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The Call To Leadership

Duty, Honor and Country set the tone.

Twelve material handling engineers are sitting around a table. They are presented with the exact same problem. Individually, they develop twelve unique solutions. Each is adamant that their personal solution is the right answer. Upon review, all of their solutions would work. So who has the right solution? When the engineers are asked that question, they all raise their hands. They are then given the opportunity to review their peers’ solutions. Though they find some merit in each solution, they still feel that their solution is overall the best.

Twelve leaders are sitting around a table. They are presented with the exact same questions and issues regarding “leadership.” Yes, they individually develop their own solution. They each believe that their solution is right. Each finds merit in the other solutions but still believes their solution is overall the best.

Can effective “Military Leadership” translate into effective “Civilian or Business Leadership”? The answer is a resounding “yes,” but the real question is “how,” or possibly, “why.”

Leadership Principles
I believe that some people have a natural bent toward leadership. They gravitate toward taking charge, toward taking responsibility, toward leading the group, and people associated with them gravitate toward following their lead.

I believe that some people, who have a desire to lead, can be taught and educated to lead.

I believe that leadership takes training, education and practical experience at leading.

I believe in servant leadership; that is, that the leader has a responsibility to those being led, which is greater than the responsibility than those being led have to the leader.

I believe that the best definition of leadership is this: Leadership is the process of influencing human behavior so as to accomplish the goals of the organization while creating an environment which assists the individual in accomplishing more than they would have on their own.

I believe that the only power a leader has is that which the follower is willing to give.

I believe that a leader must know how to follow before they can lead.

Every leader develops his or her own set of leadership principles. Those principles are the manifestation of their “I believe” statements and are developed through training, education and experience. Over time and effort, the leadership principles gain breadth and depth, providing the leader with more tools to apply to a situation.

Duty, Honor, Country
I entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1982. I have never developed the communication skill to fully articulate the Academy experience, nor playing football through two consecutive Bowl victories during that experience. However, it was through the experience, education and training at the Academy that I began to add numerous “I Believes” into my leadership principles.

At the Academy, leadership is taught from day two. Day one is learning how to follow. The military provides constant education and training on leadership, along with continual practical experience on a wide range of styles, methods and techniques. Courses on leadership were provided as much for experimentation as for function. The daily interaction with other people who had an intense desire to achieve was a continuous reality class on leadership.

The military’s stress on comradeship, individual accountability and responsibility to the team, success of the team, mission accomplishment (winning), others over self, significantly influenced my “I Believes.” The experiences I had leading and commanding an Airborne Rifle Platoon, Scout Platoon, Reconnaissance Company and a Headquarters Company added and solidified numerous “I Believes.”

Steve Strifler

Second Liuetenant Steve Strifler learned valuable leadership skills during his time at West Point commanding an Airborne Rifle Platoon, Scout Platoon, Reconnaissance Company and a Headquarters Company.

My Ultimate Leadership Challenge
I was a brand new Second Lieutenant just assigned to my first platoon and was meeting my Platoon Sergeant for the first time. The Platoon Sergeant is the highest ranking non-commissioned officer in the platoon, and he reports to the Platoon Leader. He is second in command. He typically has had many more years of experience in the military and is typically significantly older than the Platoon Leader.

My particular Platoon Sergeant was about my height and weight, a tanned and muscular combat veteran, physically intimidating, 18 years of service, and 14 years older than me. He was 36; I, the Platoon Leader, was 22.

The platoon was on a firing range. As I walked toward him to introduce myself he walked toward me, executed the appropriate military courtesy, yet upon reaching me stood toe to toe to me. He was directly in my face, almost nose to nose. At the time, with what I thought were dead black eyes, he stared square into my eyes. Then in the hardest “I am going to kill you” voice I had ever heard, said, “I hate F#*!ing officers.” I do not know if I was shocked or scared, but for what seemed like minutes, but was only seconds, I stared back at him with what I hoped was as hard a stare as he had looking at me.

My mind was racing through options of response. The one that stuck to the back of my eyes was an “I Believe” I got from an NCO during a summer field training session while at the Academy. The NCO had told me that when I got my first platoon I was not going to know anything. He said I would be greener than a new blade of grass and about as smart. He told me, though, that if I was willing to listen and not assume that the Academy had completely prepared me, that my Platoon Sergeant would be able to teach me more about combat, keeping soldiers alive and leading soldiers than any other individual I would encounter during my career.

My response back to my first Platoon Sergeant was, “That’s fine; I hate F#*!ing NCOs; now what are you going to teach me?”

With that he threw his head back into a bellowing laugh, extended his hand, and said, “We will get along great! Let me introduce you to your squad leaders. You just might be the first real officer I have met in a long time.” Thus began what to this day was one of the best working relationships I have had. This Platoon Sergeant was the catalyst of my success.

Effective Leadership
It was at the Academy that I learned how to follow. I learned that the only power a leader has is that which the followers are willing to give. I learned that organizational structure and the leadership within it are critical to the success of the organization, as are the power of honesty, respect for others and high standards.

The heart of the military is leadership. leadership in the military is influencing human behavior so as to accomplish the goals of the organization while creating an environment that assists the individual in accomplishing more than they would have on their own. That is true at all levels of the military from the Fire Team to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

To obtain effective leadership, the right “I believe” must be applied to the situation. But which “I believe” is the right one? Ask the 12 leaders sitting at the table!

One thing is absolutely certain. The leader sitting at the table with the most tools—training, education and experience—has the highest probability of having the appropriate tool within his or her leadership principles to effectively apply to the given situation, including leading a material handling distributorship.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Steven Strifler Meet the Author
Steve Strifler is president of Cisco-Eagle, located in Dallas, Texas, and on the Web at www.cisco-eagle.com.

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