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What is Leadership Excellence?

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting where the speaker was Commander Kirk Lippold, USN (Ret.).   Commander Lippold was the Commanding Officer of the USS Cole that came under a suicide terrorist attack by alQaeda in 2000.  The bravery and quick thinking of Commander Lippold and his crew saved the American war ship from sinking as well as prevented further loss of life.

Commander Lippold lists his “Five Pillars of Leadership”.  They are:

  1. Integrity
  2. Vision
  3. Personal Responsibility and Accountability (both on-duty and off-duty)
  4. Trust and invest
  5. Professional Competence from:
    •    Job description outlining job
    •    Standards of performance expected
    •    Training to do the job
    •    Tools to do the job
    •    Time to do the job right

Commander Lippold’s list is comprised of the attributes that are common on most lists of leadership skills.  I find it compelling that “integrity” is at the top of his list.  That appears to be the building block of his leadership model.   To test this, think about times when you have worked for someone who displayed integrity with every action and under every circumstance.  It’s not hard to follow a leader who has integrity, right?

Next on the list is “vision”.  Again, an extremely important skill for a leader to possess.  This is the “what” that a leader directs his team toward.  A department, division, team, or a U.S. Navy crew must know what it is they are striving for.

Directly in the middle of Commander Lippold’s list are “responsibility” and “accountability”.   To do excellent work we must know what it is we are supposed to do and then have accountability to make sure it is carried out.  Accountability is both inner-directed and outer-directed.  First and foremost, we must each hold ourselves accountable for what we say we will do.  Secondly, our leaders must make sure that they hold us accountable for being, well…. accountable!

Next on the pillar is “trust”.  This is a HUGE word and one that no one of us should take lightly.  Trust goes hand-in-hand with integrity but is separate in a unique sense.  A good leader is both trustworthy and trusting.  It is almost impossible to operate well inside a leadership model without both ends of the trust spectrum.  It is often said that a person who is not “trusting” is likely not “trustworthy”.

Last on Commander Lippold’s leadership list is “professional competency”. Competencies are the skills and abilities that are required to perform the job.  One can assume he means the competencies of the leader as well as well as the competencies the leader defines and provides for his or her staff/crew.   Again, a very important skill for leadership.

Leaders are at all levels of organizations, communities, and family units.  It is not necessary to be a Commander in the U.S. Navy or the CEO of a large corporation to think about the importance of leadership qualities.  Everyone can benefit from Commander Lippold’s lesson on The Five Pillars of Leadership!

Great job, Commander Lippold.  We are proud of the leadership you displayed in October 2000!

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Judy W Bell

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