I remember standing next to US Army (ret) General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf, the leader of the US invasion of Iraqi during Desert Shield, before his address to a crowd of McDonald’s agency people back in 1993. He was a big barrel-chested guy and he held command even in a suit and tie. He was jovial, full of life, and seemed approachable. I was 28, never served in the military, and on the rise in the McDonald’s advertising world. “If you could give me just one piece of advice on leadership—just one—what would it be?” I said, nervously. General Schwarzkopf didn’t hesitate, flinch, or think. Here’s what he said:
His one word answer caught me off guard. “Lead.” That was it.
Wait—that’s it? No guts and glory speech? No Iraqi Republican Guard stories? That’s what you’ve got for me?
Of course, I didn’t say that. That would’ve been like putting an IED down my pants.
Fortunately for me, he elaborated in his address to the crowd 10 minutes later. “When you’re a true leader, you lead. You don’t wait. You don’t ask permission or wait to be elected. True leaders take charge and lead, and people will follow.” Darn right.
This country—and your industry—is in poor supply of true leadership. People are starving for it. I see it in politics. I see it in business. I see it in municipalities. I see it in schools. I see it in marketing. Instead of true leadership, I see people grandstanding for their 15 minutes of fame. I see a rush to the front of the line with total disregard for those we trample on the way. I see social media and a multitude of online platforms for broadcasting self and building brands that have no substance, all the while claiming to be the answer to all our problems.
People are starving for true leadership, and in the absence of it, they will follow any fool with a microphone. If someone looks good, sounds good, and shows a little conviction, we dub them our leader and we rally behind them without giving much thought to the “why” question. Why are they doing this? Why do they deserve my support? Why should I believe them? This is why our nation, our cities, and our communities are so divided. If people will follow so easily and blindly, they get led to some very crazy and dark places. The result is an upside down society with a backwards way of thinking.
Don’t be fooled by the packaging. Follow substance, not hype. Do your homework. Make good informed decisions about your business, what you buy, what you believe, and whom you support. Speak up and get involved. Ask questions. Be a professional. Lead.
Next week: “Leadership Opportunities”