< Leadership Rules
< Gen. Smith 1
Learning to Lead, Part II
By MajGen Perry M. Smith, USAF (Ret.)
The following article was
originally published in the Marine Corps Gazette in December 2001. Reprinted
with the kind permission of the author.
Page 1 of 2
MajGen Smith provides an additional 30 common sense
leadership tips for Gazette readers.
Part I outlined 30
commonsense tips for good leadership. It has turned out to be the most
popular article I have ever written. With the cooperation of the
Gazette, I have passed out thousands of copies and tens of thousands
have been Xeroxed by various corporations, nonprofits, government, and
military organizations as well as a number of professional schools. The
following article outlines another 30 tips. I hope they are helpful.
1. Move Your Organization Up the 'Wisdom Pyramid'
If you can assist your organization in moving from a focus on data and
information to a concentration on knowledge, understanding and wisdom,
then better decisions for both the short term and the long term will be
2. Don't Postpone Joy
If there is something to celebrate, do it now. Don't wait until next
week, next month, or next year to publicly congratulate those who have
just accomplished something extraordinary.
3. Use Your Wit to Amuse, Not Abuse
Laughing at others is hurtful. On the other hand, laughing at yourself
is healing for you and for others. Humor used well is wonderful for you
and those around you. He who laughs, lasts.
4. Polish Your Negotiation Skills
People often ask me, "What is Colin Powell's greatest talent?" I explain
how he brings together people often who are very angry with each other.
By using humor and the spirit of cooperation and compromise, he finds
workable solutions that everyone can support.
5. Beware of Clever, Manipulative Subordinates
This was the major leadership failure at CNN during the nerve gas
debacle in 1998. The chief executive officer not only got snookered by
some clever subordinates, but it also took him much too long to hold a
few top people accountable for their unethical behavior in the
production of CNN's "Valley of Death" special.
6. Don't Neglect the Intangibles
Too many leaders focus all of their attention on what they can
measure-sales numbers, quarterly reports, cash flow, stock price, etc.
These leaders often neglect such vital intangibles as morale and esprit
7. Practice Forgiveness
Be willing to forgive those who make honest mistakes. Also, be sure to
forgive yourself after you acknowledge the fact that you have made an
error. Self-flagellation is not a good quality for a leader.
8. Scan the Environment Widely
Too many bosses are unwilling to look outside their own organization for
fresh ideas. For instance, I have learned in the 15 years since I
retired from the military that there is much that corporations can learn
from the military and vice versa.
9. Don't Spend Too Much Time with the Malcontents
It only encourages them. Spend most of your time with those who are
seriously contributing to the accomplishment of the mission.
10. Pick a Positive and a Negative Role Model
My positive role models have been GEN George Marshall and LtCol Jimmie
Dyess, USMCR. Whenever I face a big decision, I ask myself what would
Marshall and Dyess have done in the same situation. Conversely, I use
Robert Strange McNamara as my negative role model. A man who was
arrogant, incompetent as a military strategist, and fundamentally
unethical, McNamara has helped me decide what not to do at many decision
points in my life.
11. Enjoy Your Work and Your People
Working for a boss with a furrowed brow or an angry scowl is no fun nor
does it inspire people to do their very best. If you are obviously
enjoying your work, most people will be captured by your enthusiasm and
joy and will enjoy their work also.
12. Acknowledge Mistakes Quickly and Completely
Be willing to fully air your dirty linen. The best leaders acknowledge
their mistakes quickly and take corrective actions to reduce the
possibility of a similar mistake in the future. Good news may improve
with age, bad news does not.
13. Don't Overconcentrate on the Details
No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail. This was
the fundamental mistake of the Carter Presidency. A man of compassion
and intellect failed because he was unable to empower subordinates, nor
was he able to think and act strategically.
14. Never Roll the Ball Over
Leaders should remind themselves often that when they play sports, the
object is not to win but to compete with total integrity. Many people
play fast and loose with the game of golf. They cheat, yet they somehow
justify their conduct. (Bill Clinton uses the term "a do over" to
explain the 30 or so mulligans he uses during his golf rounds.)
15. Anticipate Impending Crises
The best leaders have the ability to look around corners and anticipate
problems and impending crises. When you see a crisis headed your way,
take some quick actions to end it and to minimize the damage.
The Marine Corps Gazette