Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tribute to a Leader

My mentor retired from the Army this week. After 35 years of selfless service, the greatest leader whom I have ever known transitioned to civilian life. In front of nearly 400 friends, family, and fans, this great warrior-general demonstrated to his last farewell what it meant to put people first, to inspire others, to think big yet act small, and to live a life of passionate balance. Here are a few lessons I learned from my friend Randy:

-- Let everyone know that their contribution to the team matters. Even though I was two ranks below his, he always listened to my ideas, always came to my area to think through problems, and never let me forget that I was his guy. I wasn’t the only one…but he made me feel that way. At his retirement ceremony, he called two of his team members to the stage. He let everyone know that they were important contributors to the organizational mission (reduction of Weapons of Mass Destruction or WMDs). Their role? They cleaned the floors. They were janitors. Randy knew them by name and made them feel like they were valued. Same as me. Same as everyone who served with him.

-- Make a (Positive) Difference. I don’t know another leader who could inspire people to want to do more than their duty description. He caused people to want to do more than make a difference. He inspired them to be passionate about making a positive difference. (He reminded everyone that it is possible to make a negative difference!) He could see two and three moves ahead of everyone, describe it in vivid detail, and help people envision those next steps that would help the team get there. He never raised his voice -- didn’t need to. People wanted to be a part of something meaningful and refused to let themselves or this great leader down. An organization of people like this under a compassionate leader like Randy cannot be stopped and will always make a POSITIVE difference.

-- Think big yet act small. My friend was the embodiment of selfless servant. (Selfless not as in thinking less of yourself but selfless as in thinking of yourself less) Despite a brilliant career and ultimately wearing two stars -- the man had no ego. He knew that success came from putting people first, from empowering people to take action, from caring for soldiers, civilians, and their families. His was a simple approach to leadership: Get people to believe in the vision; show them that their leader truly cared; be generous with praise and positive reinforcement; provide people with the skills and tools they needed to be successful; build teams and cultivate a sense of teamwork; then get out of the way and let the “team of teams” take care of the rest. Nothing fancy. Just fundamental leadership from a selfless servant. The results were always nothing short of amazing.

-- Live a life of passionate balance. Unlike many leaders who preach “balance,” then grind people up, never leave work, and live a totally unbalanced life, Randy was the real deal. He loved his family, left work at a reasonable time, always had an open house with beer and “hot wings,” and slept well at night. Why? Because he did all the things above, pouring his heart and soul into enabling the success of others. He knew they would not let him, or the team, down. More importantly, he slept well because he had his priorities straight. He knew that true balance required physical, social, and spiritual fitness. He loved his family and put them first in everything he did. At his retirement he introduced dozens of family members and longtime military friends – all of whom he introduced not as generals or colonels…but as friends for life. He demonstrated at every assignment that it was possible to have professional success while having fun and keeping first things first. He was a passionate leader. But he was most passionate about having balance in his life.

I am sad to see my friend and mentor leave the Army. Some civilian company has no idea how fortunate they will be to add him to their leadership team. I am confident that his approach to leadership will be no different on the “other side of the fence.” His results will be equally impressive.

I just know that he’s the best leader with whom I have served. I try every day to live up to his high standard. I try to convey the passion for life and leadership that he shared with me. And while I’m not there yet, I do know that I am a better leader today because of him. I have no doubt that there are hundreds more like me. I suppose at the end of a brilliant career that may be the best legacy one can have.

Enjoy retirement, sir. You’ve earned it. That’s Leader Business.

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