Throughout my military career, I’ve run into many different kinds of leaders. It’s hard to really specify what exactly makes a good leader, but I have a very quick saying that helps me gauge them:
“Some leaders you want to sit at the dinner table with, but you wouldn’t want to go to war with them.
Some leaders you want to go to war with, but you wouldn’t want to sit down and eat with them.
The ideal situation is when you both would want to sit down and eat with them and you would want to go to war with them.
Life just sucks when you neither want to sit down and eat with your leaders nor want to go to war with them.”
It’s pretty simple, really, but it captures the important pieces. See, some people are just really nice, you get along with them, they’re fun to be around–but they don’t possess either the character to lead in hard times or the ability to get the job done. You might like to see them when you hit home base, but you don’t want them making decisions that impact the lives of you and your troops.
The second category is a bit tougher. Maybe they rub you the wrong way. Maybe they don’t have a sense of humor. Maybe they’re just assholes. But, and the important but when it comes to life or death situations, you know that when it’s time to mount up and fight the fight, they’ll get you and your troops through it. You may not like ’em, but they get you home in one piece. And that makes all the difference.
The third category of leader is what you want. They’ll get you home and make life easier while you’re away. What many people don’t get is that a large majority of how bad your life will be while you’re at war depends on the personality and competency of the leaders above you. Being away from home and having people actively trying to kill you is always bad, but it’s worse when your superiors are a bunch of robotic numbnuts (the last category).
Of course, there’s a lot of translation of these qualities outside of the military existence; combat and the pressures of military existence only magnify the commonalities of the human experience. You see this eat play when there’s that somewhat pitiable manager who everybody likes but who everybody knows probably shouldn’t be in the position he’s in. Then there’s that manager who people really don’t like to hang out with and who’s generally avoided but manages to have a successful department no matter what else is going on; you may not want to chill with him after work, but you’re glad you’re in his successful department. Thirdly, there’s what I like to call the “Kool-Aid manager;” just add people, and somehow she makes a successful team without trying to do it. Every organization–military, civilian, religious, or other–is looking for those type of people. And almost everyone has experienced the last category; they make life harder for you and they’re incompetent.
I’m fortunate that a good few of my current superiors in the Guard are of the ideal type; my morale, and the morale of my troops, has been much higher recently. It’s hard to relate to my academic superiors as “superiors” in that same way since it’s a much looser type of structure, but even still, they’re competent, understanding, and generally try to improve my position, so I’m fortunate to have them, as well.
What type of boss do you have?
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