David Sluter
By David Sluter on August 05, 2015

Lessons From 45+ Years In Leadership


David_Sluter CEO Spotlight Leadership

What is leadership? Anyone who has led a family, an organization or has been led by others has their own understanding of what leadership means. I am not sure one can easily define leadership with a few words or thoughts. One way to understand leadership is to describe what good leaders do and how they act.

My first lesson in leadership came when I was publicly and summarily dismissed by my drill sergeant from my appointed position as squad leader in my basic training platoon at Ft. Jackson, SC. I had failed to grasp the basic concept of teamwork that was at the very core of military values. I was 20 years old and had failed my first leadership test. I was embarrassed and humbled. My leadership journey over the ensuing 45+ years has not been linear or smooth. 

Here are some tips on what it means to be a leader and how to lead:

  • The first responsibility of a leader is to define and acknowledge reality.  Reality demands attention and action.  Facing reality and dealing with it is leadership in action.  It is essential to all achievements.

  • Leaders are team builders and the glue that holds them together. They embrace diversity and appreciate each person’s unique gifts.

  • Leaders are servants first. They must serve the needs of their institutions and their people. They must invest in people and help create long-term assets.

  • Leaders must identify, nurture and develop future leaders.

  • Leaders make sure that their organizations are doing the right thing as well as doing the thing right.

  • It is just as important for a leader to communicate what we are NOT going to do.

  • Being a leader means making a difference in the lives of those who they lead.

  • Leaders make work productive, meaningful, enriching and fun.

  • Leaders are lifelong learners who share their joy of learning with others.

  • Making sure that every team has a creator, an enabler and an implementer is the sign of a good leader.

  • Good leaders provide a safe environment – one where people are allowed to fail. Failure is a part of the process that leads to learning and growth for good people.

  • In addition to hierarchical leaders, every organization needs quiet leaders. Quiet leaders are the ones who are interested in us and who are there when we need them – to help, lend a sympathetic ear and to encourage us when we are down.

  • Leaders help us reach our potential.

  • The ability of a leader to focus on what is important and essential and communicate the mission consistently is critical.

  • Leaders must be visionaries.  Visionaries see opportunities where others see problems. They understand risk and have the courage to make bets.

  • A leader embraces creative people and their contributions.

  • Ethics and leadership are inseparable. Good leadership depends on consistent and clear demonstration of ethical values and behavior.

  • Leaders must provide the answer to questions – “Who matters?” and "What matters?”

  • Leaders keep promises – especially when the organization is under stress. Leaders who back away from promises under duress lose trust and credibility.

  • Leaders must be able to distinguish between important and urgent and prioritize the important.

  • Good leaders understand the past, acknowledge the present and embrace the future.

Whether you are leading a company, a family or leading your own life, we must all be mindful that our leadership skills are being evaluated and sharpened regularly. 

This certainly is not a complete picture of leadership or leaders. Every leader has their own journey. For me, this journey is a lifelong passion.


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Published by David Sluter August 5, 2015
David Sluter