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Federal Coach: Honoring Veterans Day with leadership lessons from the military

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

Veterans’ Day holds special significance for me because my dad served in post-World War II Germany with the Army and my uncle died in combat during World War II.

Whether or not you or your family have a personal experience serving in the military, all of us should stop to thank our nation’s veterans this Friday.

Because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I thought it would be timely to share some lessons learned from our best military leaders and how they can be applied to the civilian side of our federal government.

In part, these lessons come from the insights and experiences of such military leaders as Eric Shinseki, a former general and now secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs; Ret. Gen. Colin Powell; former Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen; Ret. Gen and now CIA director David Petraeus; Ret. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf; and the late Gen. George S. Patton.

  • Build teamwork above all else.
  • Create a clear vision for your team and stay focused on the goal at hand.
  • Lead from the front and take personal responsibility for the success or the failure of your team.
  • Never put yourself before your team.
  • Have the back of your employees. Defend them publicly, and if you have a problem with an employee’s performance, deal with the issue privately.
  • Stay ahead of the competition.
  • Learn to take risks.
  • Have a “can do” attitude. Find ways to work around obstacles that may get in the way of achieving your mission.
  • Be a continuous learner. Create a personal development plan and seek out opportunities for professional growth.
  • Find a mentor.

If I’ve learned anything from friends and family serving in the military, though, it’s that laughter can help alleviate the burdens that come with such significant responsibility. My dad’s stories from serving overseas always remind me that you can still have fun while working hard.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Nov 11, 2011 at 12:12 PM


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