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Take the High Ground

So many amazing leadership lessons can be found in history.

Yes, our U.S. history has good and bad. All countries have this dichotomy. I truly believe this – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it [1].” We can learn so much from exploring the past and, through lessons learned, vow never to repeat the mistakes.

As part of my government executive training program, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Gettysburg College for a leadership session surrounding the Civil War and the Gettysburg battlefield.

Now, let me tell you, I am not a history buff. I’m more of a fiction thriller/murder mystery buff. Being told I had to read “Gettysburg” prior to attending the executive class felt a bit like torture. And, I was headed out on a three-week vacation road trip with hubby right before the class started. How could I make this happen, fun and a learning experience?

The “Gettysburg” audiobook came to the rescue (at the time, it was library loaned CDs – yes, it was 2004.) Thank goodness my hubby loves history; he had already read the book and was more than happy to listen to the audiobook as he drove us cross-country. Oh my goodness – I learned and gained so much. Did I agree with the various Civil War leaders? Heck no! But, if I listened, I could learn how history could help me become a better leader.

Add on the Gettysburg College Leadership knowledge and walking the battlefields. Honestly, I still get chills thinking about it.

My greatest takeaway was “take the high ground.” 

What does that mean? How do I, or more importantly you, use that in real life?

For me, introspection is key to business success and personal happiness. No matter what, living true and being my authentic self is key to happiness.

I recently read about Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. He attributes his leadership growth journey to his time in the Army. I love his quote – “Rank alone would not compel soldiers to follow you [as a leader].” Chip believes in 10 lessons on leadership. These 10 lessons hold true for military and non-military teams. See what you think and how these may help you on your journey.

1. Always eat last – to be a good leader, you take care of your people first.

2. Never ask a soldier to do something you wouldn’t do yourself

3. Take the high ground – Always stand for what is right and lead for progress. Leaders determine the “high ground” they want to own and fight for it.

4. Casual pace, casual results – Have deadlines. Don’t dawdle. Create urgency, and you will get better work.

5. It’s better to make the wrong decision than to make no decision at all – Strong leaders are not afraid to make decisive decisions. They take a stand. Leaders face times when they have to make tough decisions. Strong leaders remain visible during challenging times.

6. When in doubt, attack – Momentum is everything. The only way you create momentum is by moving forward.

7. Never “dig in” and defend – When faced with a competitive threat, think attack. How can you turn a competitive attack into your advantage with a well-planned counterattack?

8. Walk the track park– Look at unexpected indicators and even the seemingly small things. Find discipline in unexpected places, and you’ll find teams who deliver exceptional results all the time.

9. Always have a “plan B” – Every good leader always has at least one fallback plan (and often more than one) because things never go as planned.

10. Leaders lead from the front – Strong leaders go to where the day-to-day “combat” is being fought – in the markets, with customers, with consumers, etc. – and they listen to their “frontline commanders.”

Taking the high ground is about walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Be your best self, no matter how hard it may be. Always bring your best so you can stand proud when you look in the mirror. As Chip would say “Always do the harder right, not the easier wrong.” And, take the high ground.

[1] George Santayana, writer/philosopher

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Rebecca (Becky) Mack Johnson’s government career spans almost 34 years. She’s been an SES executive for over 15 years. Her leadership experiences range from business operations’ positions to the human capital side of the house. Becky’s passion centers around helping people grow and achieve their goals. Becky considers receiving the Treasury Department’s Leadership Legacy Award in 2017 as one of her greatest accomplishments. Becky believes continual learning is essential. To practice what she preaches, Becky completed her Masters Degree in Strategic Public Relations in her early 40s. She is also an International Coaching Federation ACC certified coach and a Project Management Professional.

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