Leadership Across The Ages

It's amazing how timeless characteristics like leadership are.

One thing I like doing (geek alert) when I get a few minutes, is to look through the Google Book catalog. There are some amazing gems in there, and that's where I find little things like info on how to do onboarding from a company manual in the early 1900's and the book preface that inspired this post.

I took the short segment from the book and tweaked it to speak to leadership issues today. After you read it (remember that it was written before the 1920s and some of the language reflects that), I'll tell you what the original purpose was. 

Check it out

The necessity and vast importance of  study [in leadership] is made apparent in the light of the significance which Napoleon attached to the mental quality of leadership,--"The morale is to the physical as three to one.'' Mental and physical training and instruction in tactical leadership were present to an excellent degree. It seems to have been assumed, however, that giving a man an education in these and in the routine administration work of a business organization fitted him to be a leader. The result was that the young manager was obliged to learn many things by hard experience and through trial and error; there was not the desired uniformity in matters of personal leadership.

That is what I have endeavored to do in leadership, so that younger managers may be shown much in the matter of handling people that they would otherwise have to learn by trial and error. In any group of men there are always two classes, the leaders and the followers.

The idea of "get men into the company in any way—circumstances will keep a certain number of them there and self-preservation will make them work," has perhaps been entertained to a small degree in the past. Men can be depended upon to work for a paycheck, but such a spirit is not the spirit of a successful business.

It is the duty of every manager, not only to be a leader, but to develop leadership in others. The holding of a lofty title does not make a manager a leader. It assumes that he is a leader, but it is up to him to prove that he is. A manager cannot be a good manager if he is not a good leader; he may be able to fool himself and some other managers but he cannot fool his staff. In the same way, if you want to know how good a Vice President is, don't ask a CEO, ask one of his employees.

The responsibility of leadership includes not only the manager but extends through him and beyond him to his people. In the words of a prominent CEO:

Every manager, down to and including the least senior, will sooner or later become a leader in a smaller or greater sense. In business, as business is now necessarily conducted, direct responsibility very frequently goes out of the hands of the managers, and small groups of men and women must accomplish objectives themselves; hence leadership must be assumed by some or all of these managers. Any one of them may be placed in a position where he must act independently and make his own decision on his own responsibility, which requires thinking and acting on his own judgment. It requires leadership. 

What was the original purpose for this writing?

I'm not sure if it is a surprise to you or not, but it was a preparation manual for military officers to lead men in battle. Here's the link to the electronic version of the book (which is now in the public domain and completely free). Neat, huh? What do you think about this?

I love the idea of spinning an old book and giving it new applications.

This guest post is by Ben Eubanks. Ben is an ultramarathoner in his spare time (so he knows what that "endurance" stuff is all about). He lives and works in Huntsville, AL as an HR pro by day and an HR blogger by night. Want to connect? He's on Twitter, LinkedIn, and uses that email thing, too.