Bearden's Tips on Leadership

In my younger days-much younger-I had the privilege of serving as a Marine officer. The training required to earn a commission in the Marine Corps is rigorous, and the providers of that training are mighty demanding. They are also very good at what they do. You might say that they have a passion for it.

One of my instructors at Officer Candidates' School was a Marine gunnery sergeant, a "gunny" (although officer candidates are well advised not to take the liberty of calling them anything other than "gunnery sergeant"). The "gunny" was absolutely certain that his mission as an instructor at OCS was to ensure that every one of us who earned our commissions (survived his tender mercies) was able and willing to lead Marines just like him.

The "gunny" used every activity as an opportunity to teach us fundamental truths about leadership. Field exercises, long runs, classroom sessions and every imaginable form of physical training became his "pulpit" for instilling in us his passion for leading men in difficult situations.

There are probably variations on his central message that are more eloquent or sophisticated, but none will ever have more impact on me than the lesson on leadership we learned from the gunny:

"You can't lead from the rear!"

That lesson from a man for whom I had-and still have so much respect, is the basis for what I see as a key characteristic of effective leaders. They are out front.

Here are some suggestions for putting this tip to use:

1. I want to begin a process we'll continue in subsequent tips in this series, so as you complete these steps, remember that we'll come back to them later.

2. I want you to make a list of some of the people you admire for their effectiveness as leaders. They can be people with whom you've worked or people you've admired "from afar".

3.Next, I want you to identify some of the specific things those people have done or are doing to earn your respect for them as leaders

4. Here are some points to consider as you complete your lists:

  • Notice that what I'm asking for are specific behaviors, and not characteristics of behavior
  • If you've listed things like "courageous", "professional", "good communicator" or other such terms, what you've identified are not specific behaviors but characteristics of behavior
  • What I'm looking for here are the specific things the people on your list did or are doing, the specific behaviors they've exhibited to earn your regard for them as leaders

5. The point I'm making here is that "lead" is a verb; leadership is a composite of the things leaders do to get "out front."

Jim Bearden, CSP