Leadership is the most powerful force entrusted to man.
With it an obscure soldier from Corsica took a bankrupt and war devastated France and defeated the most powerful nations on earth, dominating Europe during his time.
With it a humble lawyer from India, without firing a shot, without holding a political office or military position, broke the strength and will of the greatest empire in the world and gave birth to a nation.
With it a pious country gentleman took the hungry and ragtag Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War and caused the world to stop and marvel as he won victory after victory against impossible odds.
With this gift a humble carpenter from the most despised town in the most humiliated nation on earth took a dozen of the least likely candidates for leadership – and with them unleashed the most powerful moral force this world has ever seen. This improbable band of ordinary men and women impacted the world for their leader to the degree that the very word “history” came to mean “His-story.”
Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, the accomplishments of Jesus and his little band are some of the most extraordinary examples of leadership ever produced. Two of this Carpenter’s followers, Paul and Silas, after suffering numerous stonings, beatings, continuous persecution and without arms or bands of followers, caused the highest officials of the most powerful empire on earth to cringe with fear when they limped into a city exclaiming: “Those who have turned the whole world upside down have now come here to us!”
When finally captured, Paul penned a few letters from his prison cell – hardly a significant literary accomplishment, but no other words have ever been articulated that have impacted the world as those brief letters, now immortalized as canon scripture.
Leadership is an awesome force to be entrusted to men, but because it is, we would do well to understand it. We will either use leadership or be used by it. This issue is fundamental to an understanding of the world and how one fits into it. It affects everyone’s life every day regardless of whether or not they like it or understand it. To understand it can release the ability to live beyond the ordinary and mundane in order to make a difference on this earth.
Leadership combines several characteristics to make one both perceptive and effective in accomplishing his goals. “A leader is one who can see the consequences of his actions further than his peers,” stated James McKeever, the celebrated economic forecaster. The effective leader will not only have the vision to perceive the future, he will have the wisdom and determination to affect it.
Differences Between Leadership and Management
To properly understand leadership we must first distinguish it from management. Confusing management with leadership has caused many an enterprise to seize defeat from the jaws of victory. This confusion is the cause of much of the failure and recent decline in American economic strength. The very qualities that make one a good leader will often make him a poor manager. The very qualities that make one a good manager can hinder him in becoming an effective leader. That is why having good leadership qualities does not guarantee that one will be a successful leader.
To be a successful leader one must know how to choose good managers who can be effective with delegated responsibilities. Not recognizing this need for dependence upon those with different talents has caused some of the most brilliant leaders to briefly excite their world only to fizzle like a burned-out firecracker, having no foundation for a lasting success.
Managers must be detail-orientated to be successful; leaders must be concept orientated, able to see the big picture. Good leaders usually dislike details; good managers may have a hard time seeing beyond them. Of course there are exceptions to this. There are effective managers with leadership ability, and leaders with good management ability. But the more undistracted devotion we can give to our strongest talents the more effective we will be.
Being too involved with the details makes it hard to see the big picture. It is just as hard to keep a good handle on the details and try to see the big picture at the same time. The most effective leadership comes from a partnership of those who lead and those who manage, a partnership that allows each to concentrate on his own role.
The advancement system in a typical hierarchy, which is the structure of almost every human enterprise, makes it hard for one with good leadership qualities to rise to a position of leadership. The lower echelons of a hierarchy usually reward management skills more than leadership. A leader will rarely be good enough at the managerial skills required for advancement within the system – unless he devotes himself to the quality that will be most needed when he does come to his place of leadership – discipline.
The detail-oriented management skills usually so foreign to his nature must be understood by the leader if he is to effectively work with those whose work will be essential to his success as a leader. The typical hierarchy will be most difficult for even a great leader to advance in, but those who do advance will be those best prepared for their task.
Even if it is tedious and boring, the potential leader should see hierarchy as his cocoon. It is the great struggle required by the butterfly to get out of its cocoon that strengthens it so it can use those great wings. It will likewise be the potential leader’s struggle to get to the top of the hierarchy which prepares him for the great responsibility of leadership.
Almost every great enterprise was founded by a leader, not a manager. But almost every enterprise that lives past its founder is then taken over by a manager. There are two basic reasons for this:
1) There are so few leaders who can make it through the gauntlet of the hierarchy.
2) Most leaders are poor managers and fail to understand the need for a partnership with managers.
Therefore the enterprise will be in desperate need of a manager at the top for a while. When the manager first takes over, profitability and efficiency will usually increase for a period of time, but progress under the manager type will be invariably slow, jeopardizing future success. Advancement requires seeing beyond the present limits of our time, a realm where the true leader abides, but where the manager has difficulty.
A manager looks at what is; a leader is always looking at what can be. It takes both qualities to get the full picture; either one without the other is ultimately doomed to mediocrity or failure. If the managers understood leadership, and the leaders understood management, there would almost certainly be far less decline in enterprise, and both leadership and management would be more effective.
The leader’s job is to give the managers direction, vision and inspiration. Regardless of how good the leader is, he will be ineffective without good managers. His degree of success or failure will be determined by the quality of managers he can recruit. Discerning the quality and ability of his people and using them properly is just as important in accomplishing goals as having the vision and other resources required for the enterprise.
General Robert E. Lee was one of the great military leaders of all time. General “Stonewall” Jackson was one of the great military managers of all time. As a team they may have been as close to being invincible as any two generals ever came. It was a simple coalition; Lee would determine what needed to be done, Jackson would determine how to do it.
Either of these celebrated generals without the other would probably have never risen to the heights of accomplishment that they were able to attain as a team. Lee could not have been as great a leader without Jackson to take the burden of management. With Jackson, Lee could concentrate on that at which he was best – seeing the overall picture. Without Lee, Jackson’s abilities to implement strategies may have gone unnoticed or under used.
These two made each other great and gave the other the opportunity to realize his full potential. Such teams are rare, but they would probably be more common if we just had the insight to see and give opportunity to the qualities and potential of our co-workers.
Lee was also a very good military manager, and Jackson was certainly an outstanding leader. These abilities are not always mutually exclusive, but most leaders who have achieved success did so with the support of talented managers who enabled them to concentrate on the big picture.
Although exceptions to this are rare, two of the most notable ones in history remarkably lived during the same period, and actually confronted each other in one of the most significant military battles of all time: Napolean and Wellington who faced each other at The Battle of Waterloo.
The Power of Combining Leadership with Management
Napolean was a colossus, the type of leader who has only emerged every thousand years or so in human history. He was not only a great military genius, he was also a great political genius. It was this combination that enabled him to dominate the age in which he lived and set the course of history for two centuries. Some of his military innovations would provide a foundation for modern military strategy; some of his political innovations have done the same in the areas of government and law.
Napolean’s genius for military strategy was actually born of his understanding of military management. Likewise, his genius for political leadership was born of his genius for political management. Napolean is a study of how this rare combination of great leadership and great management in one person can carry on to the very limits of human potential. The few leaders who have been so gifted have dominated almost every historic period.
Napolean’s innovative military strategies were based on the maneuverability of his forces. This maneuverability was based upon his management strategies, which streamlined the method of supplying the troops. This opened strategic possibilities for Napolean that the opposing forces did not even have the option of considering.
Except for Wellington, it could be argued that Napolean had no peer in history on the field of battle. But Wellington was not only his peer, he was both a better military leader and manager than Napolean. Possibly the only man in history who could stop Napolean on the battlefield was the one who did stop him.
The odds against two men as remarkable as Napolean and Wellington living during the same period, much less actually confronting one another in battle, would defy computation. The battle itself met or surpassed any expectations of the genius in management and power of leadership that these two would focus upon each other.
Wellington was a British officer who began his military career in India. He gained some notoriety by winning battles and subduing forts with intelligence and innovation. Through a remarkable set of circumstances he was transferred and given command of The Peninsula Campaign in Portugal and Spain.
While the depressed allies expected little out of this campaign, Wellington surprised the world by liberating Portugal and Spain while besting some of Napolean’s top generals and troops. Wellington’s victories, combined with Napolean’s debacle in Russia, sent Napolean into exile. With the armies disbanded Wellington returned to Britain.
Early the next year Napolean returned to France, quickly gathered his loyal troops and marched on Brussels. Napolean had nothing but contempt for his adversary; he seemed almost bored with the looming battle and was looking forward to dining in Brussels that evening. Besides scorn for Wellington’s ability, Napolean knew he had significant advantages in troops and guns. He even slept late, almost casually arrayed his troops and did not begin the battle until after eleven o’clock.
“Pride comes before the fall,” is certainly a proverb that explains the downfall of many of history’s great leaders. Napolean at Waterloo gives one of history’s most resounding punctuations to that truth. Previous successes can be the seed of your ultimate destruction if they produce arrogance.
Wellington’s calm in the storm of battle had already become legendary. Wellington acknowledged that his peace in the midst of such conflict was supernatural. At Waterloo supernatural leadership and supernatural management would both be required of him. Yet he felt no elation in the victory. In keeping with his notorious understatements concerning his own accomplishments, he simply claimed to have done what anyone else would have done in his place.
This tendency was never given or perceived as a false modesty; Wellington was a remarkably humble man. If he ever succumbed to overstatement it was in relation to his shortcomings, not his accomplishments. The truly great do not have to blow their own trumpets – others will do it for them.
In contrast, Napolean was undone by his arrogance. Wellington was confident but never arrogant. There is a difference which every truly great leader has understood. Effective confidence is founded in a humility that enables one to have a right perspectives of his circumstances. Wellington’s belief in his appointed destiny gave him the ability to keep peace of mind under the greatest of pressures.
It is possible that no other man in history ever faced such pressure within a single day, with so much at stake, and performed so brilliantly. Even the smallest mistake or slightest hesitance in reacting to any single one of the crises could have meant doom, for his army and possibility the entire continent of Europe.
Crisis: The Test of Leadership
The real test of leadership always comes in crisis, and there will be crisis for everyone in leadership. Almost every businessman will sooner or later have to make decisions that can mean life or death to his business. Often, the more successful the businessman the more frequent such decisions will have to be made. The greater potential for success a decision has the greater potential for failure it will likewise carry – and there will be failures. If were going to swing for the fences we are going to strike out more.
Every coach will have to call plays that mean victory or defeat. The more successful the coach the more such calls he will have to make, and the higher the stakes. It may not be too difficult to make the proper decision or call the right play when there is little on the line; the difference between the great ones and the rest is the ability to do it in the crisis when there is more at risk.
I once built a successful business in a short period of time. To build it as rapidly as I did I had to make dozens of decisions that could have meant life or death to the enterprise. I seemed to have the ability to make the right decisions, and they paid great dividends. I then made just one bad decision and that single mistake ultimately led to the bankruptcy of the entire business. It was a painful, humiliating failure, but I consider it one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had. I learned more from that one defeat than from all of my victories combined.
The one who stands at the plate with the potential for being the hero can also be the goat. Few remember the home runs I hit in my business; almost everyone remembers the strikeout, but I am back in the game now and I’m much better at it. Just as Wellington turned the biggest reversal of the day into his chance for victory; we must maintain the same resolve. If you will keep your patience and peace of mind in the midst of crisis you will usually see an opportunity to use the situation to your advantage.
The 1980s saw the amazing rise of the megaministries. It was no surprise that such ministers which grew so fast would stay in a perpetual state of crisis, tottering between oblivion and extraordinary advancement. After overcoming a multitude of life and death struggles, some of these ministries began to unravel because of just one mistake by their leaders. These all highlighted the fact that one moment of weakness and poor judgment is able to undo many years of labor built upon and good judgment and effective leadership in crisis.
With success comes power, and power inevitably brings a subtle corruption of our judgment, a seeming invincibility that is often the fatal delusion. One of the most important ingredients in Wellington’s character was his ability to have confidence while not thinking more highly of himself than he should.
In his letters penned from prison, the apostle Paul gave a most appropriate warning to those in leadership, “When you think you stand, take heed lest you fall.”