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Commentary: Leadership - a new perspective for 2012

JOINT BASE LANGLEY EUSTIS, Va. -- Americans succeed - academically, professionally, on the battlefield and in business. From the time our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, through the Civil War, the Great Depression and the war in Iraq, Americans have tenaciously overcome formidable obstacles requiring remarkable determination.

To overcome such challenges, we have relied on our greatest leaders, such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and more. Our military leadership has a phenomenal list of leaders as well, including Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. Carl Spaatz and Sgt. John Levitow.

I recently had an opportunity to study what is considered to be the culmination of the best leadership principles the Air Force has to offer its enlisted force at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Gunter Air Force Base, Ala. But it wasn't what I expected.

The curriculum at the NCOA has been completely revamped. It covered topics such as suicide awareness and prevention, substance abuse intervention, and stress management. These topics were familiar since I've been doing the computer based learning for years. However, the biggest takeaway for me was what is known as strength-based leadership, which was a radical departure from most training I've received in the past.

As Americans, we are typically taught from a young age that if we work hard enough, we can do anything we put our minds to. Unfortunately, this is not completely accurate. For example, my NCOA instructor wanted to be a pilot, but since he is color blind that career path was not an option. Gallup Incorporated, most widely known for their research polls, studied and worked with thousands of leadership teams, and began to see that four distinct domains of leadership strength emerged: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking.

What I learned is that because people naturally fall into these categories, the Air Force would like for its personnel to focus on their strengths. If you are good at organizing data, find a way to apply this ability in your daily tasks. If you prefer to work in groups, seek out others to work on projects with. Additionally, if your strengths lie in thinking "outside of the box," try to find a way to stretch your creativity by tackling emerging issues at work.

Along with these principles, strength-based leadership teaches the reality that we cannot be everything to everyone. Therefore it is important to surround yourself with friends, coworkers and acquaintances who can help you overcome your weaknesses.

For example, one of my main leadership strengths is executing. If I know what needs to be done, I have no problem making sure that task is accomplished no matter how long it may take me. On the other hand, sometimes I work so hard at accomplishing the task at hand, that I fail to recognize those around me who may have been able to succeed with less effort. So I need to surround myself with people who are relationship builders.

The final piece of this leadership is working as a team. As the old adage goes, "No man is an island." You can be infinitely more successful if you work together with a team of people who have a wide variety of talents, motivations and personalities.

If you have the opportunity, I suggest you pick up a copy of "Strengths-Based Leadership" by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. Using Gallup's discoveries, the authors identify three keys to being an effective leader and use firsthand accounts from highly successful leaders. A new version of Gallup's popular StrengthsFinder assessment will help you discover your own special gifts, and specific strategies show you how to lead with your top five talents.

If you don't already fall into a leadership position, simply remember this from President John Quincy Adams, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. "

Original content found here.
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