COL Americans will soon make an incredibly serious decision in this country -- at least those of us who intend to vote.

Every election, we have a remarkable opportunity to choose a leader we feel will make our lives better.

And the word we hear over and over again is "leadership" –; who is better at it; who has the better plans; and who can assemble the masses and try to reach some agreement on how to progress.

Leadership principles are as critical in business as they are in government. John Brock, who teaches leadership classes at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, maintains that all great leaders have four common characteristics: bedrock principles, a moral compass, vision and the ability to form a consensus.

He shared a list of 13 principles of leadership he adapted from the U.S. Military Academy, which are dead on.

Can you identify these traits in your management (or political candidates)? Could your management team win reelection?


Know yourself and seek self-improvement.

Be technically and tactically proficient.

Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions.

Make sound and timely decisions.

Set the example.

Know your employees and look out for their well-being.

Keep your employees well-informed.

Develop a sense of responsibility in your subordinates.


Insure that the task is understood, supervised and accomplished.

Train your employees as a team.

Employ your team in accordance with its capabilities.

Set your priorities.

Take the initiative.

What I like most about this list is its simplicity. It cuts through the doubletalk that so often disguises incompetence. It leaves little room for misinterpretation. You are either following the rules or you're failing as a leader.

The minute you compromise your principles, you lose respect. That goes hand-in-hand with the moral compass. Knowing and doing what is correct, even when it may be unpopular or perhaps unprofitable, requires a strong character.

Gen. Robert E. Lee, widely respected for his military and personal leadership, summed it up: "You have only always to do what is right. It will become easier by practice, and you will enjoy in the midst of your trials the pleasure of an approving conscience."


Vision is a little harder to acquire. You can train yourself to see what's ahead and determine an appropriate response and plan of action, which usually requires finding common ground –; a win-win situation –; with those you need to make your vision a reality.

Consider Christopher Columbus: His crew became discouraged and threatened rebellion as they searched for the New World. They wanted to turn back, citing their voyage a "fool's errand." Columbus was undeterred, but attempted to reach a compromise: If they would be patient and faithful for just three more days, he would agree to abandon the search unless they had discovered land. And, well, you know how the story ended.

Overall, consensus-building used to be simpler, when competition wasn't as cutthroat and civility ruled.

That's not the world we live in now. You need only look at the hostile political climate for a prime example of the difficulty in reaching agreement.

But this trait, possibly more than the others, is what defines a leader. President Eisenhower once advised, "You do not lead by hitting people over the head -- that's assault, not leadership."

One key component to leadership I've learned, which I'll add to Brock's points, is the ability to maintain your perspective.

Victorious Roman generals were welcomed home in grand parades that featured their soldiers, all the wealth they acquired, and the prisoners they captured. Accompanying the generals in their golden chariots, at the emperor's behest, was a slave, who would whisper in the general's ear, "Remember, you are a mortal man, all glory is fleeting."

Mackay's Moral: True leadership must exist for the benefit of the followers, not the enrichment of the leaders.


Harvey Mackay is author of "Pushing the Envelope" (Ballantine Books). He can be reached through his Web site:; or Mackay Envelope Corp., 2100 Elm St., Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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