A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to meet retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Sattler through a common business associate. John is a 37-year veteran of the Semper Fi branch of our military, with an exceptional leadership record. His military career took him around the globe, to the Pentagon, and leading 50,000 warriors in Iraq during dangerous times. John is an outgoing, affable, humble man with a great sense of humor and keen insight into human behavior.
One night, over dinner, John and I shared a great conversation about the traits of leadership that are common in business and the military. We spent a lot of time focusing on trust. John still teaches ethics and leadership at Annapolis. To illustrate to his students the importance of trust in leadership, John draws on his valuable personal life and military experiences. He also includes a few of Steven Covey’s writings from the book, “The Speed of Trust.” Covey offers a simple equation that summarizes leadership trust. That equation is: Trust = Competence + Character. You need both competence and character to be a trusted leader. We agreed that this was a common fact in both the military and the business world.
The competence side of trust is easy to understand. There cannot be trust without having confidence that your leader knows what they are talking about. Effective leaders need to have breadth and depth of relevant knowledge to be able to understand the impact of a potential action on an objective, or the rest of the organization. Competent leaders are also great communicators, but even better listeners. They also know the limits of their competence and seek out the opinions of those that have the additional expertise to help achieve the desired results.
Character is a huge determinant of organizational trust. It is extremely difficult to follow a leader who verbally abuses his subordinates, throws them under the bus to deflect blame, always has an excuse instead of accepting responsibility, is untruthful, or avoids dealing with real issues, and looks the other way. High character leaders have a strong moral compass, treat people with respect and dignity, and develop their subordinates to achieve their potential. High stress situations reveal character, and the wrong time to find a character flaw is in the middle of battle.
Our military has known for a long time that competence and character are needed to drive accomplishment of missions. All the service branches have some sort of military command screening process, where potential leaders are considered, rated and judged on their perceived ability to ascend to greater responsibility. Here candidates are hotly debated and evaluated on their competence, character and the mental capacity to lead at the next level in rank. These are very serious evaluations, as picking the wrong people can lead to great loss of treasured American lives and military resources. Those who are not quite ready on the competence metric to be promoted are given assignments designed to develop missing skills. Those deemed short on the character side of the equation normally find their career stalled or ended.
We do not have a rigorous, fact-based form of the military command screening process to evaluate and select our potential government leaders. In our democracy, those being led choose their leaders by voting, unlike the military or the business world. One citizen, one vote. This then begs the question: What is the process each of us use to determine who gets our vote? Is it rigorous? Does it place emphasis on competence and character, capacity and commitment, or does it simply go along party lines, or who looks good, is a good speaker, is the right gender, the right color, the right height, the right religion, or hits your hot button on a single issue? Your vote is a treasure ... deserved only by those of trust.
With the election coming up in November, each of us now has adequate time, and the responsibility, to really study the candidates for office and their qualifications before we make our decision at the ballot box. It is our duty. Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard to democracy therefore is education.”
Time to get busy and do your homework folks! Finals for this term are scheduled for Nov. 6! And when you get done voting, thank a veteran for preserving that privilege!
Bob Hall is a former executive with Whirlpool who lives in Stevensville.