Developing Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

What Generals Do

One of the challenges faced by leaders is to determine what they, and only they, can and must do.  And once this is identified, how to stay focused on this and not be diverted into the daily “leadership whiteout” of responding to the demands of others.

Gen. Freddie Franks, commander of VII Corps in Desert Storm, provides some good advice for leaders on what they should focus on.  Tom Clancy recorded this advice in his book, “Into the Storm: A Study in Command” (page 637).

Responsibilities of Generals

I believe generals get to focus on and solve big problems in peace and war.  They must know details and occasionally dip into those, but essentially they must figure out the few deciding issues or battles for their times and conditions and focus their energies on those.  These are what I called points of main effort.  They cannot be many.  You have to decide what they are, and make them stick.

  • Generals must have an imagination that lets them visualize what needs to be.  They must synthesize to create a whole when others cannot see, and then communicate that whole with so much clarity and so much conviction that others will see it, too, and follow it.  That is command.  That is leadership at the senior levels.
  •  Generals decide where to be bold and where not to be bold.
  • They must be strong and decisive, yet they must also keep their ego from clouding their judgments.  Instead, they must use that ego to stick to doing what is right, even in the face of adversity.
  • Generals decide where to intervene and where not to intervene.
  • They decide where to tolerate imperfection and where not to tolerate imperfection.
  • They must be intensely competitive.  They must hate to lose.
  • They need to demand a climate of dignity and respect, and to know that to lead is also to serve.  They can do a lot of good for individuals every day.
  • They must continue to grow.  They must not be complacent.
  • If they can, they should rest easy in the saddle and have a sense of humor.  Smile once in a while.
  • If generals can remember “Don’t worry, General, we trust you,” and do their best to fulfill that trust, they will have done their duty.”

Have you thought through what you and only you must do as the leader?  Have you made the difficult decisions to say no to many other things in order to stay focused on what you and only you must do?

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2 thoughts on “What Generals Do

  1. Good reminder to live what only (or uniquely) we can do. It seems to me that another core responsibility is to determine what is most foundational in order to build/grow. Some things that are good and important must be left until other more foundational pieces are in place. Knowing what to focus upon and when can get tricky.

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