Two trusted perspectives on how to define leadership

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Last week I wrote about the best definitions of leadership. It focused on John Maxwell and Peter Drucker’s definitions.

This week I will share perspectives from two famous US Army Generals — Colin Powell and Dwight Eisenhower.

By putting all these pieces together I think we start to appreciate both the complexity and components that comprise leadership.

General Colin Powell was one of the greatest US Army Generals in the last century. According to Wikipedia Powell was a professional soldier for 35 years. He held a myriad of command and staff positions.

He rose to the rank of 4-star General. Powell completed multiple combat tours in the Vietnam War. He is a highly decorated veteran and leader.

General Powell served as National Security Advisor (1987–1989), as Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command (1989) and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993) during the Persian Gulf War.

Powell was the first, and so far the only, African American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving under U.S. President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005, the first African American to serve in that position.

His resume as a leader is impressive. I trust his leadership perspective.

Colin Powell was the first African-American Secretary of State. (AP Photo)
Colin Powell was the first African-American Secretary of State. (AP Photo)
Colin Powell was the first African-American Secretary of State. (AP Photo)

The list of General Powell’s accomplishments as a leader is too long for this blog. For his service, General Powell received numerous U.S. and foreign military awards and decorations.

Powell’s civilian awards include two Presidential Medal of Freedom, the President’s Citizens Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, and the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal.

The photo below shows his numerous military awards to include the US Army Ranger tab.

In case that was not enough, General Powell has also written multiple books. I have read two of them (My American Journey, It Worked for Me: Lessons in Leadership and Life). I highly recommend both.

General Colin Powell in uniform.
General Colin Powell in uniform.
General Colin Powell in uniform.

In his books, Colin Powell describes a practical view of leadership. I trust his judgment. He has more experience than most leaders.

His track record speaks for itself. General Powell was highly successful in numerous leadership roles.

My favorite leadership quote by Colin Powell is below. It describes the specific actions that leaders should focus on to be successful.

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.

General Colin Powell

General Powell’s leadership perspective is similar to Peter Drucker’s. According to both of them what you do as a leader is important.

Powell points out that you must be able to take care of your people and solve their problems. Otherwise, they will stop following you.

In other words, competency counts and actions speak louder than words.

Solving problems is a leaders job.
Solving problems is a leaders job.
Solving problems is a leaders job.

If you cannot, then why are you in charge. Also, it is one thing to tell your team members you care about them. It is another thing to actually solve their problems. If you do one without the other you are failing as a leader.

We all probably know at least one leader who talked a big game, but never followed it up with actions. Don’t be that kind of leader.

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Army Gen. Norman H. Schwarzkopf consults with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell during Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. Two great modern American Generals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. H. H. Deffner)

General Dwight D. Eisenhower was a great US Army General. According to Wikipedia Eisenhower was an American Army general and statesman who served as the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961.

During World War II, he was a five-star general in the United States Army and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe.

He was responsible for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45 from the Western Front.

Portrait of General Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1947.
Portrait of General Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1947.
Portrait of General Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1947.

If you think Colin Powell’s resume is impressive, then you will be even more impressed with Eisenhower’s. He was highly successful in both the military and as a civilian.

Below are five major accomplishments he achieved while in leadership positions. The list goes on, but you get the picture.

“Ike” was one of the best leaders the US has ever seen.

Perfect — no. Effective — yes.

  1. Eisenhower led the Allied Forces to victory in World War II. His Army defeated Hitler.
  2. He was one of only a few to ever earn five stars as a General in the US military.
  3. He served as the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. He reached the highest political office in the US.
  4. Eisenhower ended the Korean War. He leveraged US military might to achieve peace.
  5. Eisenhower championed the formation of the Interstate Highway System. A key element to major US economic expansion.
Presidential portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Presidential portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Presidential portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Like Colin Powell, General Eisenhower demonstrated a pragmatic view of leadership. Eisenhower was known for his somewhat quiet and understated leadership style.

According to this Forbes article, Eisenhower had a paperweight prominently displayed on his desk in the Oval Office with a Latin inscription meaning “gently in manner, strong in deed.”

Eisenhower shared many thoughts about leadership. The quote below from him is one of my favorites.

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Many underestimated Eisenhower’s leadership abilities. During World War II he was surrounded by leaders who were much bolder and gregarious.

Generals like Patton, MacArthur, and Montgomery seemed to seek the limelight while Eisenhower spent his time preparing for the next battle and visiting the troops.

Once he commented on why he avoided the more abrasive leadership style of other Generals.

“You don’t lead by beating people over the head; that’s assault, not leadership.”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Famous photo of Eisenhower visiting paratroopers before D-day invasion.
Famous photo of Eisenhower visiting paratroopers before D-day invasion.
A famous photo of Eisenhower visiting paratroopers before D-day invasion.

All The Way Leadership! agrees with Eisenhower. Your integrity as a leader is hugely important.

If you lack integrity your team will not follow you. It is that simple.

How you behave as a leader also factors into your effectiveness.

It is difficult for anyone to follow a leader who behaves poorly. Don’t be that kind of leader.

Instead, lead with integrity.

I hope you join me on this journey to raise up the next generation of leaders. The world is in desperate need of more great leaders.

Women and men who lead with confidence, clarity, and creativity.

It’s time to become the leader that your world needs. Let’s go All The Way!

All The Way Leadership!

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All The Way Leadership! will help you become a strong leader by teaching you the three core competencies of leadership: confidence, clarity, and creativity. Visit https://www.allthewayleadership.com/ to find out more

Leader and learner. Father of two young men. Novice blogger, www.lettertosons.com, Founder of All The Way Leadership! http://www.allthewayleadership.com/

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