Building Your Leadership Legacy, It’s All About Character is a book for improving your personal leadership by examining what kind of legacy you are creating. It is based on the premise that the people whom you are currently attempting to lead will trust you based more on who you are as a person than on what you did or can do.
The concept of character embodies a set of traits or values such as integrity, accountability, openness, respect, teamwork, grit, moral courage, and others. The author clarifies that leadership character is made up of traits that build trust in followers, as opposed to those that are drawn from a moral tradition. (Respecting others makes the list; loving your neighbor does not.)
A comprehensive review of the leadership literature and of the leadership curricula from business schools, consultancies, training companies, and company trainers reveals a huge body of work in this field. The problem is there is little proof that current texts and classes improve anyone’s leadership. Moreover, virtually all of the information conveyed in these channels focuses on leadership competencies, namely, skills, knowledge or things to do. The prescribed actions may differ based on where the leader is in the hierarchy and on various challenges or circumstances the leader faces, but they all are about gaining competencies. These can be broad, like how to lead large-scale strategic change, or narrow, like how to conduct a coaching session. But they are actions for a leader to do, not character traits for a leader to strive to develop.
This author’s focus is on the character dimension of leadership. He develops a succinct and easy-to-follow process for you to examine and develop a desired set of traits making up the leadership character you aspire to be. He then walks you through how to measure and improve it. Unlike other books on the topic of character, this one doesn’t prescribe one set of traits; it allows you to draft and therefore to “own” your own.
This character development process can be applied to assist others who work for you and to anyone desirous of leadership improvement. This book can also assist the senior executives who wish to institute a leadership development system company-wide. The process can easily also be incorporated into any leadership course at any level in any classroom.
My wife recently passed away.
Our two wonderful boys strongly encouraged me to write the book I had been talking about for years. They said I had the time now and no excuse. They said I had spent a very fulfilling career with unparalleled experience in the field of leadership: as a practitioner, teacher, and consultant, across both the military and civilian sectors, in the US and abroad.
“Get on with it.”
So I took them up on it.
While crafting my wife’s eulogy, in a labor of love, I was reminded of the contrast David Brooks makes between a eulogy and a resume.1 We have all written glowing resumes, addressing the marvelous accomplishments we think might enhance our personal marketability. But people are much more interested in who we are than what we did. The eulogy is more important than the resume. That insight sparked my approach to this book about leadership.
Ever wonder what people will say about you as a leader? When you leave a job? When you get promoted? When you move on to another company? When you move on in life? Ever wonder what your leadership legacy will be? I decided to approach this topic of leadership from the point of view of what people think of you as opposed to what people think you accomplished.
For whom am I writing this book?
I am casting a very wide net. I am of the belief that leadership is pervasive, literally everywhere, at all levels, and in every facet of society:
- In an infantry platoon in Afghanistan and in the US Central Command Headquarters in Tampa;
- In the night shift of a McDonald’s restaurant in Los Angeles and in the McDonald’s CEO suite in Chicago;
- In a high school history classroom in Miami and in the Harvard Business School in Cambridge;
- In a not-for-profit staff meeting in Denver and in the halls of Congress in our Nation’s Capital;
- In a girls’ soccer practice in Buffalo and in a Chicago Cub’s game at Wrigley Field;
- In a dental clinic in Topeka and in the Mayo Clinic operating room in Jacksonville;
- Around the supper table of a family in Seattle and at a State Dinner in the White House.
Leadership from my point of view is pervasive. It occurs at all levels and in all walks of life. It is not just relegated to the top of companies. Leadership is manifested throughout all organizations. Sometimes the leadership is poor, often mediocre, and on occasion wonderful. But it exists whether or not the people doing the leading are aware of it.
I only know three of these folks: Cadet Tyler Gordon, First Captain, United States Corps of Cadets, on parade; Cheerleader, Ms. Hu Dongmei, Director- General, Beijing Heaven Technology Corporation Ltd., on a visit to West Point; and Staff Sergeant Bob Spenser, A Company, 1st Battalion 503d Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade, in Vietnam.
This book is written for anyone at any level wishing to be a better leader. It might not make you a great leader, but it surely will make you a better leader. It will significantly improve what people you are leading will say about you when you depart — the job or the earth. It will help you to significantly build your leadership legacy.
The book is also written for those among us who wish to be known for the leaders we develop. I know of many leaders who speak with great pride about the folks who followed in their footsteps and became solid leaders. Speaking of the people he recruited, trained, and propelled on their own careers, one retired friend of mine said that was his greatest legacy. Too often it has been my experience that the development of leaders in organizations of all types is a very low priority. That is a grave disservice to subordinates and to the organization as a whole.
The book is also written for leaders in organizations who wish to develop a cadre of leaders throughout and at all levels of the organization. Therefore it is for the Corporation CEO, organization President, or Human Resources Officer who wishes his or her legacy to be the creation of a superb leadership development system for the entire institution. Not a small task.
Finally, the book is written for professors, instructors, teachers at any institution who wish to enhance markedly the effectiveness of their leadership classes.
Let me take you on a quick walk‑through of the chapters:
- I offer a very basic and workable definition of leadership. It includes anyone leading one or more people anywhere. So it has universal application. But it has a singular focus, influencing people to do something. The definition of leadership then applies equally to the armed forces and to companies in the private and public sectors. It also applies to every leader at every level. Hence it applies to General Eisenhower with his “Crusade in Europe,” to a sales manager of a Hi Tech company, to a foreman in a paper recycling plant, and to the CEO of any Fortune 500 company.
- In this chapter, I provide a brief but very broad review of what people have written on this subject and how it is being taught. The shelf is huge: it covers a wide array of academic disciplines; scores of memoirs written by folks who are of the opinion that they are leaders exemplar, and a host of self-help books designed to create what Warren Bennis called the “McLeader.” This chapter also paints the landscape where this subject is being taught and by whom. I am presenting this survey in order to argue that leadership training is much more widespread than most are aware and that it is mediocre at best. All of this is prelude to my introducing a different (and I believe more productive) approach to leadership.
- Then I introduce two major themes:
A. Leadership is both competency and character.
B. There are a paltry few programs anywhere that even offer a clue on how to assess and improve the latter.
- This chapter focuses on the character part of leadership. It is intended to provide you an opportunity and a method to define what kind of leader of character you aspire to be and to embark on a journey to achieve that goal. In a real sense this goal can be the legacy you wish to leave as a leader. Notice my approach is to lay out a method for you to define the kind of character you wish to manifest and to be. This is quite different from others who prescribe character traits necessary for successful leadership. This chapter therefore requires a good bit of reflection on your part. And well worth it.
- To make your journey successful, I believe you need a way to measure, gain feedback on, and improve your own leadership character. This chapter is devoted to that end. Some argue that character is important but difficult to define and even harder to measure. However, the approach presented here can be extremely effective.
- The best leaders I have ever known have all prided themselves in recruiting, developing and promoting leaders. This chapter addresses the issue of how to help leaders under your charge become even better leaders. Would you not be intensely proud to have people describe your legacy as one who inspired and developed leadership in subordinates?
- In this chapter I offer a case study on how West Point does such a magnificent job developing leaders. West Point is considered by many to be the world’s premier leadership development institution. And I believe there are lessons to be learned from this case study that are very applicable to you if you are interested in improving your own personal leadership or the leadership throughout your organization.
- Drawing from the description of West Point, this chapter will help you transfer lessons of leader development to your own company and unique situation. It is obvious that you would not wish to, and in fact could not, create a surrogate academy. But there are principles and techniques that can serve you well.
- Having taught leadership in a host of different venues, I am very aware of the needs and expectations of students and clients who wish to improve their own leadership. This chapter is written for the leadership professor, instructor or teacher at any level and at any institution. I will offer you some ideas on how to take your game up a significant notch.
- My final chapter is a heartfelt hope that you will look at leadership from a different light, that you will approach leadership development from a different vantage point, and that you will significantly enhance your own personal leadership legacy.
Safe and productive journey.
Manasota Key, Englewood, Florida
What is Leadership?
“I can’t define leadership, but I know it when I see it.”1
Let me start by telling you a story about a leader.
The setting for this story is in the military. But this example in no way forecasts that this book is only about leadership in the military. On the contrary this book is about leadership in every aspect of our society. The story is also about a leader fairly low in the organization, which serves to demonstrate that this book is targeted at leadership at all levels of any organization – and that in my view leadership is ubiquitous.
It was a late afternoon in April 1967 in the Iron Triangle of the Republic of Vietnam. As a Rifle Company Commander in the 173d Airborne Brigade, I called three sergeants into my command post to give them instructions for that night. We were to send out three separate, smallish (10-12 men) ambush patrols about two miles in front of our perimeter. The three sergeants took careful notes and studied their maps, as I gave them their mission and guidance using the Army’s standard, five-paragraph operations order.
As the three left, one stopped and pulled out of the webbing of his helmet liner a miniature bible. Staff Sergeant Alain Tremblay opened it, read a brief passage, closed it, and then departed to talk to his troops.
That night all three ambushes were activated. My memory is that they all did well with few friendly casualties. From my vantage point, the best led was Tremblay’s. I say that was because he was able to quiet his mind, calm his fears, focus on his men and the task at hand, and stay amazingly cool under fire. Soldiers want that in their leaders, I can assure you.
Tremblay was the best leader that day, not because he had previously been a Trappist Monk, one who serves the Lord in contemplative silence, and not because he read from a Christian bible, but because he was able to control his thoughts, hence his behavior. This isn’t a story about religious morality. It is about what causes soldiers to trust their leader. And it isn’t a story about exceptionally bold or brave leadership. Tremblay did not receive the Medal of Honor. He just did very well what good Non-Commissioned Officers did across Vietnam over many, many years.
Not long after this incident, Tremblay transferred to the 173d Airborne Brigade’s elite, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Platoon.
He was killed in action on July 7, 1968. Requiescat in Pace (R.I.P.), good soldier.
I use this story to help define leadership and my approach to it.
Years ago one of my colleagues assembled a list of some one hundred printed definitions of leadership. Recently Harvard’s Barbara Kellerman referred to “1500 at last count.”2
I like the simplicity of Eisenhower’s four-part definition.3 The following is not a quote, but it’s close:
A leader influences a person or persons to do something.
Start with the subject, “A leader.”
In this case it was Staff Sergeant Tremblay. A leader is not an institution, not a force of nature, not a bureaucracy. A leader is a person, a man or a woman. The word leader is also not confined to high levels of an organization or a nation or to notoriety or history. Leaders exist at all levels and in all walks of life. My own belief is that leadership at the bottom of an organization (the first level of supervision) is more challenging than any other. This is a leadership book that applies to supervisors and CEO’s, to coaches and parents, to teachers and politicians. I am not going to center my presentation on historic leaders or heads of governments and large corporations. But the ideas apply to them as well.
Nor will I debate the grand old argument that a leader is born not made, or vice versa. Let us agree that we are all born with a genetic make-up that sets the table for what we become: smart, strong, fast, etc. And that we are all molded by a host of variables after the womb and throughout life: family, schools, community, etc. Suffice it to say leaders develop over their lifetimes. We can’t do much about pre-birth; let’s focus on how leaders are made after that.
While on this topic, note “leader” is singular. While there are times when leadership is shared, it is more typically one person’s role. The Army has a deep tradition of insuring one leader is always in charge. When in doubt, seniority is determined by date of rank; when same date, alphabetically by last name; when same last name, alphabetically by first name.
Such was the case at 7 AM, December 7, 1941, on the north coast of Oahu, Hawaii, for a two-man radar team which spotted a swarm of 50 planes about 137 miles out. Although four years younger than Private George E. Elliot Jr., 23, Private Joseph L. Lockard, 19, the senior of the two, hence the leader, radioed the finding to his headquarters at Ft Shafter, but to little avail. After Pearl Harbor, the younger but senior Private Lockard received the Distinguished Service Medal and was dubbed the “Hero of Pearl Harbor.”4
There are exceptions to the singularity aspect of leadership: In 1804 Captain Meriwether Lewis gave his close friend and partner Second Lieutenant William Clark an unauthorized brevet promotion to Captain so the men and the one woman on their famous expedition would see them as equal partners in leadership and in history.
But President Harry Truman’s famous desk sign depicts this notion that only one person is in charge:
“The buck stops here.”
How frequently we see a leader trying to pass the proverbial buck when something runs amok?
The verb “influence” means to move someone via persuasion or example. Much has been written on the how, when, and why people are influenced. The best overview of this topic I have read is from an article, “The Bases of Social Power” in which French and Raven describe five broad ways to influence.5
- Reward Power is any kind of reward the leader is able to offer or provide. It can range from a simple thanks to an excellent rating in a personnel file, a salary increase, attendance at a school, or promotion. One unique example comes from an outstanding Infantry Lieutenant in Vietnam named Larry Payne, who wrote to the parents of each of his soldiers at Christmas saying, “Your son is a fine soldier and I will do everything in my power to get him home safe and sound.”
- Coercive Power is the ability to mete out punishment or threaten same. This also can range from a short conversation by the leader to the led either before or after an event, to a bad report in a personnel file to a severe monetary penalty, denial of promotion or termination of employment. Extreme for serious crimes could involve the judicial system. One of the most unique I witnessed was a CEO dealing with an infraction of a senior executive who had compromised his position: “Your pay effective today is cut [$XX,XX], and before you leave tonight I want on my desk a letter of resignation signed but undated which I will execute if this ever happens again.”
- Legitimate Power is power provided to a leader by the norms and institutional rules of any organization. A manager has granted authority over the people on any given team. While often there is dotted line authority, meaning more than one boss, the one supervisor is normally the person who sends in the yearly appraisal and recommends any salary increase. I once was in the office of a President of a Corporation when he got a call from one of his Division Presidents. While I could only hear one side of the conversation, it was easy to tell there was a serious argument going on. With just a touch of sarcasm, the President underscored his legitimate power with a question, “Let me get this straight, do I work for you, or do you work for me?”
- Referent Power is derived from the leader being the type of person someone is naturally attracted to or wants to be like. There is something about the leader that attracts a person and makes that person want to be like the leader. A commonly used term, charisma, falls into this category. Sometimes, the leader “looks the part”; sometimes it is a talent like being smart, creative, or articulate. Often it is because of values and actions that people look up to. One of my heroes at West Point was “the big man on campus,” Pete Dawkins, First Captain of the Corps of Cadets, President of his class, Captain of the football team, 1959 Heisman Trophy winner, highest-scoring collegiate defensive hockey player in America, graduated seventh in his class, Rhodes Scholar, and a nice, decent guy. What’s not to like?
- Expert Power is when the leader is perceived to have some knowledge related to the task at hand. This could come from education, past experience, or familiarity with a situation. Fundamentally, does the leader know what he or she is doing? It could pertain to a leader not knowing much about a given problem, but being an expert at a process to find out the best course of action. I know of one senior executive who was recruited from an entirely different industry simply because she had a fantastic reputation in marketing. She knew nothing about the products or system of the new company but had great expertise in one area and drew on that for her ability to influence.
What is influenced in this definition has to be “a person or persons.”
Sergeant Tremblay led an infantry squad of about ten American soldiers. These happened to be very young men who were drafted or volunteered to fight a war little understood or supported by their countrymen. They had to be led on this dangerous night patrol, not managed. You can manage an inventory or a bottom line. But if you are going to lead, according to my definition, it must involve people. For instance, you can’t “lead” the launch of a new product; you “manage” the launch. And you “lead” people to launch the new product.
The distinction between leadership and management is crucial. When you focus on the interaction and interplay between a person who is a leader and the people who are led, it becomes more difficult to describe and almost impossible to measure. The interaction is emotional, sometimes irrational, often energizing, always dynamic and reciprocal, occasionally transformative. It is to my mind the most exhilarating of human endeavors, and it is why I wrote this book.
Finally, the definition needs a clear outcome, namely “to do something.”
If the people were going to do it anyway, one could argue that the leader did nothing to influence the person or persons. In Sergeant Tremblay’s case, the men most likely would have conducted the ambush patrol regardless of his leadership. But they did it better because of his leadership. How they did it was greatly influenced by Sergeant Tremblay.
Hence Staff Sergeant Tremblay influenced his infantry squad to conduct in outstanding night ambush patrol—which is my definition of leadership. There are a lot of factors around this definition that are omitted for simplicity’s sake: the enemy, terrain, weather, competency of the team, past experiences, and luck, just to name a few.
Some argue that military leadership is easier than leadership in the rest of society. There are institutional and legal requirements for members of the military to obey orders. Not only do members of the military take an oath to obey lawful orders, but also they are part of a very hierarchical organization which has a strong autocratic tradition. Followers have to follow orders. Therefore, the job of leadership in the military is easier, say some.
Others argue that leadership is more challenging in the military because those being led could well be wounded or killed. It takes strong and skillful leadership to cause soldiers to ride “Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell” as Alfred, Lord Tennyson put it.6 Added to that threat of life and limb, the leader must order his or her followers to kill other people (the enemy), not the most positive of goals, one could argue. “Anyone who can lead soldiers in battle can lead anyone” is a common refrain. Conclusion: leadership is harder in the military.
Still others see the life and death challenge that the enemy poses as a unifying factor which coalesces the team and encourages compliance with the leader’s orders. My own experience is that soldiers in the heat of battle want strong, decisive, and clear leadership more than anything. I personally found leadership in combat easier in this sense than leadership when the bullets were not flying.
While the demands and constraints of the leadership situation are different depending on the setting, be it military or across society, I am of the belief that the same basic elements for successful leadership exist in virtually any scenario. It is only that in combat, unlike most instances, the repercussions of leadership can be life threatening.
So this is a book about leadership in any setting. Leadership in the military will inform but not restrict my approach. My lifelong experience in the US Army and the corporate world has led me to believe that the core elements of leadership are the same across both.
And my approach will not focus on how great the accomplishment, or how historical or powerful the leader. I take this tack in order to include leaders of all levels and kinds into my definition and to invite their interest.
I believe there are few people who are not capable of leadership and most are doing it whether they realize it or not. The real questions are “How are they doing it?” and “How can they improve?” All of them. All of you.
BUILDING YOUR LEADERSHIP LEGACY: IT’S ALL ABOUT CHARACTER
“The notion that character plays a huge part in leadership is well known but little understood. Bob Carroll examines character in a refreshing and very useful way. It is clear, concise, well-researched, and on point. A welcome and great addition to the leadership field and a worthy read for all my colleagues engaged in the study, research, and teaching of leadership. Building Your Leadership Legacy is among the best I have seen on this topic.”
Laura M. Guenther
Director, Center for Leadership and Ethics
McCombs School of Business
The University of Texas at Austin
“So you want to be a better leader? Read Bob Carroll’s book. It is written for any leader in the military, government, and business. I have long felt that character is the key component in why soldiers follow a sergeant or an officer, and the same is true for leaders in all walks of life. The problem has always been that the topic is too moralistic, lofty, or fuzzy to have a real impact on improving leadership. With clarity and simplicity, this book helps a leader personally define what kind of leadership character he or she aspires to be and assists in pursuing that goal.”
Barry R. McCaffrey General, US Army (Retired) Combat leader, hero, and commander in Vietnam and Iraq Director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy
“In my career I have observed many leaders in corporations large and small, public and private. Building Your Leadership Legacy will be extremely useful to any leader at any level. Why? The author presents an air-tight argument of why character is essential to building the trust necessary for followers to follow and a simple and effective protocol for each leader to define, measure, and enhance his or her personal leadership character. A highly useful and very readable book.”
Marshall N. Carter Colonel, USMCR (Retired) CEO and Chairman of the State Street Bank and Trust Company Lecturer in Leadership and Management at MIT
“Bob Carroll’s experience as a leader, starting in Vietnam as a young Army Officer, followed by multiple Army command and staff assignments, and then as a business executive, provides him with a unique perspective…giving today’s leaders and those who aspire to be future leaders a realistic and applicable guide to improving leadership. His approach to leadership is one that is often overlooked…that is, the character of the leader sets the stage for all those around him or her. The lessons Carroll shares will help you grow as a leader and help you identify potential leaders. I highly recommend this book.”
Gerry Radford President and CEO Tidewell Hospice Providing Palliative Care for Patients in Southwest Florida