I’ve been around and able to witness some of the worst leaders and some of the best leaders imaginable in my short career. The differences between the best and worst leaders I’ve come across are stark and deep seeded.
The worst examples of leaders I’ve come across are the ambitious types. I don’t merely mean driven leaders, I mean ambitious leaders. Ambition, in my mind is a desire to achieve certain goals solely to promote in order to attain power, authority and a level of superiority. It’s different from being a driven leader, in that driven leaders manage to maintain their convictions and rarely sell out for the purpose of promoting to gain that level of superiority. Superiority many times only in their own minds and not commensurate with the rank they managed to attain.
The best leaders that I’ve worked for seem the possess a certain conviction and drive and that vigor is rarely dedicated to promoting. It’s usually focused like a laser beam on being the best leader, motivating his/her troops, guiding the people he / she leads to be better troops or future leaders with conviction.
What it all boils down to is the individual leader’s motivation. Ambitious people are the most dangerous that exist around us, especially those of us in government service. It’s dangerous because the motivation is self promotion and while I think there is nothing wrong with wanting to become a better person, better officer, or just simply better all around. On the other hand there is something wrong with being motivated by the allure of power and authority of promoting to a higher position. If all you can focus on is that promotion, that bottom rocker, that set of bars, that star or just a bigger paycheck, you are a danger to all those around you, especially those you lead.
I remember being in the Police Academy and speaking with classmates, and talking about our goals and motivations. Some talked about becoming SWAT, others talked about becoming K-9, some talked about Anti-Terrorism. I can’t really remember which of my classmates talked about which of the aforementioned careers, but I do remember one specific classmate in that conversation. I think I remember him not only because his answer was so different, but because the answer was disturbing to me. His answer was “I just want to promote, and promote as high as I can”. I remember thinking to myself, We haven’t even graduated and this guy is already Chief, in his own mind… mind-blowing to me. I had the opportunity to observe him for six months of the Academy and later on I had the opportunity to observe him when we worked as Police Officers in the same division. The thing that stands out clearly to me was his ability to promote himself, like a club promoter would for the club he’s employed by. This classmate of mine had an incredible ability to sell himself to his bosses, not once did he walk through the door without everyone else in the station knowing what he had accomplished that day, who he had arrested for what crime, and how incredible it was!
All to often these are the types of people who promote. The ambitious type. It doesn’t matter how, it doesn’t matter how little experience they have, it doesn’t matter who they have to hurt, as long as they get to that next level of authority.
There are those that manage to promote the right way, folks that work hard quietly maintain their beliefs, convictions and never forget where they came from. Folks that ride out the job they were assigned, learn as much as they can in that position, and when they can’t learn a whole lot more in that position they take what they’ve learned there and try for the next level, the next challenge. All the while helping those around them, even helping those around them to promote to the next level along with them and even ahead of them. Not necessarily promoting to be someones superior, but in many cases promoting because they are sick and tired of the ineptitude of those that have promoted before they were due and their weak leadership abilities.
If the only way you can feel better about yourself is by feeling superior to those around you, your rank or title doesn’t really mean a whole heck of a lot, in fact it’s probably not much more than an insignia and a larger pay check.
If you manage to attain that high rank through experience and hard work, and still remember where you came from and lead your subordinates with same convictions that drove you when you were first hired and you gain the respect of those subordinates, you are the rank, you exemplify it.