Leadership, like language, is caught, not taught. By being around and hearing from successful leaders, young professionals catch on to the techniques that have helped them get where they are today. And while styles differ, the results of strong leadership are the same: steadily growing organizations comprising enthusiastic individuals who not only have the opportunity for personal growth but also feel appreciated.
Not all up-and-coming talented individuals have the chance to hear from the masters of leadership. But a program sponsored by AFCEA International and the AFCEA Educational Foundation has been bettering the odds for the past two years through its Leadership Forum series. Two dozen young professionals meet in a round-table setting once a month for six months with a recognized military, government or industry leader. Each session lasts one hour and is followed by the opportunity to network with each other and the “leader of the month.” Participants in the series must be nominated by their company or government agency to take part in the series.
To expand the reach of this program, participating leaders agreed to answer five questions on video, which is posted at SIGNAL Online. Although not as extensive as the forum presentations themselves, the videos allow site visitors to hear from these leaders in their own words and in their own style. Each video lasts less than 10 minutes, but they are powerful knowledge nuggets that offer insight into success.
Robert K. Ackerman, editor in chief, SIGNAL Magazine, asks each leader about the characteristics that define a leader, the necessary skills to be a leader and how to determine if a leadership style is working. The last two questions are more personal in nature: What is your greatest failure and what did you learn from it? Who are your heroes?
Although at times the answers can be as diverse as the leaders themselves, all of them agree good leaders share certain characteristics. Integrity, trust, respect, courage and commitment are among the top traits of successful people. Strong leaders must share the credit and glory with their employees as well as lead by example. They must embrace change and commit to taking action while remaining resilient when suffering setbacks.
They also concur that leaders know their techniques are being effective when the level of enthusiasm among the staff is high and spontaneous, not contrived. One leader even maintains that a leader can gauge success by absence: “You know a leadership style is working if you leave town, come back and more was accomplished than required.”
Admitted failures range from flunking out of college to failing to realize that an organization’s performance was related more to the lack of a common vision than the work ethic around the office. And heroes range from “mom and dad” to past presidents and World War II combat teams.
In each video, leaders also sprinkle advice to those who will find themselves in a leadership position someday. Most agree that it is important to plan for the future but enjoy the present. They also concur that it’s important to ask for help and to have the courage to change when situations call for it.