‘Lead by Example’: An Interview with Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield Jr.

Are people “born leaders” or can it be developed?

My observation is that leadership comes from upbringing, mentoring influences, and the demands of exigent circumstances.  Historians have wondered if Presidents Washington, Lincoln, and F.D. Roosevelt would have gained such reputation and stature had they not faced extreme challenges and overcome them.  Personal characteristics such as self-confidence, ability to maintain focus, and high social aptitude – among qualities that can often be found in leaders – are very likely developed from infancy.

What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned? 

Lead by example.  One cannot be perceived as shirking workload or acting unethically and at the same time motivate others to assume heavy work burdens and uphold the highest ethical standards.  When one’s organization is criticized for its work product, a leader should accept full responsibility, demonstrating pride and commitment in the entire workforce, and thereby motivating them to strive for better results.  When wrongdoing is found within an organization, the leader must act swiftly to introduce a fair and just process to assure that no one is wrongly blamed, due process is followed, and the full workforce is positively counseled and reminded, by the leader, of the laws, rules and standards that all must uphold.

How has your leadership style evolved?

My learning has been shaped by a series of leadership roles in student government, running a graduate school journal, and being a ‘boss’ at a young age in a partnership with younger employees.  I have participated in two different kinds of partnerships – one a creative enterprise, the other a business – in which I learned ways to persuade peers without having any advantage of rank.  In government and out of government, I have held a succession of leadership positions where I have become increasingly comfortable with the role expected of me, to help set agendas, run meetings productively, and execute the business of the organization in a manner that would withstand close scrutiny for propriety and productivity.  In today’s world of individual empowerment, the leadership style most likely to be productive, at least in the civilian world which is my only frame of reference as a non-veteran, is one setting a collaborative, mutually respectful tone rather than an authoritarian or coercive tone.

What leadership concepts do you consider during your day-to-day?

The job of a leader is to help engineer the organization’s output, so on a day-to-day basis, “job one” is seeing to it that the job gets done.  Related to that is an ongoing consideration of how to address possible weaknesses in the organization, including staffing issues, productivity, or the need to increase outside knowledge of and support for the organization.  All of these require motivating others, and part of that is to demonstrate one’s own commitment and contribution to the effort, as one way of spurring others to respond to the leader’s call to action.

What are the most important ideas a burgeoning leader ought to consider?

Picking up on the wording of that question, the “most important ideas” may in fact be ones generated by people other than the leader.  We sometimes hear that a leader likes to be ‘the smartest person in the room’ or be the one to produce ‘the answer’ to problems being considered.  This is a telltale sign of weakness in a leader.  A strong leader not only has no fear of highly intelligent and innovative subordinates, but should actively seek out skillful analysts, experienced operators and creative problem-solvers to share in the burdens of setting a course of action.  I worked for Vice President Dan Quayle, and admired the way he would bring in top policy officials and let them air their disagreements on key issues, vigorously debating right in front of him for 5-10 minutes, giving him a rich understanding of various options and their merits; we only knew which arguments had persuaded the Vice President when he later sat down in official meetings and stated his views.

What leadership skills or competencies do you look for when hiring? 

Like any boss, I look for an intellectual and emotional steadiness in someone with whom I and others will need to be working day to day. Job applicants tend to be on their best behavior, signaling reliability and willingness to take direction.  Beyond that, however, I look for intelligent self-confidence, meaning one who will think for himself or herself, even while operating within the constraints and discipline of the organization.  For more senior positions, I learned from Colin Powell that the most important characteristic is not necessarily an exquisite knowledge of every detail of the organization’s work; any smart person can learn that.  General Powell’s main criterion can be described by the question, ‘If I give responsibility for running this organization and managing all its issues to this person, can I walk in the other direction knowing that he/she can handle the task well?’  In the end, while a good understanding of the organization’s work is important, general qualities of competence, character, and yes, ‘leadership,’ can be the true keys to success in an organization.

 


Ambassador Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr. (Harvard, a.b, cum laude, Government, 1974; Fletcher School, M.A.L.D., 1980) is Chairman of the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, DC. He was the President’s Special Envoy for MANPADS Threat Reduction from 2008-2009, and Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, as well as Special Representative for the President and Secretary of State for Humanitarian Mine Action from 2001-2005.

Five tips to help you deal with a bad boss

So you don’t like your boss, or maybe your boss doesn’t like you. Either bad-boss-4001way, you two aren’t getting along and communication is breaking down. You’re starting to feel like the odd man or woman out on all the work that you once found fulfilling. But before you start heading toward the exit, perhaps you ought to reconsider. Having a bad boss can be an excellent opportunity to sharpen your leadership skills, so that you can lead everyone — even your boss — in the workplace. All that this requires from you is a proactive spirit and a desire to make the best office space possible.

One of the most common reasons for leaving a job is a incompetent or haughty supervisor, so let’s flip that proposition on its head and refuse the easy surrender. The most gratifying jobs can sometimes force us to interact with difficult people, so consider this an opportunity to get some practice in.

While you’re going at it, here are a few tips that might help:

Figure out if they’re actually a bad boss

There are many reasons we can start to resent someone, so, before you dismiss your boss totally, take some time and consider him/her fairly. Are their opinions, ideas and actions actually hurting the stakeholders in the current plan? If so, move forward with the other tips. Identify those failings, so that you can be sure to buttress yourself and others against future issues. But if they seem competent and create positive change and growth, reconsider your position. There is always the possibility that you have let your ego get in the way of a productive work environment.

Identify their motivations

Figure out why they’re acting the way they are. Gaining insight behind their actions might help you understand their desired bigger picture and management style, or it could help you understand why they’re mishandling the situation. Either way, this added layer of perception will definitely help you. A little compassion and empathy can cause you to become an active participant at the office, pushing it to new heights.

Don’t back down from your ideals

Don’t ever cower. Stand tall for your principles and make sure they are heard. If you truly believe in them, then they will hold water. Maybe the boss is stubborn or arrogant and is unwilling to allow you to build upon them, but if you’re willing to go to battle, so will your co-workers. If you don’t sacrifice any moral ground, then you have nothing for which to apologize. Plus, you never know who else might be listening. Your higher-ups could take notice.

Take the high road

Though you don’t want to back down, it is important to not turn into a tyrant yourself. Be flexible and competent. Listen. Take on the roles of your job with gusto and do them to the best of your ability. If your boss is a tough individual to deal with, offer yourself up as an example of what a good leader looks like. Show your co-workers respect, and you will be sure to get it back in spades. When angry or upset, keep your tone even, remain professional and leave the situation. Screaming or panic will only make everything more difficult later.

Avoid future bad bosses

As they say, hindsight is 20-20. If you decide to leave your current job, surely you don’t want to end up in the same situation at a different company. Be smart and do a little digging before your interview. Identify the likely people who will be in charge and see if you can recognize any similar patterns to bad bosses of working past. Take a potential co-worker out to lunch and ask them about the job’s environment. This kind of intelligence will help you make your future decision. Just make sure you’re not being weird about it.