S. Scot Litke, Honorary D.GE

The term, and more importantly, the concepts behind the term, “Leadership” has reached the stage of almost being a cliché. It is virtually impossible to read any business and management oriented publication, e-newsletter, or even one’s daily emails without finding at least one mention of articles about seminars focused on, and gurus aplenty offering their take. These are frequently accompanied by a description of services they offer that deal directly with identifying leadership characteristics, training programs, webinars, and the like. Leadership as a phenomenon has gone beyond being a “top-of-mind” topic worthy of investigation. It cannot be avoided! This is not to say that understanding the fundamentals, nuances, and importance of leadership in an organization and/or any walk of life isn’t a critical element in the success of any venture. It is.

Leadership in General
For purposes of this discussion, and for me personally, leadership is not the kind of “I’m in charge. You will do what I tell you” kind of operational imperative. This brand of leadership is a characteristic of a traditional, Command-and-Control organization, be it corporate or military. In this environment leadership is often not something that is earned, it is dictated. This could be manifest in a company, a sports team, a “volunteer” organization, a friendship, any context in which there is more than one person involved, and in which some action will be called for. In a Command-and-Control environment those being led, when given directions will think, and in many cases mumble inaudibly, “you’re not my leader, you’re my boss“.

Ok, so exactly what is this thing called Leadership, and adjunctively, what are the characteristics of a genuine “leader”? Since this column is an “Op-Ed” slant, I offer my take based on reading, attending seminars, webinars, workshops, and participating in strategic planning sessions as an attendee and as a session facilitator. Perhaps most importantly my position on this topic is based on a lifetime of leading and being led. I have very vivid memories of all of those with whom I have interacted, learned from, and taught, in a career that spans a variety of employment, volunteer, and recreational activities. Although I never thought of it at the time, and it certainly was not a pre-planned evolution, I have had 3 distinct careers, served in multiple volunteer activities, and pursued a number of athletic pursuits that placed me in the company of others who were leaders in the particular endeavor. And since I am definitely in the “senior set of my years”, I can call upon a wide range of experiences, all from which I have learned a great deal about leadership both in formal and informal contexts. Therein are my bona fides for waxing on about this sometimes over-analyzed subject.

Leadership continues to be defined in a number of ways. For example, the e-publication publication, “Trends in Business”, (Spring 2015) recently undertook a survey of respected management professionals in the U.S. business community in order to identify business leaders’ perspective of this somewhat elusive concept. What follows are several examples culled from that publication that may resonate with you.

Sample Definitions

  • “Leadership is accomplishing things that reach beyond solitary abilities by acting and getting others to act with a maturity that surpasses limited self-interest”, John Baker, president of READY Thinking, an organizational and development firm.
  • “Paraphrasing General, and U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, ‘leadership is the art of getting others to do things you want done, and feel good about it. I would say that the goal is to get the person to embrace the ‘mission’ and own it.'” Dale Hamby, a former Army Major and teacher at Harrisburg University.
  • “A leader isn’t someone linked to those with positional authority. Leadership, instead is defined alternatively as someone who influences others to achieve a common goal. This would represent the work and contributions of anyone who serves in this capacity”. Barbara Steel, Senior VP of leadership effectiveness at Zenger, Folkman and co-author for “How to be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths” (McGraw-Hill, 2012).
  • “Leadership is getting people to want to follow. That requires engaging them passionately, from the heart, and requires persuading people to change. Management is tactical: leadership is strategic”. Tom Kennedy, Strategic Planning Consultant.

I could go on and on, however this would not only be an exhausting exercise for me, but would make your eyes glaze over. Suffice to say that there are common themes in almost every definition of leadership, and all involve people and relationships. The same could be said for arriving at the major characteristics of leaders, another popular undertaking. We have all heard and/or read some variation on the theme of “The Five/Ten/Fifteen Characteristics of Leaders”, so let’s not go there. Since none of us just “fell off the melon truck” (I would assume….), we all have at least an intuitive, if not linguistically refined sense of what makes a good leader. (As an aside, there have been many leaders throughout history that mankind could have done without. Think dictators, despots and those of that nefarious ilk). For purposes of this discussion I will offer several characteristics of a good leader to which you are encouraged to add your own.

Characteristics of Leaders
For me, an overarching characteristic of a good leader is that he/she has a positive, “we can do it attitude”. However, they are not Pollyanna’s. While they may cheer us on they are not “Cheerleaders”. Cheerleaders can be valuable sideline assets, but not ordinarily leaders. Here is an opening salvo based on my thoughts to stimulate yours….

  • Leaders “make us want to do something”.
  • Leaders are strong, self-reliant, self-assured, and at the same time, humble. They can be dynamic extroverts or soft-spoken and have relatively quiet appearing personalities.
  • They do not necessarily relish the spotlight. They can lead from “in front” or “from behind”.
  • Leaders “listen”. They encourage and welcome input.
  • They don’t demand respect, they earn it.
  • They are sincere and disciplined and gain satisfaction from seeing others succeed.
  • They may be “private” people, but they are “inclusive”.
  • They can be quiet but they exude strength.
  • They provide those with whom they interact the tools, freedom, responsibility, and authority to achieve the goals set forth.
  • They communicate and demonstrate their faith in the abilities of those with whom they interact.
  • They lead by example. They are able to articulate and communicate their vision. A true leader knows that he/she may be the source of action, but is dependent upon others to make it happen. And, he/she appreciates, and never loses sight of the fact that it is those being led that will make or break achieving whatever goals have been set.

I could go on and on, however, it is really quite simple. You may not know exactly what it is, but it is palpable. You know it when you see it, and when you feel it. It definitely passes the “smell test”.

And Finally, Leadership Acknowledged

Leadership as a trait is appreciated by those who are touched by it. This is manifest in individuals who have been led, and by organizations of every stripe, from companies to international bodies. In the case of organizations the members are well-positioned to acknowledge those who have made a leadership contribution to the advancement of the ideals and goals that they collectively espouse. True leaders do not actively seek this kind of recognition. It comes to them as a result of their efforts. It is not the motivator.

The DFI does a very good job of providing this kind of recognition. Its Distinguished Service Award speaks directly to the appropriateness of acknowledging those whose acts, over time, have served the DFI and the industries it represents well. In this publication you will learn of another example of recognition to be bestowed upon industry leaders by the DFI. It will be known as the “Legends Award” and will take the organization’s appreciation of the efforts of an immediately recognizable individual to an even higher level. DFI Past President, Past Trustee and originator of the idea of creating the Legends program, David Coleman, tells us that the first Legends Awards will be presented to several individuals at the DFI’s 2015 Annual Meeting to be held in Oakland, CA. Plans are now in the works to honor this special achievement with a “Stand-Alone” seminar to be conducted every 3-5 years. It is anticipated that the seminar will have a decidedly “technical bent” with the presentation of papers, discussions, and opportunities for dynamic interaction among those in attendance. A Proceedings will be provided to participants and other interested parties. You will be learning more about this seminal event as plans unfold.

So there you have it, leadership defined and recognized from soup to nuts… Feel free to share your personal point of view, we can only learn from it.

S. Scot Litke, Honorary, Board Certified, Diplomate of Geotechnical Engineering

Scot is often referred to as the “Dean of Association Executives” in the geo-industry. He served as the Executive Director of the ADSC: The International Association of Foundation Drilling from 1982-2010. He is a member of that organization’s Hall of Fame. During his tenure with the ADSC he was the Editor-in-Chief of Foundation Drilling Magazine, the association’s flagship publication. A noted public speaker, lecturer, and author Scot has received numerous awards from a variety of geo-industry-related organizations including the ASCE’s Geo-Institute, the American Subcontractors Association, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Canadian Geotechnical Society, and the United States Universities Council for Geotechincal Engineering Research. He was the recipient of the Deep Foundations Institute’s 2014 “Distinguished Service Award”. Scot is a Founding Trustee of the Geo-Institutes, “Academy of Geo-Professionals”. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the “ASCE’s Council on the Certification of Engineering Professionals”. His column, “Beneath the Surface” appears regularly in Deep Foundations Magazine, the official publication of the Deep Foundations Institute. His writings appear in other geo-industry publications. Scot offers management consulting services in Strategic Planning and Communications to companies and organizations in the geo-industry. Scot can be reached at: scotlitke@att.net

This article originally appeared in “Deep Foundations Magazine”, the flagship publication of the Deep Foundations Institute. It is herein reprinted with permission of the DFI and the author. To learn more about the DFI and their programs visit: www.dfi.org.

This article was reproduced under the auspices of Pieresearch, manufacturer of quality concrete accessories, exclusively for the benefit of the structural and geotechnical engineering, architectural and construction community.