Thoughts on Leadership

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates delivered this year’s Commencement Address at the U.S. Naval Academy.  In it he reflected on his 46 years of public service—Air Force, CIA, White House, and Pentagon, serving under eight presidents.  He states, “From this experience I have learned that real leadership is a rare and precious commodity, and requires qualities that many people possess piecemeal to varying degrees, but few exhibit in total.”

Gates’ leadership qualities:

  • Vision—”the ability to get your eyes off your shoelaces… and see beyond the day-to-day tasks and problems.”
  • Deep Conviction—“a strength of purpose and belief in a cause that reaches out to others, touches their hearts, and makes them eager to follow.”
  • Self-confidence—“the quiet self-assurance that allows a leader to give other both real responsibility and real credit for success.”
  • Moral Courage—“the courage to chart a new course; the courage to do what is right and not just what is popular; the courage to stand alone; the courage to act.”
  • Integrity—“for a real leader, personal virtues–self-reliance, self-control, honor, truthfulness, morality—are absolute.”
  • Common Decency—“treating those around you—and, above all, your subordinates—with fairness and respect.”

One of the six outcomes of our transformation plan is the creation of an agency of leaders—fostering a culture of leadership as the way we all do our work.  I am inspired by the Secretary’s words and intend to use this list as a checklist for my own performance as well as ensuring that these qualities are integral to the culture of my Agency.

View the full text of Secretary Gates’ commencement address:

United States Naval Academy Commencement Address by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Annapolis, Maryland, Friday, May 27, 2011.

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