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Vol. 1, No. 2
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If You Would Be a Leader

By William Cohen

There are many well-educated and motivated people who lack the knowledge of how to lead others. So they avoid becoming leaders, even when asked. Occasionally, someone twists their arms, and they regretfully assume leadership jobs. Too bad. They rarely do very well in them. They and others too, assume that these individuals just weren’t born to be leaders.

That’s really a tragedy, because our country, our industries, our non-profit organizations, and our people need good leaders. Corporations, associations, and athletic teams all need good leaders. Even parents must be good leaders or their families can become dysfunctional. The success of any endeavor, whether on campus or off, depends on good leadership.

But my research shows that while your effectiveness as a leader depends less on some innate trait you are born with, it does depend on specific universal principles that anyone can (and must) follow to succeed.

One of our greatest military leaders started out as a dud. This was General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. He eventually became the U.S. Air Force’s second Chief of Staff. General Robert Danforth who was Commandant of Cadets at West Point when General Vandenberg was a cadet told me an amazing story. “General Vandenberg was not a natural leader. In fact, we almost dismissed him from the Academy for lack of leadership ability at the end of his first year. Instead, we counseled him. He took note and applied himself. He was a very competent leader by the time he graduated. Clearly he continued to develop himself afterwards.” Vandenberg had learned and applied important principles of leadership.

What are the principles you that anyone must follow to be a good leader? They so clearly stood out from the more than 200 successful leaders that I interviewed, that I call them “The Eight Universal Laws of Leadership.” They are simple . . . but as you will see, they are sometimes not so easy to follow.

  • Maintain absolute integrity. Leadership is a trust. If others don’t really trust you, they will not follow you completely. If the environment you are in is relatively calm, few will call you on this one. But if your situations requires you to make real demands on others and you lack integrity, you will probably fail.
  • Know your stuff. If you are the leader, those that would follow you don’t care two straws about whether you are good at office politics or not. They want you to be competent and know what you are doing. They want someone at the helm who knows how to get things done.
  • Declare your expectations. You can’t get there until you know where there is. Decide on your “there” and then continually promote your goals, objectives, and vision. No one can know where you want to go until you decide yourself and you declare it to others.
  • Show uncommon commitment. You can bet no one else is going to be committed to your goals if you aren’t. But if your goal is worthy, and you are absolutely committed to it, others will follow you to the ends of the earth to help you.
  • Expect positive results. Winners expect to win and losers expect to lose. Vincent Lombardi, one of the greatest football coaches of all time said, “We never lose, but sometimes the clock runs out on us.” You can expect positive results and still not get exactly what you want. But, research demonstrates that those who “think positive” achieve more and get better results than those that don’t.
  • Take care of your people or customers. If you take care of them, they will take care of you.
  • Put duty before self. As a leader, you have a duty to accomplish the mission you are assigned, and you have a duty toward those who follow you. Sometimes the mission must come first, some your followers. However, the interests of both must always come before your interests.
  • Get out in front. This includes setting the example, and being where the action is. Don’t sit in an air-conditioned office making decisions and call that leadership. Go out and talk to your people. See what’s going on and be seen. That’s leadership!

Not like this in your company or your organization? It all starts with you. You may not be able to control others with who you come in contact or must do business with. But you can set the pace. Do what’s right regardless of what others do. If you will do this, others will follow. And you, too, will be acclaimed as another leader who was made, and not born.