When serving in the United States Air Force, I read many of the books found on the Air Force Chief of Staff’s Annual Reading List. It’s a great source for the latest in leadership thinking. When I was a junior officer, one of my favorite books on the list was Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram, published in 2004.
The book is a great read, particularly if anyone is familiar with the internal conflicts between the Navy and Air Force in terms of fighter acquisition, war-fighting theory, and ultimately, policy. In fact, I highly recommend it for young professionals and junior military officers today. There are many important lessons and principles that can be applied to credit union leadership throughout the pages and chapters.
One of the best leadership principles I recall from the book centers around a simple choice every leader must make: whether you want to be somebody or do something. I continually ask myself this question and tend to come up with the same answer each time.
Wanting to be someone is a noble cause when proper values and practices are at the heart of the intent. Being someone requires years of honing your interpersonal skills, submitting to several mentors, perseverance, and patience so that one day, you can reach the title or position in life you’ve been striving for. I know many people in the military who’ve obtained their “star” this way. These are great people who deserve to be admired for their diligence and devotion to the organizations they now lead.
However, sometimes when seeking to be someone, getting things done can fall to the wayside! Risk-taking wasn’t necessarily a hallmark I saw reflected in this type of leader. The smart leaders figure out that it is people in the organization who drive success. However, someone must still lead and provide vision—thus, strong leaders are necessary for an organization to thrive.
Therefore, there is a reward found in being that “someone” who makes the decisions, shapes a vision, and is recognized as the leader.
On the other hand, wanting to do something of significance is another noble cause, again with the proper values and practices in place. It requires a lot of time testing and implementing your ideas, incurring a certain amount of risk, and learning how to seek the help of others to achieve success. The people focused on doing something bigger than themselves are the backbone of their organization. In my opinion, they have a bigger impact on whether an organization succeeds or fails. These are unsung heroes who should be admired for their hard work, selfless service, and for always looking to the next set of tasks.
Unfortunately, too often, these folks never get the credit they deserve; rarely becoming the face of the organization (i.e., become someone). This means they have little input in shaping the strategy of the organization, leading the vision, or ordering a set of objectives.
However, the reward of doing something is found in the end product: watching their contributions deliver results and benefits to both the organization and the members it serves. Then it is on to the next project because having idle hands is no way to serve. If only some leaders would step out of the way, there’s sometimes more that could be done.
So, which is the better of the two choices? I will leave you with the old “war college answer” – it depends!
I believe every person has the potential to lead. Yet, every leader must make the choice sometime along their individual journey of how they wish to lead. Sure, there can be someone who falls in the middle of these choices; however, over time I believe you will find one type tends to dominate the other.
So, how did I answer the question as a junior officer and throughout my 25-year career?
How will I answer tomorrow?
Hmm…I guess you will have to read the book to get some clues!