(Here at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit praying for God to give me new insight to help me in leading with Operation Christmas Child)
Today I would like to share some of my reflections and learnings from my time at West Point with the cadets there. "The Re-education of Jim Collins" article written. Jim Collins went to teach leadership but he was the one who got schooled.
Most than 4,000 cadets were assembled in Eisenhower Hall and I saw them going out into time and space. If you could alter the trajectory of those journeys it was not only a mission but a responsibility.
I would like to translate for young leaders who want to grow into great leaders. (and I would like to suggest we are all young leaders) I will organized these challenges into seven questions. These are my personal views, not those of West Point.
1. What cause do you serve? -- what cause do you serve with level 5 ambition. Wendy Cox the founder of Teach For America is shy and soft-spoken. At age 21 she was in a funk and didn't know what to do with her life. She did her senior thesis on education--her first premise was every kid deserves a good K-12 education. Second, we should enlist our best graduating college students to enlist for two years in public schools. If you have a charismatic cause you do not need to be a charismatic leader. Level 5 ambition= blend of personal humility with an indomitable will. The essence of level 5 is the idea of service. We are talking about ambition. Ego-driven level 4 leaders inspire people to follow them while level 5 leaders inspire people to follow a cause.
The West Point cadets seemed more engaged than the Stanford business students because the service thread runs through the academy. All cadets know some of them might die in service. You might think it's easy to have this level 5 ambition in a service organization but this was originally uncovered in the business area. This was found in all companies that were truly great.
I challenge all leaders to infuse your enterprise with some purpose that goes far beyond just making money. Commitment to service is not a sector choice; it is a life choice.
2. Will you settle for being a good leader or will you become a great leader? -- I believe we might be on the cusp of a 21st century shift from a society that's well-managed to a network that's well led. We will need leadership distributed through all sectors. Leadership is not personality; it is not position; it is not title; it is not rank; it is not power. True leadership only exists when people follow even when they have the freedom to not follow. Colin Powell--"In my 35 years of service I don't remember tellings anyone 'that's an order.'" General Eisenhower, "Leadership is the art of getting people to want to do what must be done." Eisenhower grew into being Eisenhower. Most great leaders do not start as great leaders; they grow into great leaders. Will you do whatever it takes to scale your leadership as the demands of your cause grows? If your BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) are big enough, you're going to need to grow.
3. How can you reframe failure as growth in pursuit of a BHAG? -- Question: Does a BHAG have to be achievable? Example of free-climbing the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. Tommy tried to climb for four years but kept failing. Handholds are so small they can't be see in sunlight--only by head lamp in the dark Tommy said, "I am not failing; I'm growing. The climb is making me stronger." Tommy asked how the West Point cadets were on reframing failure as growth? Finally one day Tommy stood on the top having succeeded the Dawn Wall. After he had climbed the highest pitch he had 1,000 feet to go and his partner was stuck down below. He had to choose whether to push to the top or go back for his partner. Tommy went down and committed himself to getting Kevin, his partner, to the top. They made it, and summited together as a team.
4. How can you succeed by helping others succeed? -- I kept asking the cadets "What's hard here?" and they would say the IOCT. Indoor Obstacle Course Test. There's a graduation time--3:30 for men--if you don't make that time, you don't graduate. I decided on my 55th birthday I would train and try to run the IOCT in 3:30. One day I watched as clumps of cadets were helping other cadets so they could pass the test. If I could put into organizations only one idea it would be that we only succeed when we help others to succeed. This incredible idea--you are never alone. I came away from West Point thinking about engaged cultures. If you could build a culture that has a cause for which you are willing to sacrifice and has the idea of communal success built into the culture that is how you build meaning. It's impossible to have a great life unless it's a meaningful life.
5. Have you found your Hedgehog--your Personal Hedgehog? -- Top circle--you are doing what you love to be doing; Second circle--you are doing what you were made for (this might be different than what you are good at); Third circle--You can make a living and fund your BHAGs. When you lead out of your Hedgehog this is part of the endurance to persist. In 1988 I met a persistent Hedgehog. I started teaching entrepreneurship at Stanford and many of my students were smarter and more experienced. I called Steve Jobs and asked him to be a guest lecturer. He said to the students, "I got booted out of my last company." Three years earlier he lost control of Apple. His new company Next wasn't moving forward. He was in the wilderness. He sat and talked to the students about life and leadership and exuded nothing but passion. This was a man in his Hedgehog; he went to work every day and had a passion for an idea. He never lost passion for making computers small and accessible. What if he had quit? What if Wendy Cox had quit? What if Tommy had quit? What if Churchill had quit? True creators stay in the game. We cannot predict every hand we get in life. If you believe life comes down to a single hand you can lose easily, but if you see every hand as part of the game and play every one it leads up to a huge compounding effect. How many of you have been totally decked in life? That's when you have to stay in the game.
Army General George Marshall wrote that he feared he was becoming too old to be useful. But after that he became a five-star general, author of the Marshall Plan, and winner of the Nobel Prize. Real creative impact accelerates, if you choose, after age fifty. A wonderful thing to say on a 50th or 60th birthday is, "Nice start!"
6. Will you build your Unit--your minibus--into a Pocket of Greatness? -- Great CEOs did not focus on their career; they focused on their unit of responsibility and built it into a pocket of greatness. Every responsibility you get you should make great. This means above all being a leader who can make good people decisions--who should have the key seats on the bus? You need to take care of your people; in the end, life is people.
A few decades ago a young girl sat dejected after a bad race (she ran on the boys' cross country team because there was none for girls.) Her coach sent her a note that said, "Your time will come." This is my wife. When we were going through her journals I found that note. She still carries that note. If you ever wonder about the value of that pause to offer an expression of support and kindness--think of it--four decades. She went on to become a world champion--winning the Ironman in 1985 by a mere 90 seconds and it did not make her happy because it was just an individual achievement. Ten years after that she got a call from her former coach who told her they needed a boys & girls cross country coach. She built a dynasty with four state championships with no stars. She built a culture where teammates were running for each other. She says she has found something that gives her meaning; changing lives. The greatest leaders I have studied find a way to make an impact on real life people.
7. How will you change the lives of others? -- It might be a lot of people or just a few, but how will some people's lives be better and different because you were here on this earth. Life is people and I hope you take an advantage to be useful.
I end where I began. I am grateful. It has been a tremendous privilege to be back at the summit to share a little of what I have learned.