Lead, follow, or get out of the way


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Leadership – the ability to get others to do what you are too lazy to do yourself [Baconpedia].

The term is almost mystical in the military, because effective leaders can inspire entire armies to succeed on the battlefield. Everyone, from the most junior Sailor to the highest ranking Admiral, wants to be known as a good leader. Leadership techniques are discussed, studied and categorized so that others can learn to lead. Theorists have written books about it. It is an obsession.

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There is negative leadership.

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Negative leadership works for a while, but ultimately fails.

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There is “tough love” leadership. It is a delicate combination of negative leadership and mentorship. Only a few leaders – or any Chief Warrant Officer – can pull it off successfully.

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There is direct leadership. This type of approach removes all subtlety and humanity, relying on brutal honesty to motivate the troops.

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A term I had not heard before I left the military is servant leadership. It relies on a leader having the confidence to subordinate him/herself for the good of a larger cause. If not monitored carefully, however, the servant leader can be taken for granted and thus lose the ability to lead at all.

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Of course, there are some who practice indecisive leadership. It is counter-intuitive to those who believe that any decision is better than no decision at all.

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And then there is deckplate leadership, which is the real McCoy. It is learned. It is not something with which someone is born. It assumes there is no such thing as a natural leader. Leadership is developed as an accumulation of failed attempts, accidental successes, and experience. It can be found in every Chiefs’ Mess in the Navy.

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As a cartoonist who works alone, I have also discovered one more technique that would not have worked while I was in uniform, but now shows a lot of promise.

I call it “no leadership at all.”



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