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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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The Bonding Power of Shared Sacrifice

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georgewashingtonfarewelltooofficers

There is a strong bond created between leaders and employees, shareholders and constituencies who share sacrifices for the good of the organization.

To make my point, I need to set the stage. I would like to quote from an article by George L. Marshall, Jr., The Rise and Fall
of the Newburgh Conspiracy: How General Washington and his Spectacles Saved the Republic

“By early 1783, active hostilities of the American Revolutionary War had been over for nearly two years and commissioners Franklin, Jay, and Adams were still negotiating in Paris to establish a final treaty with Great Britain. With a formal peace almost secured and with no fighting to do, the Continental army had grown bored and restless, but Congress had decided to retain it as long as the British remained in New York to ensure that the gains of seven years of fighting would not be lost.

Disillusionment and doubt had been building among many officers of the army, then headquartered at Newburgh, New York. Born out of this growing loss of morale and confidence was a conspiracy to undertake a coup d’etat and establish a military dictatorship for the young United States, a plot to be styled later as the Newburgh Conspiracy. At the last minute, General George Washington, commander in chief of the army, and his reading spectacles intervened and prevented this drastic step from occurring…

By late morning of March 15, a rectangular building 40 feet wide by 70 feet long with a small dais at one end, known as the Public Building or New Building , was jammed with officers. Gen. Gates, acting as chairman in Washington’s absence, opened the meeting. Suddenly, a small door off the stage swung open and in strode Gen. Washington. He asked to speak to the assembled officers, and the stunned Gates had no recourse but to comply with the request. As Washington surveyed the sea of faces before him, he no longer saw respect or deference as in times past, but suspicion, irritation, and even unconcealed anger. To such a hostile crowd, Washington was about to present the most crucial speech of his career.

Following his address Washington studied the faces of his audience. He could see that they were still confused, uncertain, not quite appreciating or comprehending what he had tried to impart in his speech. With a sigh, he removed from his pocket a letter and announced it was from a member of Congress, and that he now wished to read it to them. He produced the letter, gazed upon it, manipulated it without speaking. What was wrong, some of the men wondered. Why did he delay? Washington now reached into a pocket and brought out a pair of new reading glasses. Only those nearest to him knew he lately required them, and he had never worn them in public. Then he spoke:

“Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

This simple act and statement by their venerated commander, coupled with remembrances of battles and privations shared together with him, and their sense of shame at their present approach to the threshold of treason, was more effective than the most eloquent oratory. As he read the letter to their unlistening ears, many were in tears from the recollections and emotions which flooded their memories. As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, put it in his journal, ” There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye.”

Finishing, Washington carefully and deliberately folded the letter, took off his glasses, and exited briskly from the hall. Immediately, Knox and others faithful to Washington offered resolutions affirming their appreciation for their commander in chief, and pledging their patriotism and loyalty to the Congress, deploring and regretting those threats and actions which had been uttered and suggested. What support Gates and his group may have enjoyed at the outset of the meeting now completely disintegrated, and the Newburgh conspiracy collapsed.”

George Washington is the premier role model in the history of American leadership for many reasons. There are many legend and myths associated with him. The example of his leadership during the Newbury Conspiracy demonstrates how the bond of shared sacrifice and personal humility literally changed the course of American History. It’s unclear whether Washington intentionally tapped into this power or whether it was unintentional. Regardless he was able to tap into a strong emotional bond forged through sacred sacrifice and adversity.

One might say that was then and this is now. How does Washington apply to me? Leadership goes beyond the bottom line. Leaders recognize the value of the people, especially the right people that they are tasked to lead. Whether fighting a war, building a business or overcoming economic adversity, emotional bonds are formed. Leaders are tested and often experience one or more defining moments. Emerging on the other side of adversity, leaders and their organizations are stronger for it. When future obstacles occur, both are better prepared to handle them. This was one of Washington’s defining moment and his officers were prepared to follow him.

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Critical Thinking Organizations Look and Operate Quite Differently

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Within organizations a lack of critical thinking can be severely damaging. Critical thinking is needed for problem solving, and for generating innovative ideas and solutions. Without creative thinking new paths and avenues of direction fail to be fully explored and forged.

When organizations lack creative thinkers, they tend to see that their working environments are made up of employees who: blindly repeat the destructive or negative reactions they have learned over previous histories of time and events, automatically accept at face value all justifications given by organizational superiors or peers, don’t question existing workplace norms and boundaries, whether they are written or unspoken, beneficial or detrimental, robotically trust internal organizational goals, plans and initiatives, routinely accept and say that if “higher ups” within the organization say it, it must be so, and mechanically accept, believe and say that if the organization does it or promotes it, it must be right or appropriate.

Unfortunately many organizations do create or allow critical thinking limitations within themselves. At times this is unconsciously done by not openly challenging, debating or discussing important issues or topics with all involved employees. At others, ignoring the importance of critical thinking may be intentional in order to maintain or sustain rigid organizational control and compliance. Both are evidence of organizational shortsightedness, which creates severe limitations for the companies themselves, as well as for all who work within them.

It is far more effective to allow and encourage employees to use and apply their own work related knowledge and experience to help create changes that work to benefit everyone.

Related: Building Critical Thinking Skills to Enhance Employee Comprehension and Decision Making

Critical Thinking Organizations Look and Operate Quite Differently

Within organizational environments that encourage and promote critical thinkers from within, workplaces are full of employees who apply:

Contextual sensitivity — Employees are sensitive to stereotypes and try to unconditionally accept others at face value.

Perspective thinking — Employees attempt to get into the “heads and minds” of others, where they are able to walk in the other person’s shoes so as to see the world the way the other person views and perceives things.

Tolerance for ambiguity — Employees demonstrate the ability to accept multiple interpretations of the same situation.

Alertness to premature ultimatums — Employees are able and willing to invoke a powerful idea or concept, which inspires further debate and assessment.

Related: Seven Components of Critical Thinking

Master the Characteristics of Being an Effective Critical Thinker

There is another major reason why it is important to have critical thinkers within organizations. These individuals become the “movers and shakers” that act as the driving force for advancing things forward to obtain positive results.

As a critical thinker, it is important to seek out the truth and possess a spirited desire for the best knowledge, even if this knowledge upon obtaining it fails to support or ends up undermining their preconceptions, beliefs or self-interests.

Critical thinkers are open-minded and possess a tolerance for divergent views, while at the same time actively monitor themselves for possible existing biases, partiality or preconceptions. They are analytical, insisting on reason and evidence, and are constantly alert to problematic situations since they are inclined to anticipate consequences.

Critical thinkers are systematic and value organization, while adhering to purposeful focus and diligence in order to approach problems at all various levels of complexity. They have high self-confidence and trust their own reasoning skills and see themselves as being a good thinker.

Critical thinkers are inquisitive and constantly curious and eager to acquire knowledge and learn explanations, even when the applications of the knowledge they glean is not immediately apparent. They possess cognitive maturity and excel at maintaining a sense of wisdom in making, suspending, or revising judgment. This is because of their awareness that multiple solutions can be acceptable. In addition they possess an appreciation of the need to reach closure even in the absence of complete knowledge.

Critical Thinkers Need to Incorporate Good Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

Critical thinkers are able to help their organization move ahead for one very important reason: They are good at “inductive and deductive” reasoning. Those who fail to invest time and effort in developing themselves to become more effective at inductive and deductive reasoning will have a much more difficult time analyzing, evaluating and extracting facts and information in a more sophisticated manner. This is what is necessary to reach appropriate and accurate assumptions, conclusions and solutions.

Critical thinkers need to use deductive reasoning to: reach a level of likely certainty about issues, arguments and topics, define or identify one critical argument from a variety of diverse facts, draw a conclusion that follows known facts that are stated within the premise of an issue, argument, topic or subject, rely on certainty that is based on a connection between and argument’s premises and the conclusion drawn from them, determine a “valid argument” as compared to a “sound argument,” and ascertain if the premises (reasons, facts, evidence, etc.) prove with absolute certainty that the conclusion is true, assuming the premises are true.

Critical thinkers use inductive reasoning to: derive a probable conclusion from the observation of diverse facts, learn from experience, generate an argument by using analogies, create hypothetical arguments, conclusions or solutions, and also ascertain a sense of certainty or uncertainty as to a conclusion, which is based on the given evidence, where they cannot establish any likelihood of realistic probability.

Related: Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Critical Thinkers Must Become Masters of Language

Organizations depend upon active and open communication to achieve results as well as to maintain a sense of momentum, direction and synergy. Thinking without being able to transfer thoughts and reasoning into language and speech makes the whole process of critical thinking ineffective. This is why critical thinkers are so valuable. They take the communication process seriously and learn to use it effectively.

For critical thinkers, language needs to have three major functions, which must be applied effectively to: describe, inform and persuade. Persuasion is the manner by which individuals attempt to convince others to “their way of thinking” about a topic, idea, concept or method, where all logic, misleading or erroneous reasoning, and problem solving become involved.

Critical thinkers must go about obtaining or promoting the facts in persuasive arguments to “get closer to the truth” and to set “the record straight.” For critical thinkers, their language and words must be able to project factual but logical implications, and practical yet accurate impacts, while they swiftly discern abnormalities, manipulation or erroneous persuasions in the arguments of others.

Related: Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

Critical Thinkers Must Pay Careful Attention to “Language Forms”

As one of their abilities, critical thinkers need to be quick to pick up on emotionally charged language, as well as emotional meanings and implications, even though they themselves must tend to refrain from applying them unless they have a sound factual argument.

They must also refrain from using, but be quick and alert to pick up on, manipulative language like cons, double talk and jargon. They also need to refrain from applying, but be quick to pick up on rhetorical devices, which include: slanting viewpoints or opinions, applying sly or misleading words, inserting implied or assumed verbal disclaimers, generating complicated or unclear and thoughts, and words and phrases that generate a highly emotional appeal for acceptance.

Excerpt: Developing Critical Thinking Skills: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Leadership: When We Need It, Why Has It Failed?

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Ulysses Grant – General, President of the United States

America has experienced similar periods of economic stress, and from them leaders emerged. Great ones arise in the face of crisis and adversity. History is replete with examples of military, political and business leaders, who have emerged from the crucibles of their times.

  • Cincinnatus arouse from a humble exile to defend Rome from invasion in 460 BC, returning to his farm once he successfully defeated the enemy.
  • George Washington was deeply affected by Cincinnatus’ example, when he refused to be named emperor during his tenure as first President of the United States, returning home after serving his country as both a soldier and political leader.
  • Ulysses Grant was a store clerk and was considered a failure in 1861, when the Civil War started. After experiencing the ineffectual leadership of many generals, Lincoln appointed him General of the Army. He defeated Robert E. Lee in 1865 and ended the Civil War.
  • Dwight Eisenhower was a colonel in 1940, at the beginning of the Second World War. Within two years he commanded the Allied Forces in Europe, which resulted in the defeat of Germany in 1945.
  • Already firmly established as a financial power, J.P. Morgan stood in the gap during the Financial Panic of 1907, infusing capital into banks and financial institutions, calmly meeting with key industrialists, and ultimately reassuring an anxious economy.

Leaders like Carnegie, Rockefeller, Gates and Bezos took advantage of major economic shifts and turmoil to build and expand their financial empires.

Why then and not now? In 1981 Jack Welch (GE) gave a speech entitled “Growing Fast in a Slow-Growth Economy” in which it was suggested that shareholder value should be the primary goal and focus of corporate leaders.

This philosophy was widely embraced, which resulted in an emphasis on short-term profitability as the primary measure of performance, setting the stage for the high levels of fraud exhibited by individuals who “gamed” the system to their advantage.

Ken Lay (Enron), Bernie Ebbers (Worldcom), Al Dunlap (Sunbeam) and a host of other self-serving individuals have been fundamentally responsible for the economic mess the country is now in. Utilizing a “results justify the means” philosophy, they knew by focusing only on shareholder value, investors would not likely watch the actions they were taking to destroy the long-term valuation and sustainability of their businesses. And they were right. Each of these unethical leaders was a darling of Wall Street, before the destruction of their businesses transformed them into a villain.

In light of the economic havoc caused by this philosophy Welch modified his position in a 2009 interview with the Financial Times, “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world,” he said. “Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy... “

Unfortunately this original misplaced attitude has filtered down into the leadership development programs in many companies. Typically, leadership development programs focus on the wrong aspects of leadership. They tend to concentrate on the pinnacles of leadership, and what individuals like Jack Welch (GE), Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway) are doing to manage their companies and financial empires.

The lessons of a highly successful CEO are difficult to transfer to an emerging leader, especially when shareholder value is the strategy. Many fail to see the connection to their jobs and responsibilities.

While this information is important to understand, it does a disservice to the students of leadership. In essence, many current leadership development theories espoused by many leadership development programs are a study of outcomes and results, and not a detailed study of the underlying factors that produced them. These are often difficult, if not impossible, for the average manager to comprehend and put into practice, and because of it, are thereby, lost.

For more information on this topic, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011).

 

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Adapted from article published on the Examiner.com on October 12 2012.

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

October 24, 2012 at 11:53 am

The Bonding Power of Shared Sacrifice

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There is a strong bond created between leaders and employees, shareholders and constituencies who share sacrifices for the good of the organization.

To make my point, I need to set the stage.  I would like to quote from an article by George L. Marshall, Jr., The Rise and Fall
of the Newburgh Conspiracy: How General Washington and his Spectacles Saved the Republic

“By early 1783, active hostilities of the American Revolutionary War had been over for nearly two years and commissioners Franklin, Jay, and Adams were still negotiating in Paris to establish a final treaty with Great Britain. With a formal peace almost secured and with no fighting to do, the Continental army had grown bored and restless, but Congress had decided to retain it as long as the British remained in New York to ensure that the gains of seven years of fighting would not be lost.

Disillusionment and doubt had been building among many officers of the army, then headquartered at Newburgh, New York. Born out of this growing loss of morale and confidence was a conspiracy to undertake a coup d’etat and establish a military dictatorship for the young United States, a plot to be styled later as the Newburgh Conspiracy. At the last minute, General George Washington, commander in chief of the army, and his reading spectacles intervened and prevented this drastic step from occurring…

By late morning of March 15, a rectangular building 40 feet wide by 70 feet long with a small dais at one end, known as the Public Building or New Building , was jammed with officers. Gen. Gates, acting as chairman in Washington’s absence, opened the meeting. Suddenly, a small door off the stage swung open and in strode Gen. Washington. He asked to speak to the assembled officers, and the stunned Gates had no recourse but to comply with the request. As Washington surveyed the sea of faces before him, he no longer saw respect or deference as in times past, but suspicion, irritation, and even unconcealed anger. To such a hostile crowd, Washington was about to present the most crucial speech of his career.

Following his address Washington studied the faces of his audience. He could see that they were still confused, uncertain, not quite appreciating or comprehending what he had tried to impart in his speech. With a sigh, he removed from his pocket a letter and announced it was from a member of Congress, and that he now wished to read it to them. He produced the letter, gazed upon it, manipulated it without speaking. What was wrong, some of the men wondered. Why did he delay? Washington now reached into a pocket and brought out a pair of new reading glasses. Only those nearest to him knew he lately required them, and he had never worn them in public. Then he spoke: “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” This simple act and statement by their venerated commander, coupled with remembrances of battles and privations shared together with him, and their sense of shame at their present approach to the threshold of treason, was more effective than the most eloquent oratory. As he read the letter to their unlistening ears, many were in tears from the recollections and emotions which flooded their memories. As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, put it in his journal, ” There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye.”

Finishing, Washington carefully and deliberately folded the letter, took off his glasses, and exited briskly from the hall. Immediately, Knox and others faithful to Washington offered resolutions affirming their appreciation for their commander in chief, and pledging their patriotism and loyalty to the Congress, deploring and regretting those threats and actions which had been uttered and suggested. What support Gates and his group may have enjoyed at the outset of the meeting now completely disintegrated, and the Newburgh conspiracy collapsed.”

George Washington is the premier role model in the history of American leadership for many reasons. There are many legend and myths associated with him. The example of his leadership during the Newbury Conspiracy demonstrates how the bond of shared sacrifice and personal humility literally changed the course of American History. It’s unclear whether Washington intentionally tapped into this power or whether it was unintentional. Regardless he was able to tap into a strong emotional bond forged through sacred sacrifice and adversity.

One might say that was then and this is now. How does Washington apply to me? Leadership goes beyond the bottom line. Leaders recognize the value of the people, especially the right people that they are tasked to lead. Whether fighting a war, building a business or overcoming economic adversity, emotional bonds are formed. Leaders are tested and often experience one or more defining moments. Emerging on the other side of adversity, leaders and their organizations are stronger for it. When future obstacles occur, both are better prepared to handle them. This was one of Washington’s defining moment and his officers were prepared to follow him.

Copyright © 2009 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

Do Leaders Compromise?

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The stereotypical image of true leaders is that they will not compromise. This is true in one major category. They will not compromise their values.

All prominent leaders are human and must deal pragmatically within the circumstances that they have been situated. They make deals and offer compromises to achieve their overall goals, but they draw a line that they will not cross. They remain true to who they are as reflected by their personal values.

It should be noted that personal values are subjective and not objective. They are not always inherently good. Values are reflective of the culture that leaders are raised within. They are placed within the context of their times. Thus judgments placed upon various leaders must be placed in the proper context and cannot be made through the lens of contemporary society.

Prominent American historical leaders such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson accepted slavery as a reflection of acceptable cultural norms of the times. Does their value as effective leaders diminish because of this context? Viewed through the contemporary lens, one would say yes. Yet, neither is viewed as inherently evil individuals, nor ineffective leaders.

Another example, not within my research population, but who is an excellent example is Adolph Hitler. His values were evil and he remained true to them to the moment of his suicide. His values were shaped and distorted by his culture and experiences. They shaped him and impacted world history. He never compromised on them.

The point of this post is that leaders are generally pragmatic and will make compromises to achieve their goals, but will always remain true to themselves.

If you would like to learn more about the pragmatism of the great American leaders, through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2009 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

December 15, 2009 at 6:00 am

What is Leadership?

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From my position as I’ve begun to examine the failure of current leadership theory and practices as they apply to organizations, the terms leaders and leadership are often over used and misapplied labels. Individuals labeled as leaders are often not leaders, but people with personal agendas who pursue them over the goals of the organization or constituency they serve. Many of them bailed out last year, when their organizations crashed down around them, looking out for themselves and their personal welfare, while leaving their employees and company left to fend for themselves.

Secondly, leadership as it is taught and practiced is a mishmash of concepts, theories, and characteristics. Often what is management theory is presented as leadership theory. Many of the leadership books I’ve reviewed are a rehash of the same old thinking. Many are masked as “secrets of leadership.” This is pure nonsense as there are no secrets.

As I examine the leadership characteristics of successful individuals who have been considered leaders, this web can be untangled and understood. From viewed from the practical application, it becomes clear what comprises leadership at various levels. This includes intuitive characteristics, management and leadership skills and successful practices.

Additionally, leadership can be broken into both strategic and tactical leadership. No all leaders are destined to be Generals, CEO’s or the President of the United States. There are many effective leaders, who are sergeants directing their soldiers in combat, managers successfully directing a department or division or individuals serving on the local school board. They are effective at the level they are at.

The strategic leader may be someone like Jack Walsh at GE, Colin Powell or Richard Branson, who are responsible for the direction and management of a large organization. They’ve learned to develop the tactical leaders under their direction to achieve their organizational goals. They demand excellence, responsibility and accountability. They also focus on execution and the successful implementation of their plans. They build trust, develop confidence and inspire others through personal example.

As I continue my research my definition of what leadership is and the elements that constitute it is a moving target. What I am sure of is that what is currently defined as leadership today is flawed and doesn’t fit the bill.

If you would like to learn more about the leadership of the great American leaders, through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2009 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

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