Sunday, April 22, 2012


Robert A. Hall, CAE

There are few hotter topics in the business, political and professional world than leadership, with frequent books, conferences and seminars devoted to the subject. Perhaps this is because a litigious, “zero-defects” society has made leadership a rare commodity. Perhaps it’s because the idea that human assets could be managed like interchangeable machine parts has produced a noticeable void in our society. Regardless of the reason, it seems like everyone is talking about leadership.

But leadership is nothing new, nor is it something a person is born with. The principles of leadership and the traits of a good leader have long been known. Learning, developing and applying them are open to all, regardless of gender, religion, age, race or ethnic background. Nor is any leader perfect in any area—certainly not this writer! Additional development, experience and improvement are always possible. From the lowest-paid entry-level worker to the CEO, everyone can become a better leader by knowing the fundamentals and working on them.

The principles are:

Take responsibility for your actions and the actions of your subordinates. Accepting responsibility for your mistakes and errors, and for those of the people you direct, is key to building a strong, innovative organization. Every organization and individual makes mistakes. Accepting responsibility allows you to learn from the error and move on. The alternative is an organization where individuals don’t care what happens as long as it can’t be blamed on them or their department.

Know yourself and seek self-improvement. Everyone has strong and weak areas. If you don’t know yourself, you will surely lead the organization astray. If you don’t work on constant improvement and continuous learning, the people who look to you for leadership won’t either.

Set the example. If you arrive at 10 a.m., leave at 4 p.m., use organization resources for personal benefit, fly first class while your followers fly coach, and in general treat yourself special, you will build an organization where everyone looks out for themselves first and the mission last.  An if you aren’t working for the betterment of your industry, organization and profession, your followers won’t either.

Develop your subordinates. If your followers don’t grow and learn, they can’t give you the support you need to be a success. It’s better to train employees and lose them than to not train them and keep them.

Ensure that a job is understood, then supervise it and carry it through to completion. Your people need to understand what is expected, if you expect them to do it. Then your job is to let them do it, but assure yourself that it is done well.

Know your subordinates and look after their welfare. It should go without saying that if you don’t care about the people who work for you, they won’t care about you, or your organization. The lowest-paid employee has a family, person problems and a need for recognition, time off, and benefits.

Keep everyone informed. Nothing debilitates an organization like rumors and not knowing what’s going on. Information only gives you power if it’s shared throughout your organization. The “leader” who gained power by withholding information died out with the big lizards.

Set goals you can reach. Goals should make you and your employees stretch, but if they are completely out of reach, followers will wonder why they should bother and become demoralized.

Make sound and timely decisions. Making no decision is usually the worst decision. And you never have enough information. Decide anyway.

Know your job. If you aren’t competent at what you do, you can’t expect your followers to be good at theirs—or to respect you.

Teamwork builds esprit de corps. Working together, recognizing the contribution of all team members, is the only way to create commitment to your organization and its mission.

The traits of a good leader echo the hallmarks of effective leadership:

Integrity: If you don’t have it, your followers won’t either, and the organization will rot away.

Knowledge: Know your job, your organization and your followers.

Courage: We are seldom called on to demonstrate physical courage, but moral courage is needed every day. And it’s too often in short supply.

Decisiveness: The leader who can’t make a decision, or who passes the buck to others, loses the moral authority to lead, regardless of position or title.

Dependability: If you can’t be counted on to carry through on commitments, you can’t lead.

Initiative: The leader looks for and seizes opportunities.

Tact: Leadership is working with people. You can’t run roughshod over their feelings and expect commitment to your vision.

Justice: Do you deal fairly and equally with your subordinates? If not, it will erode your ability to lead.

Enthusiasm: If you don’t care about the organization and its mission, why should your followers?

Bearing: If you project confidence and authority, it will take you a long way.

Endurance: If you can’t go the distance, they won’t either.

Unselfishness. A leader has to put the general good ahead of self. Does the organization, the mission, and your subordinates come ahead of your own comfort and well being?

Loyalty: If you aren’t loyal to the organization and to your subordinates they won‘t be loyal either. Then where will you be?

Judgment: Bad judgment will ruin an organization and discourage followers. Good judgment comes from experience and learning from mistakes-especially the ability to learn from other people’s mistakes

If you are tops at implementing all 11 principles and posses these 14 traits in abundance, perhaps you should be president of the United States. Or at least Commandant of the Marine Corps, because these are the principles and traits taught by the Corps that have made the Marines successful for well over 225 years. Civilians think of Marine leadership in terms of the screaming drill instructor. But the Marine Corps believes and teaches that persuasive leadership and self-discipline are the only kinds that really work.

Wouldn’t you want your boss, you subordinates and yourself to follow each of these principles and possess each of the traits?

If you are familiar with these 25 points, and work at constantly improving in each area whenever you can, you will continue to develop as a leader and your talents will be in demand. And that’s all anyone can do.


Former SSgt. Robert A. Hall, MEd, CAE, a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, has been an association executive since 1982. Prior to entering the profession, he served five terms in the Massachusetts state senate. “Leadership for Associations” is a chapter in his association management book, Chaos for Breakfast. He is also is the author of The Coming Collapse of the American Republic. For a free PDF of the book, e-mail him at tartanmarine(at)

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