire war.
Enter General Dwight David Eisenhower. Forever lauded as one of the greatest men ever to grace our nation, General Eisenhower was one of the best military leaders and national leaders as he served the armed forces in the Army, and the nation as Commander in Chief. When looking into his participation in World War II though, it is interesting to observe his position. Where General Patton was very involved with the daily workings of his Soldiers, General Eisenhower was very “big picture” oriented. His involvement in the creation of war plans leading to the defeat of Japan and Germany led to him being appointed as Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Aside from having a cool Star Wars sounding name, this position meant he needed a big picture mentality. He needed to be able to view the entire war, and decipher the impact each battle had on the entire fight. He couldn’t let himself get muddled down with every little detail from every single fight, but rather had to receive information, filter it, and interpret it in order to make lasting decisions regarding the entire war.
Which style is better? Neither. Each one has their pros and cons, and as one spends more time in their own leadership role, he/she will find themselves doing both roles at various times. Often, as a person is promoted or rises in the ranks, he/she will find that they perform like General Eisenhower (or at least should), as they are required to make decisions that affect the organization as a whole. Junior leaders often find themselves acting like General Patton in order to establish credibility and a sense of camaraderie with those within their leadership. For all leaders though, a healthy mix of both is necessary. There is no perfect formula, rather every job has specific needs that must be met. However, merging the two styles efficiently and effectively ensures a dynamic leader.