Leadership should be easy

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August 22, 2016 by Paul Dughi

Untitled-7After all, there’s a lot of information out there. Just Google it. There’s not just one way to do it: different styles seem to work. And the people you want to lead, want to be led.

“Even Ray Charles could see this,” said Major General Vincent Boles.

So what gets in the way? People, personalities, times, ego, emotion, and a whole host of things. “We lie to ourselves,” he said. We say it’s too tough or too time-consuming or too challenging.

“I think we get in our own way,” said Boles. “People like email and paperwork. They don’t talk back.”

People are a different thing. That takes a persistent, consistent, and personal approach in order to lead.

Management is directive, according to Boles. Leadership is connective.

Leadership, he says, is not something you do when you want to do it. “It doesn’t work this way: Monday, Tuesday, Friday — I’ll be a leader,” Boles said. “Tuesday or Thursday — sucks to be you.”

During his final years in the service, retired Major General Vincent Boles oversaw Logistics Operations and Readiness for the 1.1 million Soldier force to include the surges into Iraq and Afghanistan. Since retiring from active duty, he consults on logistics and leadership and has worked with Deloitte; Fidelity; USAA; Ernst and Young; AIG; The United States Secret Service; The Boy Scouts of America and The American College. On this day, he’s speaking to managers and leaders at the Alabama Broadcast Association’s 2016 meetings.

There are four expectations people have of their leaders:

1. Establish Structure

Do they know what’s important to you? If not, how can they deliver it?
If you don’t tell them, they’re trying to figure it out on their own. TELL THEM.

2. Manage Relationships

Identify and manage relationships both inside and outside. “When someone does a great job,” Boles suggests, “ask them who helped you do that?” When they tell you, go thank that person as well. You’ve helped strengthened the relationship with those people and between those people.

Investing in them shows they’re worth your time.

3. Balance Risk

It’s critical to identify, mitigate, and balance risk. Give people the benefit of your experience so they can make good decisions. They don’t want you to tell them how to do things, but they do want to know how your experience helped you do those things.

Realize there will always be risk. Two years ago when they were planning the Olympics, Boles said, Ryan Lochte and Zika probably weren’t on the list of things to prepare for.

They need to know you’ve got their back. “I’ve got you back so that you can face forward,” he said.

4. Make Decisions

“Wow. You came here to hear that leaders make decisions,” Boles said. But it is what everybody is looking for you to do. Make them and be responsible. It’s also important to figure out what decisions those reporting to you are making. Are they the correct ones?

He suggest next time you have a meeting with your reports. ask them what decisions have you made this week and why? He said the decisions that are being made that you don’t know about, you need to know about.

Mission and Values

The people that work for you are constantly listening and watching how you act. They are watching your behavior, so it’s important for them to see you living the mission and values. And never stop articulating them.

The best leaders, Boles aid, make it about developing others and not about themselves.

“It’s the difference between ‘Here I am’ and ‘There you are.’”

And don’t get him started on Millennials.

“Millennials are different?” he asked. “Shut up. Your parents said the same things about you.” The key to Millennials, and any other group of people. He says, is to take the time to connect and find out what they like, and what they need, to be effective.

That part’s not easy. You have to want to connect. It takes effort to get to know people and think about what works.

“There have always been times like these.”

Boles takes questions from the group, then end his presentation with a long list of major historical things that have shaken the world. His message? Every generation feels like things are changing more rapidly at the moment they live, but there have always been challenges and changes.

“Your job isn’t to predict the future,” he said. “Your job is to build an organization, connect and lead it, to handle the future.”


I’m not connected to Major General Boles in any way except that I was in the audience this day and found his message significant.

Boles’ book 4–3–2–1 Leadership: What America’s Sons and Daughter Taught Me on my way from Second Lieutenant toTwo Star General is available on Amazon here.

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