I just returned from a lean management ranting gig in Greenville, South Carolina – an incredibly beautiful part of the country, chock full of folks pursuing lean very aggressively I might add – and had a chance to swing by Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, NC on my way back. The detour to Bragg was to see my son graduate from NCO Leadership School before he starts a deployment to Iraq next month as a sergeant with the 82nd Airborne. By coincidence, both Kevin and John Kerry chose leadership as the hot topic this week, so I thought I’d add my two cents worth from lessons I picked up from the NCOs.
The photo on the right says a lot about what the Army thinks leadership is all about. The young folks who graduated also recited the NCO Creed from memory. You can click here to read the whole thing if you like, but I’ll go ahead and give you the high points:
No one is more professional than I.
I … will at all times conduct myself so as to bring credit upon the Corps, the Military Service and my country regardless of the situation in which I find myself.
I will not use my grade or position to attain pleasure, profit, or personal safety.
Competence is my watchword. My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind — accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my soldiers.
All soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will provide that leadership.
I know my soldiers and I will always place their needs above my own.
I will communicate consistently with my soldiers and never leave them uninformed.
I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment.
As chance would have it, I was among the crowd of young men and women taking an oath to act as leaders – acknowledging that leadership is about serving the people above and below who rely on them, rather than personal gain – the morning after the junior senator from Massachusetts pointed out their intellectual shortcomings. (I should mention that my son just returned from a year in the mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border a few months ago. In fact, all of the Leadership graduates were too stupid to have avoided at least one such deployment in either Afghanistan or Iraq.)
In pondering the irony of it all, I am quite proud of the fact that my son is not clever enough to see his role as one of belittling and abusing people a la Jack Welch; or declaring each unit success to be completely his own doing as the ‘grab the stock options and run’ gang does; or to see leadership as a validation of self-importance like Bob Lutz. The NCOs have a very clear understanding that their reward is limited to the extra couple hundred bucks in their paycheck each month and the pride they can take from their accomplishment. Anything they seek beyond that is a failure of leadership.
I think that a business leader who decides that he is not clever enough to understand all of the leadership guruism and settles for the leadership principles of those too dumb to support John Kerry just might do pretty well. Competence strikes me as a pretty good watchword.