[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Monday, April 14, 2014

"And that's an order!" (Surprising Leadership Confession of Colin Powell)

I had the chance to see Colin Powell speak on leadership. He did a fair bit of leading back in the day when he was a 4 star general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of State for the United States of America. Much of what he said was rich, but things I'd heard or read before--solid leadership fundamentals. He had some clever new expressions of leadership ideas I'd never heard. But he said one thing that totally surprised me. 

(One other surprise first--he's funny! He has a great, dry sense of humor. He told stories of presidents looking out the window while he talked and his conversations with arrogant subordinates...I laughed more than once.)

He was asked about how he got people to do what he wanted. He said, "People often think that generals go around saying, 'And that's an order!' But nothing could be further from the truth. I don't think I've ever said that in my entire military career."

He went on to say leadership is about making other see it's in their best interest to follow your vision.

I think we owe military leaders an apology. I can't count the number of times speakers and writers have referred to "command and control" as military-style leadership. At least in Colin Powell's sphere of influence, leaders didn't rely on their formal authority to get people to do what they wanted. They didn't lead via orders alone.

The U.S. military may be the most serious, formal hierarchy in the world today. You can literally be fired AND jailed for not obeying a direct order. But their top leaders don't rely on that power to demand obedience. They cast vision and build relationships and inspire their soldiers to want to do what they want.

I'm not saying they don't apply discipline to unruly people, Both of my grandfathers and my brother and two cousins are military veterans. Bad behavior is not tolerated. But there's a big difference how they punish bad behavior and how they inspire service men and women to run toward the vision.

It looks like we need more military-style leadership, not less. The moral of the story: Don't use your formal power to make people do things, convince and inspire instead. And that's an order! :)