Leadership in an Uncertain and Dangerous World



Last week The Wall Street Journal hosted a pretty cool meeting of leaders in government and businesses across America.  Leaders like Barack Obama, Daphne Koller, Chris Christie and Drew Houston to name a few attended.

I won't be talking about the politics discussed during this chat because understandably it is a complicated matter and we all have different opinions.  What I do want to focus on is the leadership of someone whose job it is to protect a nation and is responsible for the lives of over 2 millions people and their 3 million family members.

Speaking about leadership in a dangerous world was General Martin Dempsey the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the highest ranking military officer in the United States of America.  The Chairman directly advises the President of United States knowing that the advice he gives will directly affect the lives of every soldier in the military.

The first characteristic of leadership he talked about was humility.  It is extremely important for a military leaders to be connected to all their soldiers since they are directly put into danger.  He points that even though being at a senior level with the capabilities with social media it is a lot easier to stay connected to all levels.  In fact, General Martin Dempsey actually even has his own Twitter account.

Any organization benefits when the leaders of the organization can show that they care and understand the needs of the people that help run it at all levels.  Having leaders that understand the privilege they have when given the responsibility to make decisions will make better choices when understanding the needs of those who make the organization run.

Trust was what General Dempsey said was the foundation of leadership in the military.  In fact in his confirmation hearing to be Chairman when asked about budget cuts for the military he talked about a photo with the word trust underneath it.  In the picture one soldier is watching the flank of another soldier using the radio for support.  He said what is most important is that soldiers trust that their leaders will give them the tools they needs to accomplish their mission given to  them.


Leaders in the military have a responsibility provide soldiers the tools needed to succeed.  You need leaders to manage an organization to be able to support a non-commissioned officer with whatever he needs to accomplish the mission.  That level of trust between leaders and soldiers is what makes the US military exceptional.

As someone who has worked in many different offices I can say trust is definitely also needed in the business world.  Many companies have many different departments or partner with other companies but they always trust that the different components needed to finish that project will get done efficiently.   Workers need to trust that management are making the best possible decisions to meet the needs of the competitive world.

A quote he said that I really liked was “you are not a profession just because you say you are you have to earn it and re-earn it”.   I think that speaks so much about leadership not just at the upper levels but at all levels.  Being a leader does not just mean being the best leader at the moment but improving oneself to be able to lead in the future.

I thought it was really interesting when he was discussing a character he liked in his favorite novel about leadership.  It was about a military officer who slowly rose through the ranks and made mistakes but learned from them and became a great leader.  I found this very intriguing because the first thing I thought of was our previous Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Michael Mullen.

Admiral Michael Mullen was not your average Navy officer since he grew up in Hollywood.  He joined the Naval Academy and actually was short 35 demerits from getting expelled and graduated in the bottom third of his class.  The first ship he commanded struck a buoy which caused a lot of damage to his career.  Even with all that he learn from those incidents and never gave up.  Then on October 1, 2007, he would be sworn in as the highest ranking military officer in the United States.

This lesson is probably important to everyone but especially leaders.  When given so much responsibilities it is very understandable to give yourself a level of pride to never want to make mistakes.  Humans make mistakes though especially those given a lot responsibilities but what is important is to learn from those mistakes.

It is not easy admitting mistakes either but it is without a doubt the most important step if you want to thoroughly learn from them.  In fact one learns more from mistakes than accomplishments.  Having this will allow you to quickly adapt to the ever rapidly changing world.

I really enjoyed listening to General Martin Dempsey speak about leadership especially when he is tasked with such great responsibility in really complicated times.  I was also impressed by his careful responses to the current world events but that's a totally different topic.

Leaders definitely need to have many other qualities to make them excel and not all organizations can be run by the same type of leader.  Still I think the qualities of trust, humility, and determination are important attributes for most if not all leaders to have across any organization.