Learning to ride—and to lead

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Ed Madden
  • 66th Security Forces Squadron manager
Leadership is a lot like parenting. When the day came to teach my children to ride a bike I thought to myself, "Now just how do I help them understand and grasp the concept? How do I teach them what I already know?"

I could use the often followed leadership-learning approach to bike riding, in which I would have registered them in the "Seven Habits of Successful Bike Riders" training course put on by an expert consultant like Greg LeMond. The cost: $7,500 for one week, plus travel and per diem. Or, I might have had them complete the computer based training, "In Search of Excellent Bike Riders," narrated by that dynamic and energetic expert, Lance Armstrong. Somewhat silly, but you get the point.

So, how do you teach subordinates to ride, how do you teach them leadership and what tools do we use along the way? Do we send them to fancy courses or do we get people to believe: believe in themselves and believe in the mission?

Leaders don't wake up ready to lead; it's a process that takes practice, like riding a bike. Learning experiences come in all different forms. The ones you take with you to pass on are the most important.

It seems today, we have lost sight in the very things that have defined us because of advancements in the world and within our own organizations. Great leaders don't need fancy or expensive tools. They only need to believe in what they already have and to learn by watching and listening. Lessons, curiosity and experience help mold us into the leaders we strive to be.

There is a common notion that individuals learn to lead by progressing through a tier structure in an organizational "stove pipe." This couldn't be any further from the truth. Leadership will not fall in your lap or graciously appear on a silver platter like magic. It is earned and learned.

Many prominent leaders before our time were not privileged with technology like Twitter or Facebook like we have today. Instead, they relied on inspirational people and their words of wisdom.

"Let us so carry ourselves that if the British Empire should endure a thousand years, men will say, this was their finest hour," said Winston Churchill.

As leaders we cannot be scared of the leadership roles that will cross our paths. We just need to be as prepared as possible and accept the leadership roles and challenges commensurate with our rank and responsibilities. As followers, we must look to our superiors and be open to all learning techniques that will help mold us into future leaders. Take the time to be that mentor that someone was to you. Instill and guide your subordinates in the fundamentals of being a leader.

Always remember, leadership equals the ability to get people to believe, to believe they can ride a bike and to believe in themselves. Martin Luther King Jr. organized the Million Man March. He did it by getting people to believe, and he did it without email!