For over twenty years, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have been asking people all over the world what they want in a leader. As reported in their exceptional book The Leadership Challenge (see page 24), based on the input of 75,000 people, the qualities of a leader people willingly follow include: Honest, Forward Looking, Competent, and Inspiring.
Based on their research, the authors go on to lay out a compelling model for leadership. And if the book feels a little too hefty with your current work load, start with their shorter book, The Truth About Leadership.
So, how does this jibe with what we experienced in the “Leadership in Action” workshop? The big surprise from our workshop was that we (36 cadet leaders) did not collectively value accomplishing the mission (competence), or vision (forward looking). In our discussion afterward, individuals objected because, after all, they only had three votes and there are so many things that are important to leadership; however, what was clear as we stepped back and looked at the big picture was that we, collectively, did not value certain things. Collectively, we had 108 votes. Collectively, we did not value vision/looks ahead, develops subordinates, competence/accomplishes the mission, or team building (builds a cohesive team).
This deserves some thought. What is behind this? Could it be that at West Point we socialize ourselves to see leadership a certain way? Could it be that because we are not experienced yet — and therefore do not see ourselves as “competent platoon leaders” yet — we undervalue the importance of competence and developing subordinates? What would happen if we changed the question. What if, instead of asking, “What do you want in a leader?” we asked, “What do you want in a battle commander?” Would that change our emphasis?