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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Military academies can teach lesson on leadership, December 15, 2006, 2D.

Organizations of all types are in constant and desperate need of leaders.  Leaders are ones who can identify problems and issues, marshal the resources needed to solve the problems, and energize and mobilize others to address and solve the problems.  Too often, organizations breed and train people to simply follow orders and to not question the ways things are done.  In so doing, organizations condition their people to become dependent followers rather than independent leaders.  Unfortunately, when individuals from such systems do promote into authority roles, the only role models they have to emulate are those whom they have seen and worked under—those who handed out orders to follow.  To fill their leadership needs, organizations must train people to become active leaders and not simply givers and takers of commands.

Our country’s military academies require their graduates to be leaders.  The academies have developed systems where senior students take command and assume responsibility for groups of junior students.  By assuming command, senior students begin making the types of decisions and carrying the responsibilities of those in the positions they are being trained to assume.  The role of the senior students is to train and develop the junior students into leaders as well.  To fully do this, senior students must model appropriate and required behaviors to their juniors—which they learned from their seniors when they were junior students.  Upon graduation, students have practiced and are prepared to assume the positions for which they have been trained.  The military’s system is a complete system of leadership development.

To create a system that allows senior students to assume command and make decisions requires great amounts of trust.  Trainees should be given the freedom to experiment and learn, but under the watchful and encouraging guidance of a mentor.  Learning about leadership, like learning about anything else, comes about from practice, reflection, correction, and more practice. 

Knowing that one serves as a role model to followers and serving as a guide and teacher forces aspiring leaders to work harder in their roles and spend more time “figuring out” how to make things work better.  The trust awarded to junior leadership from senior leadership is often returned to the seniors through such a system. 

The leadership development model employed by the military academies can be used in all types of organizations—from schools, to businesses, to sports teams, to churches and non-profit organizations, and others.  Unfortunately, too many organizations are controlled by people who cling to the outdated command and control management models that guided organizations through the industrial revolution.   In today’s fast-paced and rapidly changing business environment, organizations cannot afford to have people who can only follow orders.  Organizations need people who can foresee issues and problems, feel comfortable and secure in reporting their ideas to others, and possess the abilities to work effectively through and with other people.  These characteristics arise when organizations create cultures that value trust and that support true leadership development.

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