Friday, February 27, 2009

Semper Fi & The Challenge of Leadership

Over the past few weeks at ExecuNet we have been having a lot of fun with an event called the Bill George Challenge.

Reading that sentence again, it occurs to me that beginning a post by saying something about "fun" in light of the current environment is probably not the best choice of words, so let me rephrase it by saying over the past few weeks we have been both fascinated with and excited by the response to an event called the Bill George Challenge.

If you are a member of ExecuNet you are probably familiar with what's been going on, but for those who aren't, Bill George is he former Medtronic CEO, Harvard professor, and best-selling author and someone who is very interested one of today's thought-provoking leadership topics — "leading from behind."

With that in mind, ExecuNet, together with Bill and the World Business Forum, the largest business event in the United States, partnered to offer our members the connect with the world's influential business leaders by participating in the following:

Background: During his inauguration address, President Obama ushered in a "new era of responsibility" suggesting that every citizen should accept responsibility and be held accountable for his or her role in ensuring America's recovery and renewed prosperity. With a "leading from behind" style, Obama is solidifying his position as a leader for the "we" generation (also known as the Millennials).

The Challenge: Tell Bill what you would have to change about your leadership style to adapt to a more participatory management practice. What role models would you reference? How would you measure the result to assess whether the effort to make such a change was worthwhile for you and your organization — would specific behaviors or aspects of the culture also change?

The prize: The ExecuNet member with the best response (to be chosen by Bill himself) will be invited as our guest to the World Business Forum 2009, to be held October 6-7 at Radio City Music Hall® in New York City.

Having read a number of the submissions over the past couple of weeks, I'm glad I am not Bill. It is going to be a very tough call and I know that those members of our Roundtable discussion groups who have been following the responses would agree.

All that said, I came across one response that particularly touched a chord with me, and I thought it worth sharing. If you take the time to read it too, maybe it will resonate with you as well. It needs no further setup from me other than to thank Lynn for allowing me to use it. The rest speaks for itself.

Mr. George,

In regards to your Bill George Challenge, I have put together a few notes which I would like to submit for your review and consideration.

I have had the unique opportunity to have been taught by the best leaders in the world, the United States Marine Corps. I learned as a young Private that a true leader leads from the rear. A true leader can lead from the right or left, but never from the front. Having one's employees/subordinates/whatever you call your employees, have them empowered enough to want to lead with you no matter where you lead from.

I spent 14 years in the USMC, and then entered the civilian lifestyle and work in the Human Resources field by choice. I train, focus, teach and lead from where ever necessary, but never out front like I have to be in seen to be in charge. The best leaders look just like you or I, we blend in and just lead.

I have found in my years since the military that civilian leaders without that military background feel they always have to be upfront and noticed. They have problems when everyone is not looking or paying attention to them in a group situation. I have kept my moral grounding from all the years of experience during my tours of duty, and I lead as my leaders lead....from any place necessary. Please remember, when a platoon or group of individuals are running in a formation, the leader runs on the side leading cadence/chants, not in the front, but on the side. The same way one marches into battle....

When I was a Drill Instructor in the USMC, I told my recruits that once they leave basic training, they will always hear my voice. I may not be there in the building, location, state or even country, but the good things I have taught you will always be in your head and I will be whispering direction from afar. Leading from afar.

So I guess in short, leading from anywhere but the front, is not new. It is the way of our Nation's leaders in the Military. Great to see someone is really interested in showing our civilian leaders that there really is another way.

I am fortunate to work in manufacturing in Southern California and have a great team of 17 in 4 states. I have to lead from afar, I can't be in PA, FL, TX and CA all at once. It is just good solid leadership.

Thank you for your time,

Lynn M. Gomez, SPHR

Well said, Lynn, well said.

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