Simple Words from an Accomplished Leader -- Setting Standards, Part 1

During my now 15 year investigation of the inner realities of exceptional leadership, I have been blessed with opportunities to visit with leadership development professionals at three institutions whose focus on developing leaders is quintessential: The United States Military Academy (aka “West Point”), The United States Naval Academy, and The United States Air Force Academy.

During my visit to the Naval Academy, I was hosted by Colonel Art Athens. At the time, Colonel Athens was serving as a Distinguished Military Professor of Leadership. Today Colonel Athens serves as the Director of the Center for Ethical Leadership at the Naval Academy.

Colonel Athens is not the type of person one easily forgets. He was both a presence and fully present, accomplished yet approachable, high in achievement but still humble in heart. I was headed downstairs to meet Colonel Athens for breakfast when I spotted him in the parking lot from the window of the hotel stairwell. Knowing which car was mine -- we'd been together the previous evening -- but not knowing that I could see him, I watched as Colonel Athens cleaned the fresh snow that had fallen during the night off the windshield and side windows of my rental car. That’s the kind of person and leader Colonel Athens is.

Not long after my visit to the Naval Academy, I found myself on the west side of Pike’s Peak helping to facilitate a leadership development event with Colonel Athens and other colleagues. As we ate lunch, we discussed what it means for leaders to “Set Direction.” “Set Direction” is not a new leadership concept. As noted in a blog post a few weeks ago, leadership guru John Kotter is famous for coining the phrase. But Colonel Athens, a leader worth listening to, was about to give this idea legs based on 16 years of active duty leadership.

Colonel Athens simply said, “Leaders ‘Set Direction’ by setting standards.”

If you’re anything like me, hearing short, clear leadership messages like that one stokes a fire inside you. It conjures up Hollywood-like images of confident, unflinching leaders whose commitment to standards takes their followers to heights no one thought possible.

But the truth about standards is more sobering than a Hollywood image. Sometimes, if we accurately think through implications of our standards, they can be challenging to set and enforce.

Next week we’ll take a detailed look at some of the most challenging realities of setting standards. In the meantime, let’s ask ourselves a simple question: Have I intentionally created and articulated clear standards for my followers?

Share Your Thoughts: How have you been impacted by standards or a lack of standards as a follower? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.

photo credit: 917press via photopincc

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