Kinds of leaders



Commentary by Lt. Col. Jonathan K. Rossow
Squadron Officer College


10/26/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- Retired Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin J. Butler is one of my heroes.

As a young officer during World War II, Butler led soldiers in combat in both the North African and Italian campaigns. By March 1945, he achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel and earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Despite his name being on top of the rotation list, Butler declined returning stateside because of his dedication and commitment.

In 1990, I met Butler at an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps dining-in. His commanding voice and larger than life presence filled the ballroom.

I remember sitting there thinking, "I want be a leader like him!" At the end of his presentation I quickly approached to further discuss his perspective on leadership. The conversation that ensued captivated my attention. At the end, I requested his notes. He didn't have any! All of it was spoken from his heart and years of experience.

However, he promised to capture his thoughts on paper and mail them to me. A few weeks later, I received in the mail a handwritten paper by Butler titled "Kinds of Leaders." The paper outlined nine examples of poor leaders and concluded with traits of "the true leader." Here is a synopsis of what he wrote.

Boss (the green-eyed monster) - Doesn't trust anyone, doesn't give credit and forgets the rungs of the ladder to success by which they ascended.

Linus (less than lion-hearted) - Uses their staff as a security blanket. Takes all suggestions and accepts credit for those that work. Others are the product of the "stupid staff."

The gyroscope - Has a stable rapid rate of rotation around a fixed axis with imperceptible forward motion. Progress is not the keyword, movement is.

Hermit crab - Lives in splendid isolation, gathering more and more ignorance of what is going on. Desk fills with urgent papers. Fails to lead, but becomes a repository of information.

Madison Avenue minions - Wins a popularity contest based on transparent superficialities. Avoids hard decisions and acts on those that will register high on the applause meter.

The anemometer - Checks the direction of wind and velocity of superiors before making up their mind. Always wondering what the boss is thinking regardless of rationale or integrity.

Attila the Hun - Leads through fear. Suffers from chronic indigestion or badly decayed molars. Any mental direction put into action is purely accidental. Apparently has no ears, only a mouth.

Mushroom grower - Fertilizes staff with superfluous words. Keeps employees in the dark, then cuts them off at the knees when they start to grow. Staff unable to assist because they don't know the problems.

Super ego - Believe they, above all others, were favored with the most brains when they were issued. Creates bottlenecks, and confuses and changes everything done by the staff. Lacks humility.

The true leader - Displays integrity and high moral values, courage, dedication (perseverance and determination), humility, common sense, a sense of humor, compassion, a strong sense of duty and enjoys working with others and seeing them develop. Assumes responsibility.

I still posses the original copy delivered to me 22 years ago. Periodically throughout my career, I read it to do a vector check. Am I flying straight and level with my leadership style or did I wander off course? At times, Butler's letter points out a habit or flaw to correct. Other times, it validates my words and actions.