Sunday, January 04, 2009

Leadership 101: My Take On Fundamentals

Leadership is near and dear to my heart.  It's something that I've had a lot of exposure to in many contexts over my more-than-a-few years in the workforce. Leadership’s critical for any size group, be it a team of three devs working on a small website project or a multi-national auto company.

This blog post, and the series following, is the result of some thoughts which have been bouncing around my head for several years. The series is my attempt to point out some fundamental topics central to good leadership, regardless of the size of team or environment. My posts will be in smaller scale things one can easily control: respect in your dealings with your team, protecting your team, communicating, etc. You’ll need to look to folks like Jack Welch for the macro-scale leadership things like strategy and vision.

Be clear, please: I do not claim to be some leadership expert or guru. I've been in a leadership role in a range of environments from intensely competitive volleyball teams to software development groups, but I have never lead larger groups, organizations, or companies. Regardless, some things are fundamental across all leadership positions, or at least I think so.

I have strong opinions on how leaders should and should not act, and I have some strong opinions on how many companies are utterly failing in training future leaders. This would be in addition to the utter failure we see with companies failing to ensure their corner office types are leaders with a positive impact instead of a negative one.

I think I've got some unique insight into these matters thanks to my 11 years in the Air Force. What a lot of folks outside the military don't see, don't understand, or flat out ignore is the serious investment the military makes in training soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen in leadership concepts from the very beginning of their careers. I can't speak to details of branches other than the USAF, but by the time I left the Air Force in 1993 I'd had three separate week-long leadership courses. Each of those courses covered a lot of ground not directly relating to leadership, but each of those courses spent a significant amount of time focusing on how to get your teams working smoothly and successfully. I can confidently say I've had more "leadership" training than a number of executives I've worked for, and the lessons I learned in those years have served me well.

I'd like to say that examples of behavior in my series are fictional and not based on any person living or deceased, but we'd all see that as a pile of hooey. Of course the examples, both positive and negative, are based on people I've worked with, around, or for. I'll avoid naming names in some cases, simply out of the desire to focus on behavior, not specific people.

Look for these blog posts to land once a week or so. I’ve got a number written up already, but am continuing to evolve and polish them.

I'd also love to hear feedback from my few readers on this -- but please, I'm working hard to avoid turning my columns into Dilbert-themed rants, so please keep that in mind with your feedback.

Updated With Postings:


Randall Drum said...

Jim - You might want to check out "You Don't Need a Title to Be a Leader" by Mark Sanborn. It's all about making a positive difference in leadership.

Nimisha Shukla said...

Great talk @COLARC the other day. BTW, your "Contact me" doesnt work, is there any other way I can send you an email?

rich said...

Jim - Great posts. I am part of a group we like to call the A-team. We jump on all difficult assignments in addition to our normal work load. This leaves some wanna-be's who are rapping on the door trying to get in. We let in the ones we feel belong to the group. Management has found ways to chop the knees off this group. Strategic layoffs, blowing conflicts way out of proportion. These cowardly tactics have taken a toll on the group. Many of us are considering leaving. We stand tough, though the uppper managers cant stand outspoken, get things done people. For some reason dumbing down is the mentality. Any thoughts?

Jim Holmes said...

@Nimisha - I couldn't find contact info for you. I fixed the contact link on the blog. Try there again!

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