The four uniformed Marines that joined last Friday's CEO Netweavers (www.ceonetweavers.org) leadership breakfast in Dallas gave a fresh perspective to the meaning of servant leadership and what it takes to lead people while you're trying to resolve a complex, even dangerous problem. If there is any complex problem on the planet right now--figuring out a way to bring a peaceful solution to the conflict in Iraq has to top the list. The emotion surrounding this dilemma came painfully close to home when I read on the blog of a close friend that his son who is serving in Iraq was injured last week by an insurgent's roadside bomb. A broken eardrum and several pieces of shrapnel later--this brave young man has already returned to his unit.
During Friday's breakfast I had the privilege of sitting next to Colonel John Koenig who recently returned from leading all civil and military operations in the al-Anbar province of Iraq. Col. Koenig's relentless energy and the winsome sparkle in his eye are contagious. You can't help but like the guy. (Of course, he wasn't giving me any orders. . .) I was also impressed with the genuine servant's heart of this leader. In the corporate world, executives managing hundreds of people often grow egos to match the size of their organizations. Koenig was as approachable and relaxed as your next door neighbor on a Sunday afternoon. Those of us aspiring to be servant leaders would benefit from learning more from those leading in the military.
The speaker for the event was General James Williams (USMC), (www.usmc.mil/genbios2.nsf/0/3DAF093F2A33A89F85256D90006A09A9?opendocument) a man with three earned master's degrees--and working on the fourth. During his presentation, General Williams gave a perspective on Iraq you can't get from a news broadcast--the perspective of someone who personally met with hundreds of insurgents in an effort to help them resolve differences that permeate that country and have fueled conflicts there for hundreds of years.
While listening to General Williams, it was easy to see that resolving the tensions in Iraq require the same skills needed to lead corporate organizations. "It's about critical thinking skills. We need great thinkers to come in and do this. . . we need great thinkers to solve complex problems." The General added that a commander in Iraq, "has to be creative. He may have only 3.2 nanoseconds to decide if a decision is tactical or strategic--and how it will play on CNN."
A servant's heart and a critical thinker's mind--that's a combination that's worth every leader's pursuit.