Leaders Have the Courage to See Beyond the Boundaries

March 3, 2019 9:53 am Published by Comments Off on Leaders Have the Courage to See Beyond the Boundaries

Comments like leadership being a “soft skill” are one of those really, really, really foolish things people say that will infuriate a leader. Leadership is the toughest aspect of management. Management is a task, an order or an objective. But when you have to weigh in the responsibility to plan, organize, strategize and accept the realities – the price to be paid for “taking the hill” in terms of the casualty count, potential criticism, accountability – that is the agonizing toughness of leadership.

The following excerpt is from a speech that was delivered to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in October 2009, “Solitude and Leadership,”  by William Deresiewicz. Originally published in The American Scholar:

We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of exper­tise. What we don’t have are leaders.

What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Army—a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision…

Look at the most successful, most acclaimed, and perhaps the finest soldier of his generation, General David Petraeus. He’s one of those rare people who rises through a bureaucracy for the right reasons. He is a thinker. He is an intellectual. In fact, Prospect magazine named him Public Intellectual of the Year in 2008—that’s in the world. He has a Ph.D. from Princeton, but what makes him a thinker is not that he has a Ph.D. or that he went to Princeton or even that he taught at West Point. I can assure you from personal experience that there are a lot of highly educated people who don’t know how to think at all. No, what makes him a thinker—and a leader—is precisely that he is able to think things through for himself. And because he can, he has the confidence, the courage, to argue for his ideas even when they aren’t popular…    

Deresiewicz understands that it takes courage to be a truly great leader and to think outside the norm and have the ability to take our organizations to the next level. Think of individuals you would consider to be truly great leaders. Not all of them are famous generals. Most likely many of them are people who have led you at some point in your life. They have demonstrated a quality that you admire and hope to exhibit in yourself. They have had to make tough decisions that are not always popular decisions, but they handle them with composure and grace. They make decisions that involve risk – not risky – but carefully thought through calculated risks that can lead us into the unknown and potentially to greater success. Leadership is not a soft skill, but rather a hard-earned quality that takes focus and thought, commitment and conviction, and courage.

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