Lorenz on Leadership: The Study of Leadership

  • Published
  • By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
  • Commander, Air Education and Training Command
Everyone has hobbies. Some people like to work in the yard, while others paint, fish or travel. Hobbies are those things that entertain us when we need an escape, a chance to unwind. For me, I've always found leadership, and its associated principles, to be intriguing - studying leadership is my hobby.

I am drawn to leadership for many reasons. Most importantly, leadership is heroic to me. It is based on one person's ability to overcome interpersonal challenges and move a team of individuals toward a common goal and objective. It is all about moving the ball down the field. As military professionals, we all strive to do this every day.

Good leaders must be able to operate at three different interpersonal levels: as a peer, a subordinate ... and as a supervisor. Most people focus only on the supervisory aspect of leadership, but the ability to work effectively within a peer group benefits all associated organizations. In fact, learning how peers handle their challenges can help a leader more effectively guide their people and organization. A leader's peer group can also help work challenges on their behalf. After all, having several people pushing a particular issue or solution makes the argument much more powerful and persuasive. Such symbiotic relationships help all organizations move forward toward achieving their goals and objectives.

To the leader's boss, those goals and objectives are called results. In our business, a leader is responsible for results and results matter. A leader must also be flexible and adapt to their boss's likes and dislikes while keeping their boss informed. When mistakes are made, leaders must be open, honest and transparent. Of course, a leader should tell their boss about the good things too, but don't focus on it for too long. If it's important, they'll know - plus, good results are what they expect in the first place.

Still, though, the most important aspect of leadership involves those we lead. A leader continually needs to hear their input and opinion. Realize that their opinions may be fraught with bias and emotion. A leader's ability to stay objective will help screen out the bias and emotion to get the information they need. Remember that the people within the organization need to hear from the leader too. It is important that the feedback not favor any particular person, opinion or organization - including their own!

Let the feedback act as a tool to mentor and shape future expectations. When listening to the challenges others face, don't try to solve it for them. Instead, ask what help they need in order to find a solution. Realize that 95 percent of the time they already have a solution in mind. If the leader always provides the solution, the team will cease looking for creative solutions and lose a certain degree of efficiency. In addition, the leader will not have as much time to spend working the issues that truly need his or her attention.

Your people will need a guide who can provide overarching direction for the work they do every day. A leader's ability to know when to guide and when to stay back is invaluable. There is a fine line between a leader who is "hands on" and one who is micro-managing. After all, sometimes the best action is to do nothing at all. Trusting your people can be a very difficult thing to do. It might make things more difficult in the near term, but will create a much more efficient and effective team in the long run.

One word of caution - it can be very easy to lose perspective as a leader, to forget our own humility and gain a greater sense of self-importance. Never, ever lose sight of the people you lead. A leader must advocate for his or her people from behind the scenes - both personally and professionally. Your advocacy in support of the issues that you've asked them to work gives their effort more strength.

Being a good leader is a challenge. It requires each of us to understand the nuances of operating as a subordinate, peer and supervisor. In order to better understand such challenges, I read. In fact, I often have two to three books going at any single moment. To study leadership, I focus on biographies. The challenges we all face today are no different than those faced by the men and women who went before us. Learning how they handled challenges helps me be more effective with those I face each and every day. In many cases, it has helped me avoid the same pitfalls others found along the way.

As leaders, we all approach things differently. This is a good thing and is what makes it such an intriguing hobby to me. I encourage each of you to take time to study leadership. Not only will it make you better at what you do each and every day, but it will further strengthen our great Air Force.