When in Charge, Take Charge!

Before air assaulting his Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry into Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley on 14 November 1965, Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, the battalion commander, declared “when we step on the battlefield, I will be the first boots on and that last boots off”. Three days later, the battalion was extracted after defeating an enemy force eight times its size. Through the battle, Hal Moore and his leaders displayed amazing leadership and were definitely in charge. Read the book, We were Soldiers Once and Young.

One of our Level Five “Big 6™” leadership principles is “When in Charge, Take Charge”. In the Army, leaders with this characteristic are valued, and we were blessed with mentors who set a great example. In our experience, nothing can stop an organization with decisive leadership and an ethos of trust and empowerment.

This principle applies equally in business and should be expected in all leaders, from the CEO to the newest team leader on the night shift.

How do you recognize a real leader? Here are some key characteristics of “Big 6” leaders. These are men and women who seize opportunities and have a bias for action. Even when you put them in positions out of their “comfort zone”, they adapt – and you know the scope of their potential.

  1. Leaders put the organization first. They serve the teammates they lead and are decisive, fair, and consistent. They lead from the front and would never ask a teammate to do anything that they would not do themselves.
  2. Leaders always “walk the talk” with values, on and off the job. They have the moral courage to do the right thing and never walk by a problem without stopping to make a correction. They ruthlessly protect their organization’s culture.
  3. Leaders acknowledge that they don’t know everything and surround themselves with really smart people. They are secure in their own skin and are not afraid to listen to opposing views. To this end, they endeavor to be great listeners.
  4. Leaders train and mentor their teammates and value team work. They ensure that standards are well understood and that goals are cascaded throughout their team. They do all they can to ensure that their teammates are successful, but if required, are not afraid to clean house. They do not suffer fools.
  5. Leaders reward outstanding results and lift up their teammates who live the organization’s values and culture. They bring the organization’s values and culture to life through stories.
  6. Leaders never trash their predecessor, but are quick to transmit their own agenda and never tire of communicating task and purpose to their team. A leader appreciates that he or she cannot over-communicate.
  7. Leaders target a few early wins to build momentum. They understand that nothing succeeds like success. Teammates will follow a leader they respect.
  8. Finally, leaders expect mistakes to be made and embrace these opportunities for continuous improvement. They also expect mistakes not to be repeated.

How do you and your leaders stack up? Do they all take charge? Would Lieutenant General (retired) Hal Moore agree with you?

Organizations must carefully select their leaders and invest in them through a continuous leader development program. New leaders must be certified along the way, and others must be prepared for positions of increased responsibility. Remember that leadership skills are developed over a lifetime of learning. An analogy is a climb up a steep mountain for which there is no summit. Every one of us can improve upon our leader skills. We’re here to show you how.