Sunday, August 23, 2009

No Excuse Leadership II

Last week, we examined a mindset that refuses to make excuses for one's course in life, never makes excuses for shortcomings or setbacks (No Excuse Leadership). It is a lesson I learned early in my military career as a cadet at West Point. There I learned that a cadet has three responses: yes, sir; no, sir; and no excuse, sir. You don't blame the situation, you don't fault your predecessor, and you don't put the burden for your problems on your subordinates. You step up, own your performance and outcomes, and accept the consequences. You learn, grow, and move on. That's "No Excuse Leadership."

While difficult to put into practice (yes...excuses come far too easy to most of us), it is a leadership principle that has been proven true at every level. And while we see so many examples of leaders failing to accept responsibility for their failures, of people who let excuses control their lives, every once in a while, we see what right looks like.

While some of us were trying our best to embrace the implications of this philosophy, Captain Scotty Smiley, US Army, showed us all what it looks like. This officer embodies the concept of "No Excuse Leadership," an approach to living that he shares now daily with his young charges at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He talks about leadership -- and life -- to the young men and women who will soon follow him in service to their country. He teaches leadership, a subject he knows plenty about, a subject that he learned as a student at West Point and as a lieutenant leading men into battle in Iraq.

Captain Smiley, some would say, has already lived a full life. He was recognized by the Army as the 2007 "Soldier of the Year." He won an ESPY award in 2008 as Best Outdoor Athlete. He has skied in Vail, Colorado and climbed Mount Rainier. He completed an MBA at Duke University and now hangs out with NBA basketball players after meeting many of that sport's superstars competing for TEAM USA. Oh...and he has a beautiful wife and recently added a new baby to his family.

Captain Smiley lives a charmed life. Except for one detail. He lost his vision and was temporarily paralyzed in a roadside bomb attack in Mosul, Iraq in April 2005. He has had to learn to walk again and adjust to life without sight. He and his wife had agonized over whether to medically retire from the Army, to pursue a vocation perhaps more accommodating to his disability. Instead, Captain Smiley chose to Soldier On! (read more about his story here) He refused to let his course in life be an excuse for not achieving his dreams. Yes...this is what "No Excuse Leadership" looks like in real life!

Last week, Scott Smiley began his assignment as a professor of leadership at West Point. You can read more about his first day here. Humbling, isn't it? Maybe it is time to stop making excuses, to quit allowing minor setbacks to stop us from reaching our goals. Maybe it is time to stop complaining and become a "No Excuse Leader!" This mindset has taken a blind Army Ranger to new (albeit different) heights. And his new charges at the Military Academy are better for it. That's Leader Business!

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