Leadership Insight From Robert Gates

Robert Gates is one of the most impressive and accomplished leaders of our time.

He served four different Presidents of the United States (Reagan, Bush 41, Bush 43 and Obama). He was so effective as Secretary of Defense, President Obama asked him to stay on the job after he was elected in 2008. Most Presidents who win election over the incumbent opposition don’t do that.

In addition to his distinguished career of civic service, Gates has also been a university president twice and presently serves as President of the Boy Scouts of America.

I heard him interviewed about his new book “A Passion for Leadership” on PBS’s the Charlie Rose show. While I have bought the book, I haven’t read it, but I heard some tidbits about leadership that resonated with me.

“Passion to make your teams better manifests itself into leadership,” says Gates. He differentiates between leaders and managers. Management is technical skill and duties. Leadership is taking an organization where it needs to go. That usually means change is involved. It takes some “want to” to move an organization. It takes “passion” to make the “want to” to occur.

He thinks leadership is not easily defined. He says it is “more about the heart than the head.” He states that caring for and respecting others inspires passion.

He says the attitude of a team shows whether leadership is taking place. “Lack of leadership breeds cynicism,” says Gates. When leaders don’t approach their responsibility with caring and respect, the team settles into a negative place.

Many folks tell you leaders are born. Gates suggests that leaders are born when they respect others, care deeply about the groups to which they belong, imagine a better place to where those groups can rise and work with passion to get there.

Pretty good formula!