Leaving the army in early 1965, I returned to an entry level assignment in the (battle)field of civil rights in Paterson, New Jersey. This was about the time that President Lyndon Johnson gave an inspirational plea to Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. President Johnson spoke with passion about dignity and purpose. His words are just as moving today:
This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: ‘All men are created equal’; ‘government by consent of the governed’; ‘give me liberty or give me death’. Well, those are not just clever words and those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries, and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty, risking their lives.
Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man’s possessions; it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, and provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.
To apply any other test – to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race, his religion or the place of his birth – is not only to do injustice, it is to deny America and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom.
Paterson in the mid 1960s was an old city, a caldron rushing to erupt. James Hirsch in his book, Hurricane The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter, called it the “the wild west on the Passaic.” Christopher Norwood’s book On Paterson is vivid. “The mills, the redbrick buildings where people produced commodities and became commodities themselves still stand in Paterson, but most are abandoned now. The looms are no more, their noisy, awkward machinery long vandalized or sold for scrap. Vines, weeds and sometimes whole trees have grown through their stark walls, the walls unadorned except for small slits, outlined in a contrasting brick pattern, left for windows.”
In this period the mayor was sharply criticized for turning the city into a police state; there were charges of police brutality and torture. Jim Hirsch sets the scene in Paterson at this point in its history:
Paterson’s swelling black population especially feared the mostly white police force and resented the mayor’s apparent indifference to their grievances. By the middle 1960s blacks were about 20% of the city’s population. Between 1950 and 1964, 18,000 blacks and Hispanics moved into Paterson as 13,000 whites moved out. At the same time, good factory jobs were disappearing quickly, creating tensions between whites and blacks for a piece of the shrinking economic pie.
Many black immigrants settled in the Fourth Ward and established taverns and nightclubs. Housing there was a shambles. Old wooden structures slouched beneath the weight of their new occupants; many of the units lacked plumbing, central heating, or private baths. A citywide survey showed that when a black family moved into a tenement, the rent was increased. There were long waiting lists for low-income municipal housing, and when blacks tried to move out of the Fourth Ward, they were refused or stalled by white real estate agents. Health conditions were horrid. A protest group offered a bounty of ten cents for each rat found in a home and delivered to City Hall. A court injunction snuffed out the rodent rebellion.
Many times, while visiting the homes of families on Graham Avenue, I thought that people I saw in the slums of Korea were a step-up in living conditions and had more of a chance at a decent life. To describe Paterson in the late ?60s would take volumes. Daily life on Paterson’s River Street, Graham Avenue, and Fourth Ward had more than its share of riots, acts of civil disobedience, injustices, disagreements with the political and ecclesiastical power structures, anger, violence, beatings, fights with welfare, and court appearances. While the battle for Paterson was being waged, someone said: “We’re winning a few skirmishes, but losing the war.”
Stepping on to this tumultuous scene was the new leader of the Catholic Diocese of Paterson, Bishop Lawrence B. Casey, a tall German Irish American from Rochester, New York. There was no time for a ?getting to know you’ period; vital decisions had to be made and the church had to get meaningfully involved in the racial shame of Paterson. The new bishop jumped in and made some moves that made conservative clergy pariahs wince and pray for a return to the quiet old days.
Moves like letting priests working in the black community move out of the rectory and live in a six floor tenement on Graham Avenue, in the thick of the action. Moves like establishing a community center for black youths and families on Graham Avenue to criticisms of this ilk: “Why is he doing this? These people are not even Catholics.” Moves like purging anonymous letters from church files and taking action on anything that was detrimental to people, no matter who the perpetrators might be. Moves like judging people on performance, establishing a no baloney open door policy, getting rid of gamesmanship, making courageous decisions and taking responsibility for them. Moves like being one of the first bishops to start a priest’s senate in order to empower them and give them a voice.
The bishop and the priests on Graham Avenue had their differences. We got more than our share of ‘chewing outs’ but they were always carried out in a manly, honest way. He encouraged push-back but you had to have your facts straight. If the facts warranted it, he would change his opinion, even publicly, and you would hear, “Okay. Okay. What do you think we should we do?”
Like the time the inner city priests would not attend the Diocesan Civil Rights Committee meetings, which were held at a downtown hotel and not on Graham Avenue because some of the members were afraid of “that” neighborhood. Like the time we needed someone to quell the frenzy of the riots and to lessen the influence of out-of-town organizers. We asked him to come to the Center in the middle of one of the riots to shoot pool with the kids. After a “You guys are nuts!” He came down, played pool with kids for two hours and probably saved a lot of injuries.
The Bishop Casey stories could go on and on. What made him such a leader? All the women and men who worked with him would love to offer their reasons. Here are mine:
- He challenged the status quo; knocked down nonsensical barriers and wanted others to do the same.
- Bishop Casey was not afraid of change; he looked at change as a way to grow.
- He knew and loved his people; he backed his troops when they were right or made an unpopular decision.
- He led by example; always did what he said he was going to do; you wanted to work for him and tried to work as hard as he did.
- The bishop always dealt with things quickly; things didn’t stay long in his “in-box” (I don’t think he had one.)
- He picked his battles and was always prepared. He hated injustice and was thoroughly surprised when others didn’t.
- You knew when you goofed but he always treated you with dignity and respect.
- He was clear and consistent. He stayed on top of things and expected you to do the same. He called often to get an update.
- The bishop looked for the best in you; always played to your strengths; and helped you with your weaknesses.
- He was a “servant leader” who put the people first, trusted his staff and truly delegated.
Two quotes are fitting reminders of how Bishop Casey led. “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity” (General George Patton). “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and will to carry on” (Walter J. Lippmann).
Let’s go back to the military for more advice and guidance on leadership. The U.S. Marine Corps invest in their front line by following five practices:
- Over-investing in cultivating core values: make an investment by intensely focusing on core values. Give your employees more than a brief introduction
- Preparing every person to lead, including frontline supervisors: training every front line person to lead has a powerful effect on morale
- Learning when to create teams and when to create single-leader work groups: genuine teams are rare in the business world where a single individual leading a group is the norm.
- Attending to the bottom half, not just the top half: find the time to attend to the poor and mediocre performers, even if it means personal sacrifice. Normally, it is cheaper and easier to rejuvenate under-performers than it is to replace them. Marine Drill Instructors never give up on a recruit.
- Encouraging self-discipline as a way of building pride. Demand that everyone act with honor, courage, and commitment.
Brace E Barber in his book, Ranger School, No Excuse Leadership, lists the U.S. Army Principles of Leadership:
- Seek responsibility and take it for your actions
- Know yourself and seek self improvement
- Make sound and timely decisions
- Be technically and tactically proficient
- Train your soldiers as a team
- Set the example
- Know your soldiers and look out for their well-being
- Employ your unit in accordance with its capabilities
- Develop a sense of responsibility in your subordinates
- Keep your soldiers informed
- Ensure that the task is understood, supervised and accomplished.
The jacket of the book The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell, by Oren Harari, states: Colin Powell has established an entirely new paradigm for leadership excellence. Through four U.S. presidents and countless world crises the blunt-spoken four-star general has grown to become one of the world’s most effective, bottom-line leaders.” At the end of each chapter of this fascinating book, the author cites some leadership principles of this famous general. The principles speak for themselves.
1.Make performance and change top organizational priorities. Elevating performance and challenging the status quo are two keys to success. Help others do the same. Provide people with the tools, technologies, and training to build their skill sets and enhance their level of personal responsibility.
2. Define the new game, and expect everyone to play it. Clearly articulate a broad agenda (priorities, goals, values) and provide everyone with the tools and training necessary to take powerful action.
3.Make sure that your best performers are more satisfied than your poor performers. Reward those who demonstrate commitment to your new agenda.
4. Get rid of non-performers. Confront people who can’t or won’t perform.
5.Consider the possibility that if nobody’s pissed off, you may not be pushing hard enough.
6. Maintain a real, no b.s. open-door policy. The leader must encourage communication from every quarter.
7.Foster a ‘noisy’ system. Get everyone to participate in the information flow. Encourage a diversity of opinions and a clash of ideas.
8. Use every means to encourage communication, and never let rank or hierarchy get in the way. Smoke out the opinions of those closest to the front lines.
9.Use technology to improve communications. Harness the power of new technologies in order to insure that everyone is included.
10. Treat turf wars as the enemy of communication. Knock down barriers. Reward those who follow suit.
11. Look past today, and monitor the environment for tomorrow. Don’t get stuck in the past. Even in the best of weather, look for competitive clues on the horizon. Adapt to new situations, and, after embracing change, respond to it with innovative action.
12.Challenge the prevailing wisdom. What are the data telling you? Is it the same thing that your gut is telling you? If not, why not?
13. Guard against competitive myopia. Change your model before someone else changes it for you. The corporate graveyard is full of organizations that failed to take pre-emptive action.
14. Make change mean growth. Humans resist change. Change precipitates growth.
15.Live the old military adage: “No guts, no glory.” You are likely to accomplish more by taking calculated, intelligent risks than if you play it safe.
16.Do your best by pursuing every avenue. Pushing the envelope means leaving nothing on the table. Many a career has been stymied because of a manager’s unwillingness to take things to the next level.
17.Make everybody want to stretch. Whether you lead a small department or a large organization, it’s up to you to create a context in which everyone wants to take actions that make a difference.
18.Don’t punish for failure. As long as people are not subjecting your organization to undue risk, it’s never a sin to fail when pursuing a good objective using sensible tools and tactics.
19.Don’t invest in organizations that punish risk takers. If you work for an organization that smothers change efforts and punishes risk takers, start working on your exit strategy.
20.Be a “disorganizer.” Wage war on smugness and arrogance. Never stop doubting and challenging. Challenge habits and conventional wisdom. Always look for a better way to develop alternative and better paths.
21.Don’t accept things at face value. Maintain a health dose of skepticism.
22.Remember that success can breed failure and that complacency is the enemy. In today’s world, contentment with the status quo is dangerous.
23. Put truth and integrity above all else.
24.Dig, dig, and dig some more. It is the leader’s responsibility to constantly and proactively probe below the surface.
25.Challenge the pros to get better solutions. Whether it’s you challenging your superiors or your subordinates challenging you, remember that more opinions and more voices usually translates into more alternative options.
26.Emphasize dignity, respect, and honor while disagreeing. Disagree without being disagreeable.
27. Be patient. If you’re right, the wheel will eventually turn your way.
28.Build a setting in which all feel free to speak. If you’re going to be speaking out, you need to be helping out, too.
29. Execution is the key. Do not articulate a vision or a mission unless you are prepared to implement it with overwhelming strength. Stay cool under fire, think big, act fast, and go for the big win.
30. Pick your battles. Elevate to mission status only those causes that are vital to the organization’s success. You can’t slay the dragon every day. Make sure that you choose your battles carefully.
31.Remain flexible. Pick your battles, but don’t turn up your nose at opportunity.
32.Remember Powell’s Three Cs: clarity, consistency, and commitment. When you are clear, consistent, and committed, you lend enormous strength to your organization.
33.Keep it simple. Simple messages are the best messages.
34.Count on people more than plans or structures. Without great people who are empowered by supportive cultures, the best-laid plans are likely to be of little use.
35. Assume that people are competent, and that every job counts, until proven otherwise.
36.Spend at least 50 percent of your time on people. Planning is clean and people management is messy, so leaders are tempted to hang out in the clean task neighborhoods.
37. View people as partners, regardless of their place in the hierarchy.
38.Become a servant leader. Work “for” your people. Help people to accomplish the goals that emanate from the vision. Give them the tools they need, and turn them loose.
39.Master the details before and during the launch of a major project or campaign.
40. Use your mastery of details for great decisions and great execution. By mastering the details, you can avoid major missteps, capitalize on superb opportunities, spur a sense of urgency, and get people focused on the right direction.
41. Stay in touch with the “little” things.
42.Avoid ?analysis paralysis.” Attending to the fine points is not a license to micromanage, hide from a decision, or become obsessive-compulsive.
43. Remember that discipline in details is discipline strategy. Details dictate direction. Sound strategy requires sound execution.
44.Do not manage by fad. There are no magic elixirs that will suit every situation. A leader’s job is to assess every situation and adopt the direction and course of action that best fits the situation.
45.Be ready to change on a dime. Be prepared to change direction as the situation warrants it.
46.Don’t fight “the last war.” In times of uncertainty, don’t assume that ?back to basics’ or some other popular buzzword tactic is the right course of action.
47.“Ride” change, rather than managing it. It is impossible to manage the unforeseeable.
48. If your division or unit is not decentralized, consider a deep, pervasive, structural reorganization. In this past-paced world, those who are not in constant touch with what is going on in the front lines can’t make all the key decisions.
49.Use the Internet to make sure that all units and team members have access to information and to each other. All members of the team must have access to key resources.
50.Stay on top of key matters. Decentralization is not an excuse for being out of touch. It is still the leader’s responsibility to provide effective leadership.
51.Stay lean and supportive. The people at the core are the servants of those in small units in the field. The ranks of those who actually win the wars, or do the business of the company, need to grow much faster than the ranks of those who provide support at headquarters.
52.Don’t be over-reliant upon org charts or unduly impressed by job titles. Remember that leadership is more about the ability to influence and inspire others.
53.Curiosity is key. Curiosity is a key leadership ingredient. The best leaders arouse curiosity. They are interesting and are able to inspire others to act.
54.Always work on building your trust factor - building others’ trust in you.
55.Walk the talk. Leaders who talk a good game but do not lead by example will not be respected. Leaders must live by the traits they espouse.
56. Put optimism on your desktop and make optimism a top priority.
57. Don’t take counsel of your fears or your naysayers. Don’t let naysayers or partial facts tell you it can’t be done.
58.Spread optimism around the organization. It is the leader who sets the tone.
59.Make optimism the fuel for bold and disciplined action.
60.Strive for balance. Don’t neglect home and family life. Do not spend yourself entirely at work. If your workplace gets jealous, think about a change. Life is too short.
61.Have fun in your command. Research suggests that those who have fun in their jobs perform better, innovate on a more consistent basis, and are less likely to crack under pressure.
62.Don’t clock hours for hours’ sake. Don’t confuse activity with productivity.
63.Command is lonely. The ultimate decision rests with the leader, and strong leaders accept the weight of their position.
64.Lead by example. All employees are boss watchers. The rank and file will always take their cues from the leader. It is therefore doubly important that the leader love the values he or she espouses.
65.Know when to exit. Just when you’ve figured it all out, it’s time to pass it along to the next generation. Sometimes the act of leaving is the greatest task of leadership. Know when it’s time.
66. Leadership is, ultimately, responsibility, and, it’s the ultimate responsibility. Those who seek out responsibility have to be prepared to accept it, fully and unequivocally. Lead as though “the buck stops here.”
The strength of the group is in the will of the leader and the will is in the character of action. The great hope of society is the character of action. We are never going to create a good society, much less a great one, until individual excellence is once more respected and encouraged. If we will create something, we must be something. Character is the direct result of mental attitude.
Ranger School, Barber, Brace E., Patrol Leader Press
The Tao of Personal Leadership, Dreher, Diane, Harper Business
Leadership and Self-Deception, The Arbinger Institute
Learning to Lead, Bennis, Warren; Goldsmith, Joan, Addison Welsey
Motivation, Lombardi Style, Celebrating Excellence Publishing
Synchronicity The Inner Path of Leadership, Jaworski, Joseph, Berrett-Koehler
Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell, Harari, Oren,McGraw Hill
Leadership on the Line, Heifetz, Ronald A., Linsky, Marty, Harvard Business School Press
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell, John C., Nelson Business