Leadership is one thing about which I can speak with some authority, though I’ve neither headed vast corporations, nor large governmental bodies. I served in the Army, and I was a leader. My duties demanded it of me before it was my official mandate, and like millions of other before me, and since, I faced the challenges to carry out my missions as best I could under difficult conditions. The United States military has spent many billions of dollars in the effort to build and nurture leaders. Some people are born with it, some have it thrust upon them, and others must be trained in the core principles of what it means, and what it demands. For various reasons, some people never quite grasp it, or reject it because they don’t wish to carry its attendant burdens. One of the things I have learned, both in my years in the Army, and ever since, is that some people are natural leaders who have the nearly instinctual ability to motivate people to accomplish a mission, or push through obstacles and overcome daunting odds against them. I’ve become adept at spotting leaders, and among all those who are prospectively seeking the office of President in 2012, none of them more thoroughly exhibits the traits of great leadership than Governor Sarah Palin.
One of the most important traits of effective leaders is to rise to confront challenges before them. Any odd bump on a log can wait for events to come as they will, but great leaders start by surveying their situation, inventorying their resources, and gathering intelligence about how best to proceed. Being a leader doesn’t mean charging into any battle without preparation or forethought, but instead demands considering one’s option in light of the facts, and then pursuing the course that will be most likely to attain one’s goals. Sometimes, this does induce urgency, but sometimes it begs the wisdom of patience. Good leaders will know how to spot the difference, and this is what creates a clear distinction between successful leaders and brash but often unsuccessful ones. Like so many other facets of leadership, this can be developed, but some people simply have a better natural grasp of and talent for timing. Once the pieces fall into place, the leader then acts, and this unhesitating initiation of actions when the time is ripe for them is the hallmark of greatness. Sarah Palin may well soon deliver a demonstration on this part of leadership that will be memorable. She’s already demonstrated this in her active role in advocating for necessary reforms in Washington in light of recent debates, and while other shirked the role of leader, she alone stepped up and repeatedly insisted that those in power carry out their responsibilities. While they ultimately failed to heed her warnings, the greater failure may have come in the form of the other would-be Presidents who remained quiet, stayed out of the spotlight, and were suddenly timid in the face of controversy. Real leaders don’t fear controversy, because they know nothing of any substance is ever accomplished without it.
Great leaders communicate, but it isn’t merely to issue commands. Effective leaders are great listeners, with an eye and ear for details and nuance that can spell the difference between victory and defeat. It is this observational skill that has led many battlefield commanders to initiate just the right maneuver at just the right time to stave off an otherwise certain defeat, or frequently snatch victory from its toothy jaws. It’s also the lack of listening that has permitted all too many commanders to lead their troops to senseless deaths. Real leaders are always vigilant for signs of their own weakness, and they listen for it in the words of others, and watch for it in their eyes. There is no substitute for leading from the front, or very near it, where one can see the adversary, the obstacles, and all the factors that will affect those one sets out to lead. Feedback is accepted with a diligent attitude toward self-improvement in the name of the mission. This is one of the most difficult things to teach young leaders who don’t already grasp it. It’s very common to become consumed by one’s ego or one’s position and forget the objective in favor of one’s sense of self-importance. Governor Palin shows this ability to listen in the way she interacts with people, studies, their faces, notices the inflection of their voices when speaking, and narrows down the issues about which they’re speaking with laser-like acuity. People respond so well to her in almost every setting because they perceive that she’s listening, and that she is concerned, not because she’s play-acting, but because it’s genuine, and because she really is listening.
The best of them always lead by example. They know that just as they must be ever-watchful, so too are they being watched, not merely by those they lead, but others who may also be willing. Nothing brings a leader down more quickly than hypocrisy or dishonesty with those whom one leads. Those who are willing to follow do so in part because of a shared interest in accomplishing a goal, and also because they believe their leader is pursuing it with even more diligence and passion. This is a matter of self-discipline, and it speaks volumes to those who would be led. Governor Palin demonstrated this during her recent appearance on Hannity at the Iowa State Fair. Rather than criticize her would-be opponents, she praised their efforts and their words whenever they had been right. Focusing on the positive aspects permit leaders to stay on message about the goal in pursuit of which they’re leading. Mrs. Palin made clear that her focus is defeating Obama in 2012, whomever may ultimately stand forth to do so.
The trait of the best leaders the world has ever known may be easily understood in this way: Leaders are confident, and they draw other leaders to them. They nurture younger leaders, and they surround themselves with people who are also able to lead and motivate others. While a leader must always maintain some form of control, it’s also true to say that the best leaders know it is far better to describe a mission objective and the resources at one’s disposal, and turn that over to another leader, leaving the minute details of execution to other leaders. Delegation, in this respect, is a sort of tool at a leader’s disposal, and the best leaders learn to give their junior leaders their heads. It’s the most effective way to develop a team of committed people who will ultimately see the objective to a successful conclusion. This synergy of talents among diverse people, all turned to the attainment of a single overriding goal, acts as a line of demarcation between merely able leaders and the greatest leaders. Without having overtly or even intentionally intending to have done so, Sarah Palin’s strong example has created a vast network of able leaders who rally to her without rewards or compensation, and most frequently without mention. So many fine young leaders are appearing now every day to carry her banner, one she’s not officially raised on her own as yet, and still all of them ignore petty differences among their number precisely because they’re committed to a singular goal. It’s not the sort of thing one can fake, and it’s certainly not something that can be ginned-up in astro-turf fashion. When you observe this many able leaders coalescing around another, you can bet it’s because they’re responding to a true giant.
One more important thing an effective leader knows is that the whole of their leadership is vested in the mission for which they’ve set out to lead. They know that the goal or objective is at the heart of their power as a leader, and they look first to serving that end, whatever it may be. That’s right, the best leaders know that they are first and foremost the servant of all those who they would lead. This distinction is that which escapes so many would-be leaders. It cannot be stated often enough, or with enough emphasis, that the ablest guides see in their own actions a sense of service to the ideas and the people who are following them. When Sarah Palin speaks to the idea of a servant’s heart, it is this critical foundation of leadership she is establishing in the full glare of daylight. She’s always been a leader, but it isn’t those who would follow her that define her as such. It’s in the way she carries herself, as the means to the end of carrying an idea, and in so doing, she carries the hopes of a nation with her, whether they all realize it now, or not.
Some people have accused me of being “hopelessly in the tank for Palin.” Those who know anything about me also know I’ve never been the sort to be “in the tank” for anyone. The reason I support Sarah Palin is because at the heart of it all, she supports me. She may not know my name, or recognize my face, but the principles for which she’s chosen to stand are my principles too. Some of you have offered that I am a leader, but if that is true, it’s because the truth exists in the same subject. Most of you come to this site to read my posts, not to be insulted as you may be in the pages of other publications, but because you’ve come to understand what it is that I believe, and many of you have found my notions to be in general accord with your own. Am I not serving you in some small way as Sarah Palin serves us all? This doesn’t make me unique, or in any way different from the thousands of you who, in your own ways, do precisely the same. In truth, I mention this at all only to further my case to you: If you wish for a particular kind of leader, you must recognize that true leadership is service. As I have urged you before, I again repeat what must be said: You are leaders too, in your communities, in your families, your churches, and in your workplaces. People look to you, just as you and I look to Governor Palin. Lead them. Lead them by first serving them and they will lead others in their turn. The best leaders know this. You know this.
Whatever Sarah Palin chooses to do, it’s now coming to be your time to lead.
It’s your moment. It’s time. Lead!