The Quality of a Leader
What qualities come to mind when asked to describe a leader? Authoritative, inspiring, confident, intelligent...
The U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity sponsored a Lunch and Learn seminar on leadership, featuring guest speaker Col. Arthur Athens, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (ret.) and the director for the Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the U.S. Naval Academy. Athens spoke to the group about leadership in terms of Back to the Basics: The Fundamentals of Extraordinary Leadership.
"Leadership training and development is just as critical as our mandatory competency training for current and emerging leaders. We have made a concerted effort over the past couple of years to bring this type of training to the organization to teach and develop leaders," said Kathleen Berst, deputy commander for acquisitions at USAMMDA. "Mr. Athens' inspirational message provides us with another tool in our leadership toolkit to improve our ability to lead teams to accomplish our critical mission."
Athens opened the Lunch and Learn, asking the audience to consider what makes a leader successful.
"For today I would like to consider a single attribute. Some would call it a personal characteristic, some might even call it a virtue and interestingly enough, it is not one that we necessarily talk about in leadership circles. This is the foundation attribute if we are going to lead with excellence, live with integrity and develop extraordinary teams," said Athens. "And that attribute is the attribute of humility."
Athens described a spectrum that he envisioned that went from healthy humility to unhealthy arrogance. On the healthy humility side of the spectrum, others are considered more important than oneself. On the other side of the spectrum, selfish ambition and conceit lead to unhealthy arrogance.
"It is very challenging to be humble. Truly humble," said Athens. "Actually the higher up we go the more challenging it is."
Throughout his talk, Athens told stories about his own experiences on both sides of the spectrum.
According to Athens, the decision to be humble is a daily decision.
Leaders today are so caught up in the fast-paced, multitasking environment that demands so much time and effort that humility often falls to the side. With stories about a high school sophomore lacrosse goalie, a Marine Corps Captain, an Admiral POW and a Marine two-star General, Athens reminded everyone that "it's not about me".
It's about the other people. Being humble is not being weak. It is recognizing that leadership is about serving others with "personal humility and a strong professional will".
"Mr. Athens' lessons were both inspiring and humbling, causing each of us to pause and take a look inside ourselves. Self-awareness and actively practicing humility are timely lessons and the subject of much discussion in the Department of Defense these days," said Col. William Geesey, commander of USAMMDA.
Be confident but humble.