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Here is a quote I saw that seems appropriate for teaching leadership to children.

In any Army [organization/team/family], in any time, the purpose of ‘leadership’ is to get the job done. Competent military [organization/team/family] leaders develop trust, focus effort, clarify objectives, inspire confidence, build teams, set the example, keep hope alive, rationalize sacrifice. For this century or the next, there is little mystery about requisite leader competencies or behaviors. Desirable qualities and skills may vary a bit, but the basic formula for leader success has changed little in 2,000 years.

~Lieutenant-General (ret’d) Walter F. Ulmer Jr., US Army

With the explosion of information on the internet, and the tendency of profit-seeking organizations to relabel a 2,000 year old leadership principle so they can sell their program or book, some may be overwhelmed with all the literature on leadership. The core principles have transferred to every organization and job I’ve had. I have watched coaches on all of our kids teams excel or not at these core principles and competencies. I have watched volunteer organizations succeed or not as they applied these principles. Leadership is simpler than many today would have you think.

A comedian used to joke that only in the modern world do we seemingly have to buy books on how to have babies. People have been successfully having babies for thousands of years, but we need books to do it right. The crowd laughs.

Is it not similar with leadership. It has been practiced and passed on for thousands of years. Some organizations have spent more time observing and articulating its principles. Some people pay more attention to the historical record and the cumulative wisdom to-date to their advantage.

Become aware and apply what you learn. That is the basic improvement process. Form a hypothesis, conduct tests within your sphere of influence, objectively look at the results, share what you learn. It is the scientific method applied to leadership development. Instead of making many small course corrections as we go, many of us reflexively operate from our “scripting” programmed into our RAM memories by the regular examples of adults in our immediate childhood environment and simply replay our scripts without thinking through our methods or evaluating the degree of effectiveness. Would you want to fly on an airline whose pilots left it all to the autopilot without checking how they are doing? Do we want to leave our leadership effectiveness to our unevaluated scripting?

So we can test ideas on our own, but is this the best course? We can learn all the lessons on our own, or we can take advantage of those lessons learned from previous leaders, standing on the shoulders of giants, as Thomas Edison said.

If we apply the “we’ve evolved beyond them” thinking to human behavior lessons of the past, do we not miss out on vicarious learning and have to relearn lessons for ourselves? This is a method, but less effective. Human behaviors seem slow to change. Literature from ancient times contains examples of almost the same challenges with human behaviors then as we seem to have now. Hmmm.

Even if we call it XYZ today instead of ABC then, does the underlying principle still apply? Is it still relevant?

I have read countless articles that decry the “military style” of leadership, and yet when you get past stereotypes of yelling “go go go” and ordering people around and into the specifics of which leadership principles work effectively and which perform to some lessor degree, I think Walter Ulmer is correct. The core set hasn’t changed much. Leadership practitioners have varying degrees of success with various styles in various circumstances, and yet often the value of principles over expediency is that they stand the test of time as reliable heuristics.

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KW Lanham


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