Barking Dogs Never Bite

(This was originally written by Lt Col Ron Padavan, CAP and published on Cadetstuff.org)

While conducting research for the Great Lakes Region Leadership School, I found over 700,000 hits on the internet with the words “military” and “leadership” in them. I personally checked out over 1000 of those hits.

What I found was a variety of articles on that elusive subject of leadership. These articles ranged from the civilian business model of leadership to the traditional military leadership models. Within these models there were numerous sub-articles.

While I was searching for some specific information, I did notice that there were many similarities between the business and military styles of leadership. One of these similarities was in the area of how to treat people.

This subject reminded me of an old joke I once heard:

A duck hunter is going on a hunting trip to a hunting lodge when his dog falls ill. The lodge owner lends the hunter one of his dogs, an award- winning retriever named “Major.” This dog is a fabulous duck hunting dog and the hunter falls in love with him.The next year he does not even bring his dog on the hunting trip and when he arrives at the lodge he asks the owner to lend him Major again. The owner informs him that Major is not the same dog that he hunted with last year.

The hunter is shocked and dismayed.

“Why?” he asks, “What happened?”

“Well,” the lodge owner replied, “It seems someone called the him ‘Lieutenant Colonel’ and now all he does is sit in a corner and bark orders.”

What does this have to do with leadership?

Well, it seems that many of us believe that as we get promoted our basic job seems to change. That we go from being good role models and leaders into being “Old Salts” and managers. We get the idea that we can sit in the corner and bark orders and things will get done. This cannot be further from the truth.

Taking care of your people is one of the basic tenets of leadership at every level. Without it, all else falls by the wayside. We can all imagine the ways we can take care of our people: recognition for a job well done, keeping them safe from harm, giving them good advice and guidance, to name a few. However, how many of us have thought about how we treat the people as a way of taking care of them?

One of the sites I visited on my search was a newsgroup on the 4H club. “Humm”, I said to myself, “a funny place for the words military leadership to be found.” The message I read was from a mother who was commenting on her experience with CAP. She said that her son was very interested in aviation and the military so she found a local CAP unit and started attending meetings. After the initial orientation her son joined the squadron, but was soon turned off to CAP. Why? His first meeting as a cadet he was treated to a cadet leader yelling at the squadron. This yelling was loud enough for her to even hear it in the next classroom. Her son did not attend any further meetings.

Is this the way we are teaching our future leaders to take care of their people? To use intimidation and fear to get the job done? Where did this young impressionable cadet leader learn his leadership style from? Was it from the dog named “Lieutenant Colonel” sitting in a corner and barking orders? Was it from a Cadet Lieutenant Colonel at encampment sitting in the corner barking orders? Was it from the C/TSgt flight sergeant at his basic encampment barking orders? Actually, it does not matter where he learned it from, the outcome was the same, the loss of another member of CAP and a disgruntled mother who had nothing good to say about us in the 4H newsgroup.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower once said: “You do not lead by hitting people over the head–that’s assault, not leadership.” John J. Brennan, Chairman and CEO of The Vanguard Group said in a speech “…leaders must put their people ahead of themselves. It’s the leaders’ responsibility to make work challenging, enjoyable, and rewarding for their people, and in my opinion, you cannot do that except by creating a positive environment.”

Those quotes come from two very diverse leadership areas, business and military and span 50 years in time, but both point to the same thing. Barking orders, fear and intimidation are not the way to lead.

All of us in leadership positions in CAP must remember we are dealing with young, impressionable youths. Our actions, words and indeed the way we carry ourselves are messages we send to them. Messages that they soak in like a sponge even if they don’t know it. From the cadet element leader to the National Commander, our every word, gesture and attitude may be imitated by our subordinates. We do not cease being role models for our people as we move up in rank or position. Exactly the opposite, and we even remain role models without the uniform. We become more of the ideal that they wish to emulate. We become the pinnacle of their aspirations.

Let us not forget this as our ever changing organization moves forward, as our goals and objectives change due to new and greater positions within the organization, as some of us move from squadron to group, to wing, to region and beyond. No matter our position or rank, we cannot just sit in a corner and bark orders. We remain leaders. Responsible to our people to take care of them in all ways.

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