Several years ago I attended a conference where General H. Norman Schwarzkopf was the key note speaker. It is not often that I am impressed or mesmerized by someone’s message. This time it was different.

It did not matter that he was talking about his experience in the military. Good leadership is not industry, organizational or company specific – there are no boundaries. The rules or lessons he shares with us provides a compass for growing your personal leadership capabilities.

The follow represents my notes from the conference with some additional commentary.

His key principles represent overarching themes and embody an attitude – they comprise the first four rules.

Leadership – Key Principles

  1. Think of yourself as a leader. Leaders lead people, not systems, processes et al.
  2. Character. Requires sense of duty, ethics, morality – it is not a measure of competence.  In times of crisis, people pick character to follow. Have strength of character – a prerequisite to having the courage to do the right thing.
  3. Leadership must be respected, even though not loved. Make it happen and take responsibility. You can delegate authority, and still take responsibility. It is more important to be respected than to be loved. Leaders do not seek to be pleasing first.
  4. The true rewards of leadership come from leadership itself – not the next promotion or tangible reward. Do not seek rewards; leadership is its own reward.

The next eight rules represent the actions of great leadership. Leaders who are active participants and demonstrate what they expect get results.

Rules of Leadership

  1. No organization will get better until leadership admits that something is broken. The prevalent can do attitude must be willing to accept you can’t do before you know something has to change.
  2. The climate must allow people to speak up.
  3. Leaders establish goals for an organization. They must be understood and know their role in reaching the goal. FOCUS is the number #1 goal in the military. The greater the number of goals, the more confusion you get. Creating focus is the number 1 priority for a leader. Excellent leaders instill focus by creating shared goals that are clear and understood; everyone understands their roles in achieving the shared goals.
  4. Leaders set high standards; they don’t accept low standards. They set expectations. People go to work to succeed, not to fail.
  5. Leaders set high standards and clarify their expectations. They then expect that people will go to work on achieving these standards.
  6. Recognize and reward success – it is infectious.  Failure is contagious. Leaders recognize and reward success. They understand deeply that both successes as well as failure are contagious.
  7. Accept a few mistakes. Provide the latitude to learn. Leaders accept a few mistakes but also, create the latitude and atmosphere to learn.
  8. Don’t tell them how to do the job – simply allocate resources, set standards and the results will exceed your expectations. Leaders do not deal with how to get the job done, they surround themselves with talent and then allocate resources and remove roadblocks to enable the talent to excel.

Love the troops. Leaders love their troops and let them know in many ways.

Most importantly…the final two rules identify if you have what it takes to have managerial courage.

Rule #13

When placed in command, take charge. Even if the decision is bad, you have set change in motion.  It is better than being stagnant. When placed in command, take charge.

Rule #14

Do what is right. It is a sign of character. Have strength of character – a prerequisite to having the courage to do the right thing. Do the right thing – have the moral courage to do the right thing.