If people are asked, what does it mean to lead, they might say, telling others what to do, or perhaps, someone who has followers. The Oxford dictionary defines lead as ‘the initiative in an action’. Those who lead are said to have leadership, but leadership can mean slightly different things to different people.
“Leadership to me means inspiring people to do great things,” said Col. Chris Mabis, commander of Kosovo Force Regional Command-East, currently stationed at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.
“You can look at the [Army] doctrinal definition of leadership, which is to provide purpose, directions and motivation to reach a common goal, but to me, leadership personally means inspiring others to do those things that are hard.”
Mabis’ counterpart, Command Sgt. Maj. Joshua Brown, echoed the statement.
“Leadership, to me, is the ability to bring in the tide that lifts all boats, or all subordinates, and in this way, turning problems into opportunities,” Brown said.
Together Mabis and Brown have nearly 58 years serving in the United States Army and with that experience comes the knowledge of how to lead Soldiers and learn skills from others.
“You can’t be around for 33 years in uniform and not have people who have shaped your leadership, right?” asked Mabis.
“When I was an enlisted Soldier, my company commander had a leadership style that was very much about connecting with others,” Mabis said.
“His ability to get on your level, to be empathetic and his ability to connect with soldiers was tremendous.”
The colonel added that it was important to recognize the difference between good leadership and bad leadership, but not to criticize why their style wasn’t so good. He said understanding where their frame of reference came from, and being able to understand why they ended up the way they did, is more important than just being critical of their leadership style.
For Brown, he described his leadership style as unconventional. As a young man, Brown was diagnosed with cancer and during his treatment, his oncologist was the one to shape his leadership style.
“He was seamless, pertaining to saying the most difficult things to people; that you were not going to make it and that you were going to make it, he was just so brilliant,” Brown said.
Brown said his doctor’s competency, brilliance and grace, coupled with his emotional intelligence and empathy, made him the most dynamic leader he has ever met.
The effect of this experience is what led Brown to his unconventional style of leadership. He said he is not worried about some of the institutional norms pertaining to the stuffiness of how leaders can react. People’s time on earth is so short and can end quickly, which is why he goes straight to connect with people.
“This might be my last and only opportunity to affect this person who I’m walking by, headed to the chow hall,” said Brown. “His life could end soon, my life could end soon and so, my leadership style is unconventional, immediate, constant and hopefully, impactful.”
Every leader out there has their own style or traits of interacting with their subordinates. For Mabis and Brown, there are several key traits which leaders should have.
“You have to set the right example for others to emulate and then you give people opportunities to lead and practice,” said Mabis.
Mabis continued by saying a good leader takes themselves out of their own role and looks at things from a different perspective. Looking through the lens of those who are being led and how others view the situation or environment.
Being a servant leader is what makes a good leader, said Brown. A servant leader, in Brown’s opinion, is not someone who turns inward, but is consistently concerned about others and leads through that concern.
“As a leader, you’re working for your subordinates,” Brown said.
Just like any two people, their leadership styles may differ, but at the heart of it, it is putting people first and being open to them and what experiences they bring.
“Being a good teammate is my leadership philosophy,” Mabis said.
Mabis explained that unconditional acceptance is important because everyone deserves a fair chance at succeeding, regardless of their job. It doesn’t matter what background a person is from, how the individual was raised or what experience level they have, everyone is given an opportunity to succeed.
“Being a good teammate boils down to unconditional acceptance of others and bringing them onto a team and, in building that team, accomplishes the mission,” Mabis said.