Slate's John Dickerson recently published a piece entitled:
Over the course of the next seven days, I plan on completing Dickerson's application by answering each of the questions. I've always wanted to be President, so perhaps my answers will be so impressive that a grassroots campaign supporting my candidacy will ignite.
Answers to previous questions:
- Question #1: What’s the biggest crisis you’ve faced in your professional life and how did you handle it?
- Question #2: What's the biggest personal crisis you’ve faced and how did you handle it?
- Question #3: What’s your greatest political triumph?
4. What’s your greatest governing triumph?
In Boy Scouts, I was made Senior Patrol Leader at the age of 15. This placed me in an odd position somewhere between my friends – who were still Boy Scouts - and the adult leaders – who were 30 and 40 years older than me. In many ways, I served as a bridge between these two groups. It was a complicated and delicate balancing act, and a unique challenge for someone my age.
I have been in charge of many things in my life, including the management of McDonald’s restaurants for more than a decade (in my opinion the best training ground for managers). But it was my time as a Senior Patrol Leader that made me first understand the challenges of leadership, and it was the first time that I managed to forge a coalition of supporters who both respected and embraced me in my new role. My friends were still my friends, and yet they also viewed me as their leader and treated me as such.
As a 15 year old boy, this was quite an accomplishment and one that I have always taken great pride in.
Three lessons that I learned in this leadership position that have served me well in future leadership positions:
1. Whenever possible, pass the fringe benefits of leadership onto your subordinates.
As an SPL, I was granted access to the adult mess hall at summer camp, which had an enormous cache of snacks that the adults maintained at all times. Since my responsibilities and workload were considerably larger than the average Boy Scout, I had been offered this privilege as compensation. Rather than stuffing my face each night, I used this privilege to bring snacks back to my troop, and those contraband donuts and candy bars meant a great deal to the boys and went a long way in earning their respect.
Yet I have watched countless leaders over the years revel in the benefits of their position while passing none of them down to their employees. For example, I will never understand the leader who makes use of his or her preferred parking spot rather than awarding it to a subordinate or making it available to customers. The benefits of passing on a preferred parking spot far outweighs the time saved parking closer to the doors of the building.
2. When your subordinates fail to complete a task or achieve a goal, accept the blame publicly and hold your subordinate accountable privately.
If the fire buckets were not filled at our campsite and we failed inspection, I always stood in front of my troop and accepted the blame for this failure. Then – in private – I would find the Scout who failed to complete this task and hold him accountable. This might be a simple verbal reminder or a punishment of some kind, depending on past history, but I would never publicly blame the Scout for the failure, since the failure was ultimately my own.
In my experience, one of the greatest failures of leadership today is the passing of the buck when it comes to accountability. If you are in a leadership position, you are accountable foe the actions of your subordinates. Too often leaders offer up their subordinates on a silver platter rather than taking responsibility for the failure themselves. It take a confident and capable leader to hold themselves accountable for failure. Sadly, we don’t seem to have enough of those people in the world today.
3. Shut up and listen as much as possible. Your job as a leader is not to entertain or impress your subordinates but to assist them in achieving the organizational vision and celebrating their successes.
I have always been an opinionated person who is capable of taking command of a conversation, and in many ways, I enjoy being the center of attention. I like to appear witty and clever. This is a fine if I am on the stage or entertaining a group of friends at a party, but as a leader, those characteristics are useless. Subordinates are not looking for leaders who have interesting anecdotes or are funny. They want listeners who are honest, supportive, and celebratory of their subordinates’ achievements. When I became a Senior Patrol Leader, I thought my job was to forge a cult of personality around me. Thankfully, one of my friends took me aside early on and said something that has stuck with me to this day:
“Okay, you made it to the top. Shut up and let other people win now.”
I knew exactly what he meant, and I have tried to live by this code every day since. I became a leader who sought out the accomplishments of others, and whenever possible, made those accomplishments the center of attention. A great leader shuns the spotlight, seeking to redirect it at those deserving of its glow.
Many leaders would benefit from simply closing their mouths and listening a hell of a lot more. Thanks to the directness and wisdom of my friend, I learned this lesson quickly, and it has made me a much better leader ever since.