Long ago, I was given the opportunity to do a special project for a man whom I've admired ever since. He was the Commanding General of the organization to which I was assigned at the time. We were talking one day. Somehow the conversation got around to why he'd become an Army officer. He'd started as a Private, and expected to finish up as a Corporal if he was lucky and kept his nose clean during his period of enlistment. But instead, he became a Major General, commanding units in combat, and later an organization responsible for the logistical support of more than 150,000 troops aligned against what was considered to be the largest, most highly-motivated, well-trained, heavily armored and maneuverable military force in the world. Pretty heady stuff for a former Private who'd grown up in a small town environment, and joined the Army right out of High School.

So how did it happen? Well, Private X was, by his own admission, a pretty good Private. He worked hard, excelled in marksmanship, tactics and close-order drill, and always tried to look sharp. He was proud of being a soldier, and his bearing and behavior always showed that. He’d never seriously considered ever becoming an officer, but he figured he’d be the best at whatever rank he was going to be.

One week there was a special weekend pass being awarded to the sharpest soldiers. Private X wanted a pass badly. Those were the days of the 6 day workweek in the Army, with Special Details tacked on to boot.

So Private X worked especially hard to ensure he'd get one of those precious passes. But when the list came out, his name was not on it. He was some upset. This was totally unexpected, and contrary to what he new to be the values and procedures of the Army itself. It shook him right to the very foundation of his belief in the system and those above him. How could they NOT award a pass to him? Heck, he was head and shoulders above most of the guys on the list, and he worked twice as hard as lot of them.

He went back to his tent depressed, distraught, and wondering if the Army was the right place for him after all. He watched some of his buddies getting ready for their weekend off, thinking that he deserved to be among them. He was actually feeling a little sorry for himself, and more than a bit upset with the “leaders” who should have made sure he was one of those who got a pass.

Then one of his tentmates came in all excited and said "You must be in trouble. The Lieutenant is here looking for you". That was very unsettling news. Officers were just about never seen down there in Enlisted Territory. Officers lived in real wooden buildings. Some even had homes of their own. They didn't come walking through the muddy paths of Enlisted Territory unless there was some very good...or most often...bad, reason. And here was the Lieutenant out in the mud looking for HIM. Uh oh. What was going on?

He got up off his bunk and walked out of the tent to see what it was. He was more confused than worried, because he knew he hadn't done anything wrong. But why would the LIEUTENANT come down HERE to see a PRIVATE?

He saluted, and said, "Private X reporting Sir." The Lieutenant returned the salute and said, "I guess you're wondering why I came down here to see you."

"Yes, sir. I am".

"Well, I'm here to give you your pass, Private. I didn't put your name on the list because I wanted the award to be special. You're one of the best soldiers I've ever had in any of my Platoons, and I wanted to personally give you your pass. I thought you earned a lot more than just seeing your name on a list."

The General looked at me and said, "That's the precise moment I decided to become an officer. I wanted to be just like that Lieutenant. He showed me what leadership was really about."

He did become just like that Lieutenant. I can attest to that. He was one of the best officers I ever knew, and I was blessed to have met him when I did. He never made a decision without an understanding of how it would affect his soldiers. He went out of his way to make sure those who excelled were rewarded, and those who did not were counseled on why and how they needed to do better.

He wasn't a soft touch. He could be tough as nails, and seem cold as ice when necessary. That's part of leadership too. He was a soldier, and his primary focus had to be on the mission, sometimes no matter what the cost. But he always had the welfare of his troops in mind, and always let that show by example. He treated every soldier, from Private to General, with respect and dignity, and insisted his subordinates do the same. He made people feel appreciated, and that their efforts were important and worthwhile. He was honest, truthful, and about as humble as it's possible for a Major General to be. He never used his power, prestige or position to get or do anything he wasn't already entitled to have or do.

His soldiers knew in their hearts that the Old Man would never ask them to do something he wouldn't do himself. They knew his standards, and that he lived by what he preached. They knew they could trust him, depend upon him, count on him. They knew he would always do the right thing. They wanted him to feel the same way about them.

THAT'S leadership. It's a term that's been misused and abused a lot the past 40 or so years. Even the military cheapened it during the McNamara years when "Management" became the focus for officers.

Well, management is important…even critical to making sure an organization is well-run and does what it’s supposed to do. But management without leadership is nothing more than simple organization and following the dots. You can manage priorities. You can manage expenses. You can manage people too. But you’ll get a whole lot more accomplished if you lead them as well.

There's too often a huge difference between what's seen as management and what's inherent in leadership. True Leadership requires a keen sense of personal integrity, self-discipline, self-sacrifice, self-confidence, the willingness to go the "extra mile", stand up for your subordinates, and the belief in doing the "right thing" even when it's painful...maybe fatal. Being a leader can be tough. There's a reason for the saying, "It's lonely at the top". You can’t “lead” with a spreadsheet, a slick PowerPoint presentation or a Cost/Benefit analysis. Those can be important parts of the package. But you have to lead by personal example and initiative. You have to provide a gut level motivation in your followers that makes them believe in you…trust in you…and want to follow your direction.

Like just about anything in life, there can be good and bad in leadership. Some people use it's charismatic properties for personal enrichment or evil. Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, Bin Laden, and thousands of others throughout history have done that. Televangelists often get very, very rich using their charisma and highly polished "leadership" skills to flim-flam and steal from lots of highly vulnerable people.

So did the dirtbags who scammed the public and the workers at companies like Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and other places where greed and personal benefit were the focus of the so-called "senior leaders".

But I don't consider what they did to be "leadership". They weren't leaders. They were frauds. They were Pied Pipers, "misleading" people who trusted them down a path to dishonesty and destruction.

Integrity is an essential characteristic of leadership. The General had it...lots of it. So did, and do, a lot of others in yesterday's and today's world. You'll know 'em when you see 'em. And hopefully by now, you'll know it when you see the frauds.

Leaders guide, mentor, motivate and develop followers. That’s the very basis of the concept of leadership. Good leaders provide positive leadership. They help motivate, nurture and improve organizations and the people within them. They care about their people, their organization, their community, their country. They have a strong, visible personal code of ethics and behavior that governs their business activities and actions. They don’t force every aspect of their personal beliefs on others, but honesty and integrity are important to them, and they insist upon it in themselves and others. They use the principals and tools of management to make their leadership effective and productive. But leadership is always first with them.

Frauds use the organization and its people to get things for themselves and their cronies.

Think about that when you have to make a “leadership decision”, or before you fall in line with someone who says he/she knows “The Way” or has “The Answer”. Personal integrity, and the good of your subordinates, allies, family, and organization should be components of every decision you make that has the potential to affect someone besides just you. And Follow the Leader is only a good idea when it's a real leader you're following.

Remember the Lieutenant who stood in the mud to bring Private X his pass…and why he did it. The Lieutenant wasn’t looking for anything for himself. He wasn’t trying to flatter the Private, or buy his loyalty. He was doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, for the right person, for the right reasons; with no expectation of any personal reward or benefit for himself…and doing it quietly, but visibly…thereby setting a good example for others while doing it. THAT’S leadership.

©Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. Ed Runci

Author's Bio: 

Co-Founder and Managing Partner of the Kaye Clinic for Ultra Rapid Detox (http://www.kayerapiddetox.com). Retired US Army officer. Founder/Director of the US military's most successful Alcohol and Drug Abuse Residential Rehab Facility of its time. IT and Executive Coaching Consultant. IT Advisor to Devonshire Holdings Inc., Investment Banking Consultants and Corporate Financial Advisors. Entrepreneur. Writer.