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By Tom Gordon, Missouri Enterprise Project Manager 

Real Leadership is not something that can be learned in a couple of classes, it is a state of mind, almost genetics.  The very real example of Audie Murphy springs to mind.  Although only 5’5” tall – not a John Wayne figure by any means – he was a giant of a hero, respected by all the Western Armies.  He started his military career in the ranks and ended up the most decorated, for gallantry, officer in World War II.

Photo credit: The Texas Tribune’s article on WWII hero Audie Murphy

(Photo credit: The Texas Tribune’s article on WWII hero Audie Murphy)

Many years ago, a respected mentor told me that the role of an infantry officer was threefold:

  • Sign the paychecks
  • Lead from the front
  • Die gallantly if necessary

These are great sea-marks and can most certainly be applied to the business world by any aspiring leader:

  1. Sign the paychecks.  This means ensuring that the cashflow and assets to maintain the business, and the quality of life for the stakeholders, is the responsibility of a real leader.  If the business fails it is invariably the result of incorrect decisions or wishful, subjective thinking, made by the ‘leadership’.  Deming, of course, placed the blame of failure directly on the doorstep of top management.  Compare this to the ‘golden’ [and often diamond studded] parachutes given to the top executives of the failed financial houses in the last great recession. 
  2. Lead from the front. Ethical behavior and responsible stewardship are the hallmarks of a real leader.  ISO 26000, is the standard for Social Responsibility. Business and organizations do not operate in a vacuum: their relationship to the society and environment in which they operate is a critical factor in their ability to continue to operate effectively.  One company who epitomizes the “lead by example” philosophy is Missouri-based Enterprise Rent-a-Car—the nation’s largest car rental company.  A key part of the Enterprise culture is a strong promote-from-within philosophy that’s been driven over the years by the Enterprise Management Training program, which has been consistently successful in developing new hires into the next generation of business leaders.

In fact, most of the company’s top executives got their start in the Management Training program, including Enterprise Holdings’ President and Chief Executive Officer Pam Nicholson. Just think, the guy or gal you pick your keys up from the next time you walk into an Enterprise Rent-a-Car will most likely be on their way to bigger and better things within the company before you’re back for another rental.

Here’s a fun fact-- these military seamarks on leadership seemed to have made an impact on Jack Taylor, founder of the rental company. He named it "Enterprise" after the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, on which he served during World War II.

  1. Die gallantly if necessary. A real leader stands up and takes responsibility for failures as well as the kudos for success.  Ollie Wight, in one of his classic training videos, folds his arms so that his hands point in different directions.  His point is that this is the ‘coat of arms’ of many organizations and pretend leaders – “Not my fault – it is the fault of…” and follows a multitude of people to blame.  A new expatriate working in East Africa quickly learns the Swahili phrase – “ Si kosa langu, Mheshimiwa” – “Not my fault, Mister”.  The point of accepting responsibility for failures as well as success is the learning experience – if you have never made a mistake then you have probably not made anything!  And, of course, the people to whom you are making self-serving excuses know full well the real issues and lose all respect for the excuse-giver.

The moral of the story -- genetics will out when given the opportunity. It may be time to pack some leadership into your company’s DNA.

Missouri Enterprise’s team of workforce development and HR experts can help you cultivate an effective leadership culture within your company. From DDI Leadership courses, Training Within Industry, Assistance with Recruiting & Retaining Millennials and other hands on learning experiences -- Missouri Enterprise is the Show-Me State’s manufacturing experts with a variety of workforce solutions.

Connect with your Area Business Manager to learn more!