Everyone should be interested in leadership, because everyone will be called upon to lead sooner or later. What surprises most people, is just how often they are thrust into a situation of leadership. This may occur in small ways or big ways, or a thousand variations in between. But rest assured: everyone must lead.
Every time we take a young child’s hand, we are called to lead. Every time we are asked for advice, we are called to lead. Every time we are looked to for our example, we are called to lead. Any crisis that arises in our life is a call to leadership. Any time we are asked to compromise our principles, it is a test of leadership. In fact, in many ways, each of us is leading others every day without even realizing it. The question becomes whether we will rise to the challenge or shrink from it.
Fortunately, the topic of leadership is also infinitely interesting. It is challenging enough to wake us up and hold our attention. As author Dan Allender wrote, “Leadership is a walk on the wild side. If we didn’t have to deal with people or problems, leadership would be a piece of cake. Instead, leadership is all about . . . moving toward a goal while confronting significant obstacles with limited resources in the midst of uncertainly and with people who may or may not come through in a pinch. Leadership is about whether we will grow in maturity in the extremity of crisis.”
Let’s get one thing clear. Management is not leadership. Position or titles or fame is not leadership. Acting the part is not leadership. Seniority is not leadership. In the realm of true leadership, there is no “fake it ‘till you make it.” Leadership is about trust, truth, influence, and example, and it cannot be faked. People are incredibly adroit at spotting a phony. When it comes right down to it, leadership is about getting results. Those who talk a good game, or have the right position or title, or look the part, but don’t produce results are simply imposters.
In the short period of peace between the end of the Seven Years War and the start of the American Revolution, an interesting development took place in Great Britain’s Royal Navy. The English had been dominating the French navy for years. In battle after battle, more often than not, the British navy had been victorious. In large fleet engagements and small skirmishes, it was invariably the British royal navy that would capture the most ships and inflict the most casualties. But in the peacetime of the mid-eighteenth century, the British became enamored with the “scientific” approach the French took toward naval affairs. The Enlightenment was in full flourish throughout Europe, and its center of orbit was Paris, France. Enlightenment thinking placed a heavy emphasis on man’s ability to reason, the scientific method, and the formal ability of humans to steadily increase toward perfection. In this environment, the French navy pontificated endlessly about the “science of naval warfare.” They wrote in-depth studies and treatises on the subject. They formed sophisticated academies of naval study. They developed complex signaling systems for commodores controlling fleets, and they preached their theories on hydrogaphy, gunnery, ship construction, and maneuver. And they developed theories of warfare at sea that supposedly could not fail. Somehow, caught up in the fervor of Enlightenment thinking, the British swallowed the French philosophy whole. But as author Michael Palmer wrote, “While there can be no argument that the navy of France was more militarily formal and “professional” than that of Great Britain, that “professionalism” did not necessarily translate into success.” As another popular phrase puts it, “Big hat no cattle.”
It wasn’t long, however, until the British recovered from their stupor and got back to what had made them the “ruler of the seas” in the first place: effective leadership. But before they did, they were defeated and outmaneuvered by a French fleet off the coast of Virginia in North America. This fleet was instrumental in entrapping British General Cornwallis and bringing to a close the American Revolution, and giving victory to the fledgling American colonies.
To blame the loss at Yorktown on a lapse in British naval leadership, I know, may be a bit oversimplified. War and geopolitics are complicated and subject to a myriad of factors. But most historians agree that the performance of the British navy during the action off the Chesapeake was less effective than it should have been, and certainly less effective than it had been in past engagements. The reasons for this have been debated and analyzed in depth, and culpable in most of these analyses is the leadership of the British fleet at that time.
Leadership makes a difference. And the results of leadership have lasting implications that can often be enormous. One can never underestimate the ripple effect that the decisions and examples of the leader set in motion. One should never be taken in, as the British were during the Enlightenment, with fancy theories and would-be leaders who look and act the part, have the resources, the prestige, or the “professionalism” that appears to be genuine. True leadership comes down to results. Proper results can only come from following true principles. And that’s why the study of leadership and its principles is so important. We will be called upon to lead, and more importantly, we will be held accountable for our results.
This article was originally posted at https://chrisbrady.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/11/leaders-get-res.html.