smith - Leadership at the TopInsights for Aspiring Leaders...

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It has been my great pleasure to have many opportunities to conduct leadership seminars for senior-level leaders from many walks of life. It is a great challenge to teach top lead- ers from such organizations as IBM, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the US Army Training and Doctrine Command, and, for the past three years, the newly selected brigadier generals of the United States Marine Corps during their week-long orientation program conducted at Marine Corps Headquarters. I would like to share with the reader some of the thoughts that I share with these groups as well as a num- ber of the wonderful insights that I have gained from these general officers and business executives in my four-hour seminars on “leadership at the top.” This article is designed to help not only senior-level offi- cials but also others who might aspire to top leadership posi- tions. The very best leaders I have known are those who not only understood their jobs well but also worked hard to understand the jobs of their bosses and their bosses’ bosses. Hence, I hope this article will be helpful to a wide audience of leaders and aspiring leaders. The Mind-Set of Top Leadership It is my strong belief, based on personal experience as a leader in many settings and many nations, that people in charge of very large or very complex organizations require a mind-set of “big leadership.” Many of the basic principles of leadership continue to apply, but a top leader must be a visionary (in other words, must be a committed, long-range planner), must think like an investment banker (looking at all the options carefully), must be a risk taker (and be willing to make decisions with perhaps only 60 percent of the informa- tion he or she would like to have), must focus on much more than just the bottom line, and must be able to motivate peo- ple throughout many organizational layers. Top leaders must not only delegate quite aggressively but, even more impor- tant, must empower his or her subordinate leaders. Conversely, the top leader must avoid being a microman- ager, a perfectionist, or a workaholic. Many excellent people fail as top leaders because they are unable or unwilling to make this transition to this mind-set of top leadership. The Ethical Issue Top leaders find that maintaining and strengthening high ethical standards is tough since there is much that is not black and white in high level jobs. Let me illustrate my point with a couple of examples. As the Air Staff planner, I testi- fied before committees and subcommittees of the US Congress on many occasions. I was encouraged, on occa- sion, by my subordinates to withhold some information in order to gain congressional support for Air Force positions. What I was asked to do was neither illegal nor, strictly
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This note was uploaded on 10/17/2011 for the course BUSI 3002 taught by Professor Marclyncheski during the Fall '11 term at Walden University.

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smith - Leadership at the TopInsights for Aspiring Leaders...

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