Everyone has heard about the series of books by Robert Fulghum revolving around the theme of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." These books are full of good common sense, but I am not sure I can fully ascribe to Fulghum's philosophy. For one thing, I never even went to kindergarten -- which I guess could be a telling factoid in itself. But even with that tremendous handicap starting out, I have managed to stumble on a few truths.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to be a part of the Secretary of Defense's Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP). If you haven't heard of it, don't worry. The program itself isn't the key point I want to zoom in on in this article. The key point I'm going to make concerns leadership -- the goal of the program itself. The ELDP program was designed to take 46 GS-13/14s (plus 4 military), and in 12 months expose them to all of the Armed Services -- their missions, traditions, fitness regimens and philosophy. The outcome: to grow leadership. I showed up to the program a cocky major, thinking I knew everything about the military (and leadership) -- and found out I knew very little by the time the 12 months of the program was up. We had a chance to listen and learn from a number of illustrious folk, but the most memorable was our almost daily companion -- Joe Snow. Joe was one of kind.
Joe Snow, a crusty retired Army officer, pushed us and "sheperded" us (sometimes against our will) to face a number of truths. One of these truths is just how simple, but incredibly difficult, leadership truly is.
It all crystallized in one lesson for me. So I guess rather than in kindergarten, I learned everything I ever needed to know from something equally as homespun -- I learned everything I needed to know about leadership from the "Wizard of Oz."
Now before you fully decide I am crazy, let me explain. I am sure you remember Dorothy's companions. The Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Lion. The Tin Man was looking for a heart, the Scarecrow a brain and the Lion of course wanted courage.
An unlikely trio to learn anything from I'm sure you are thinking.
I also was a little impatient and somewhat amused when Joe Snow had the ELDP cadre watch this old movie. After all, this is a children's flick. But sometime during the movie I suddenly saw what that cagy old fox was trying to teach us. He had talked about leadership all day -- and what he considered the essentials of leadership. Joe called them the Three C's of Leadership. The first is Compassion. The second is Cognitive Power and the third (and last) is Courage.
Compassion. A leader is nothing without compassion. Love for the people you lead enables you to do "the right thing" when it is not the easiest thing to do. Compassion drives you to do your best when you don't feel up to the task. Compassion insists that you adapt your life and style to fit what your people need. You don't belong to yourself anymore, you belong to them.
Cognitive: Cognitive power or ability is what you have upstairs and how you use it. Just how "smart" are you? I am not referring to being the biggest brain in the room. What I am talking about is how adept you are at seeking out information, how well you process that information then formulate and execute a plan of action.
Courage, the last of the 3 C's is a quality most associated with the military. But courage can be more than combat courage -- or being fearless in battle. For one thing, many of us (thankfully) will never have to face an enemy eyeball to eyeball -- that is the ultimate test. But there is a fundamental measure that lies at the core of true courage. Mark Twain once said: "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." I think he had it right. Only someone truly mad is never afraid. The key to true courage -- as it is with most of life -- is how you deal with the moment. It takes courage to show compassion. It takes courage to think through problems, make decisions and see things through to completion. Courage is what holds a leader together.
So there you have it. Just like the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Lion we all need a heart, a brain and courage. And just like them we don't need to see the wizard to get them.
And you don't really need to graduate from kindergarten either.
I wonder if one of the Layton elementary schools would confer an honorary kindergarten degree on me. One can always hope.