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Leadership Training for the Front Lines—Where Is It?

I recently finished a good book on Leadership, Rules & Tools for Leaders by Perry M. Smith and Jeffrey W. Foley. The authors are both graduates of West Point. Perry rose to be an Air Force Major General and taught leadership at the National War College, which prompted him to write a book to use as a text. Jeff was an Army Brigadier General, whose career culminated with being the Commander, U.S. Army Signal Center, Commandant of the Signal School, and Chief of Signal.

I found the book “spot on” with the formal and informal training I’ve had over the years while working at three large, multi-national, Fortune 100 companies, reading books, listening to tapes, and watching videos. I especially liked the checklist summaries at the end of each section. Having been introduced to 360 degree performance appraisals, the opening comments suggesting we are all diamonds in the rough with the potential to be multi-faceted is worth repeating here:

You Are:

Who you think you are.
Who your subordinates think you are.
Who your peers think you are.
Who your bosses think you are.
Who you really are.

I realize there are more views of us as well. There are customers, stock analysts, news reporters, the public, your religious minister, your spouse, your children, your family, and many more that have an opinion of who you are.

I had a chance to reflect on the book, my experience with consulting for the last five and a half years, and to speak with one of the authors, Jeff Foley. One of my goals now is to take the wisdom and experience of the corporate world and de-scale it so that it can be applied to small and medium businesses that have more enthusiasm and a “can-do” attitude, so that they can scale-up. In my pro-bono consulting through SCORE, I help companies we now call micro-businesses. Some are extremely small.

In fact, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, with which SCORE works, there are millions of micro, small, and medium businesses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers information quarterly, while the U.S. Census Bureau puts data together annually. Check out this web page if you want to delve further into the data. There are less than 20,000 companies with more than 500 employees, while there are over 5 million companies with less than 20 employees. The charts below are typical of what the data shows.

Word on the street, and in the literature, is that people don’t leave jobs, they leave “bosses.” Well, who taught them to be the boss or how to be a boss? Where did they get their leadership training? What classes did Uber’s Travis Kalanick take on leadership? What training did his board of directors have? In fact, with the continuing scandals in business across the world, where did many of the people in the board rooms of large companies get their grounding in leadership? I’m a strong supporter of STEM, STEAM, and even STEEAAMM training (Science, Technology, English, Engineering, Art, Athletics, Math, and Music). I might even need to add an “E” for ethics. Chances are good we innately learned about leadership through our family, child care, school teachers, clubs, sports, and, maybe, scouting.

How do we de-scale the leadership training of the best and brightest in the largest companies down to something that can benefit the millions of people working with others. I’m talking

  • The secretary in the five-person architectural firm that talks with dozens of prospects and clients each and every day.
  • The guy starting a business and talking with hundreds of potential investors and customers.
  • The leader of the crew of three immigrants working hard to clean my roof and gutters.

Will it be by reading FaceBook posts by their friends? Will it come from watching YouTube videos of people crashing on their skateboards or making pets do ridiculous things? Will it be from rap music videos that put down people? Will it be from watching sports on TV where players get into a brawl or coaches from the side-lines are bellowing into the face of the referee?

Leadership Training for the Front Lines—Where Is It?