As General Custer said, "The reward of command is the opportunity to lead, not to have a bigger tent." General Custer knew more about the theory of leadership than its practice...but, then, no one is perfect.
A leader's first obligation is to ethically serve those to whom she has a fiduciary responsibility. In so doing a good leader always puts the interests of her troops before the leader's own interests. One of the foremost measures of any leader is selflessness. As the tombstone in the British cemetery at Normandy reads, "Leadership is wisdom and courage and carelessness of self." This is the finest description of leadership of which I am aware.
To some degree, I suppose, a leader can try to lead by intimidation, but the truly great leaders--those who get the most from those who would serve--do so because their troops would follow them anywhere purely out of deep respect. Generals Omar Bradley, Jimmy Doolittle and George Marshall are prime examples, the first two of whom I had the privilege of knowing and can personally testify as to the deep loyalty they engendered among all who came into their presence.
This sentiment contrasts, incidentally, with that afforded the British officer whose next-senior-in-command wrote on the subordinate's efficiency report, "This officer's troops would follow him anywhere...mostly out of curiosity."
The troops must be fed first and their tent must be pitched first--except perhaps in truly extraordinary circumstances demanding the contrary. And if there are to be reductions in rations, then ALL must share in the cut equitably.
Years ago I found myself heading an organization that was suffering from a business downturn. Everyone was working extremely hard, spending many hours on airplanes searching for business. Seeking ways to cut costs, one obvious candidate was to abolish our practice of flying first class. Appreciating the enormous efforts of the members of our team, I decided to simply begin flying coach class myself. It was a short time until everyone began voluntarily doing the same.
A much more dramatic example occurred twenty-three hundred years ago as Alexander the Great led his army across scorching, barren terrain for eleven days. When foragers arrived with a single canteen of water, Alexander is said to have poured the contents on the ground, saying, "It's no use for one to drink when many are thirsty."
Fast-forwarding to the twenty-first century business world, when pay cuts must be imposed on employees in times of great duress--the leaders should not take pay cuts along with the employees. The leaders should take them before the employees. That is, they should lead. Only in this manner can they maintain the respect of those who follow them...and only in this manner can they expect to be considered leaders.
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