Not long ago, I asked a group of 3rd graders volunteering at Clear Path for Veterans what leadership meant to them. Although their answers varied, at the core of their response was that leadership is often portrayed as being in a powerful place, convincing others to follow and to get there, you had to be both physically and mentally invincible. As adults, we know leadership comes in many forms, but maintaining a good balance of mental and physical strength, empathy and humility is what challenges leaders the most.
Since I began working with the military community, I have been privileged to see a dimension of leadership from which we all can learn. Those who join the military enter a culture that’s driven by mission and service above self. To lead means learning to control emotions, behavior and thoughts that could compromise these two main goals. As a civilian who knew very little about military culture, I assumed the greatest leaders of the military were generals and colonels. Their rank told me so, and much like the 3rd graders who answered my simple question, I went for the obvious. But what I learned from all military members is that leaders never forget they are part of a team. Almost always, leaders of the military defer their success to others: their team mates. Their ability to control themselves, combined with their empathy and humility, elevates them to a level of leadership that’s an excellent lesson for all.
No matter the background, leaders inspire others and achieve results. Great leaders balance strength, empathy and humility. Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest leaders in American history, kept the US united and freed black Americans from slavery. He balanced the key components of leadership and achieved historic feats. One of his famous quotes reads “Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Successful leaders no doubt understand adversity and what it takes to succeed. But the greatest leaders balance the ability to convince people to follow with the delicate balance of leadership, and never abuse or misuse it.