C4 Leadership – It’s Explosive


While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in solemn prayer.

Spoken intro to “God Bless America”
Irving Berlin, 1918

Leadership is explosive. When someone oozes leadership, things happen…in fact, they explode. People want to own some of that. So, what makes it so inviting? There are so many elements to leadership that entice. Character, commitment, competence and courage are the C4 of my leadership parlance.

Late one night, I decided it was time to revisit leadership. I marveled at what is important and what stands the test of time. As I took the stroll down memory lane, the glue that held my thoughts together coalesced around these four principles. There is nothing magical about C4—it simply is a useful way to blend concepts learned over the years.

The principles that guide us as individuals and as a nation deserve review and renewal. As America faces what is arguably its most trying time in its history, Liberty and Freedom, in fact, America needs and demands leaders. Leaders committed to what’s best for this nation; leaders who understand what’s at stake…and leaders willing to keep America free. But these leaders must be principled, thoughtfully schooled and dedicated to keeping America great.

So, it is instructive and helpful to observe, talk about and to write on leadership. I encourage you to write about your experiences and observations. It will help you prepare as storm clouds gather. As one of our great Presidents, Ronald Reagan said: “we will always remember, we will always be proud, we will always be prepared, so we will always be free.” You are the leader that will keep us free.


Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. – Abraham Lincoln

One of the most talked about measures of leadership is character. Character is the aggregate of traits that make up an individual’s moral qualities, ethics and principles. So, how is character developed? Is it nature or is it nurture? Internal wiring may lead our initial reaction but nurture encourages the interaction with our environment and peers and is a major part in our development.

Character develops over time and does not change quickly. A person’s observable behavior is an indication of their character. A person with strong character shows drive, energy, determination, self-discipline, willpower, and nerve. He sees what he wants and goes after it. He attracts followers. On the other hand, a person with weak character shows none of these traits.

Misinformed and poorly developed character leads to wrong decisions and susceptibility to wrongheaded nurture. This recent story from a German newspaper relates the negative effects of nurture when allowed to proceed down the wrong path. “Two German converts to Islam and two Turks were found guilty Thursday of plotting a thwarted attack that a judge said could have killed large numbers of U.S. soldiers and civilians in “a terrible bloodbath.” “Increasingly, violent Islam has a devastating pull over young people in our society,” Judge Ottmar Breidling said in his ruling, calling international terrorism “the scourge of our time.” “This case has shown with frightening clarity what acts young people who are filled with hatred, blinded and seduced by wrong-headed ideas of jihad are prepared and able to carry out.”

So, character does matter and peers and the environment play a big part. Developing the pillars of trust, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship are key to enabling character. Having the right role models, setting the right vision and developing positive self-esteem are keys to success. Healthy self-esteem comes in large part from our upbringing, how we are loved and cared for. No matter how we have grown up in this world self-esteem plays a large part in how we live our daily lives. We have the ability to transform any situation by focusing on what we want.

People exhibit strong character in many ways. During a unit visit, I spoke with an employee who had strong character, was very respected and had high self esteem. Helga was an aircraft-sanitation worker who was extremely proud of the work she accomplished. She explained her duties with pride during our discussion. Her tasks included cleaning the lavatories from the aircraft after they were completely removed. She detailed the lavatories with necessary disinfectant using a toothbrush and good old elbow grease–clearly an unpleasant task that she had to repeat multiple times if the aircraft’s lavatory were to be completely cleaned. While I was hesitant to shake her hand on the site, I certainly enjoyed our conversation and I was very appreciative of what she did for our organization. What was so amazing though was that Helga was even more appreciative. She enjoyed what she did and it was important to her to take that equipment from dirty to sparkling. I gained complete respect for her abilities, dedication and character. What to some of us would seem like mundane and undesirable work, she embraced with the knowledge that the lavatory was a part of the required equipment for mission success and she was not having any part of failure. Helga was a true leader and she set a standard of excellence that challenged the most dedicated.

Leaders of character build excellence. The essence is to do the right thing when no one is looking. Excellence in all you do is essentially “being all you can be” within the bounds of doing what is right for your organization. To reach excellence you must first be a leader of good character. You must do everything you are supposed to do. Leaders drive vision, instill guidance and exhibit good management of the resources entrusted to their care. Excellence starts with leaders of good and strong character who engage in the entire process of leadership. And the first process is being a person of honorable character.

Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing. – Warren Bennis, Ph.D. On Becoming a Leader


“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” – Goethe

Commitment is a pledge to do something, a dedication to a course of action or engagement. As leaders we often underestimate the power of commitment. There is something powerful about being committed to a vision or to a meaningful purpose. You become more attuned to a new set of events occurring around you much like when you purchase something new; you then tend to increasingly notice that item.

The moment you commit, providence moves too. A whole stream of events including unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, become available. So making a decision to act and taking bold steps to bring that vision into reality is key.

Commitment, like any other leadership tenet, has its cautions. Some may assume that commitment means long hours, while to others it may mean productivity. Getting ahead of the process to define expectations will help success rates soar. Remember, we all must be convinced that the course of action is the correct one and to just assume that everyone is “bought in” may leave you short of teammates. So, walking through the process with your team is important. Address doubts and fears and give people time to think about the commitment.

A leader must commit to the people who bring life to the organizational goals. Establishing an atmosphere of trust and inclusion encourages the commitment process. When trust prevails, team members are more willing to go through a difficult process, supported through ups, downs, risk and potential loss. With leadership’s commitment to a clear vision, and a genuine plan to share risks and rewards, the atmosphere for trust is in place. General Omar Bradley said, “A leader should possess human understanding and consideration for others. Men are not robots and should not be treated as such. I do not by any means suggest coddling. But men are intelligent, complicated beings who will respond favorably to human understanding and consideration. By these means, their leader will get maximum effort from each of them. He will also get loyalty.”

In addition, leaders must become deeply committed to the organization and the vision must be that of their organization and their boss. Absent that, people will doubt. If they can achieve this type of commitment, enhanced mission accomplishment and success are just around the corner.

In order to succeed, leaders must always keep in mind what they want to accomplish and they must persist. As Calvin Coolidge said, “nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Leaders must articulate the mission to their people. They must understand the vision, commit to the mission, address the fears and concerns, establish trust and persist in their efforts to achieve success.

“You can be anything you want to be, if only you believe with sufficient conviction and act in accordance with your faith; for whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.”
— Napoleon Hill


“Did you ever see an unhappy horse? Did you ever see a
bird that has the blues? One reason why birds and horses are
not unhappy is because they are not trying to impress other
birds and horses.” –Dale Carnegie

Competence is the result of hard work and study. Performance is a must and there is no substitute. Performance for the horse is measured in number of riders or miles traveled or some other metric but focused on an objective. And success is not determined by someone else but by the horses strength and speed. Much the same, a leader is measured by his ability to get the job done. To get the job done and excel in any walk of life, the leader must be competent in good times and bad. The real measure of competence appears in tough times. It goes beyond just not screwing up. Real competence is measured when there are hard decisions. Real competence shines even in the darkest times.

People want to follow someone who is competent. That person will have all the tools for the occasion and will know which one is appropriate. The competent leader will do what is best for everyone involved and will ignore the path of least resistance. He will use the appropriate mix of knowledge, skill and attitude to be effective in the organization.

Competent leaders assess the full spectrum of events and are not paralyzed by the risk. They can create the right outcome at just the right time. Intuition, informed by experience and study, leads them to do the right thing regardless of the surrounding confusion. And when mistakes are made, they have the self-confidence to admit the mistake with transparency and to grow from the lesson along with their team.

Seldom do competent leaders splash in the headlines because they aren’t looking for the glory; they are satisfied with a job well done. They are confident in their achievements and their history of success speaks for itself. When people in the organization respond to some action taken by a leader with a thought like “I’m glad he’s in charge” or “no wonder he’s in charge” then the complement recognizes competency.

Life long study is a lifestyle choice that improves competency and leads to wisdom and self-awareness. To develop good leadership characteristics, you need to commit to continual learning–both formally and informally. It is easy to take a class or two each year while turning the pages of that well creased book on the nightstand. I learned early on that learning from history would prevent wasted time trying to reinvent the wheel. Learning how others overcome adversity build’s competence and confidence in one’s own ability.

As Yogi Berra said: “If you don’t know where you’re going…you’ll end up somewhere else.” A competent leader will map a winning direction and will actively communicate his vision. His ability to influence the organization in that direction is key to success. Many times when a leader has no time to think and plan for the future, it is because most of the time is spent in the present. Their organization and systems probably rely too much on the leader for input at every stage.

Some leaders have a clear vision, but won’t share it. Concern over losing credibility if they are not able to achieve the objective overrides their sense of trust. People need to know that a leader has a strong vision for the future and a strong plan for going forward. Absent that, organizations flounder. Leaders can communicate their goals and vision for the future without making promises that they may not be able to keep.

“The reason God gave you two ears and one mouth is so that you can listen twice as much as you talk.” We’ve all heard this adage but have we applied it? Listening and responding affirmatively inculcates a sense of a “Yes Leader.” People know that their ideas will be considered. They know that you will take on the additional commitment and responsibilities to research and follow-up with their ideas. Even if the follow-up answer is you can’t, just the act of being inclusive adds to your respectability and competence quotient. And who knows, you may be able to accomplish a majority of those ideas with a little hard work and some personal commitment. So, prepare yourself to be a competent leader through hard work and study.

“Success is the place in the road where preparation and opportunity meet. But too few people recognize it, because too often it comes disguised as hard work.” – Anonymous


“Courage is the first human virtue because it makes all of the other virtues possible.” — Aristotle

John F. Kennedy said: “Courage – not complacency – is our need today. Leadership not salesmanship.” It remains true today. One must summon the courage, whether in business or personal life, to march toward the sound of the gunfire. When your courage stops, your leadership stops.

It takes courage to face our fears and doubts, and then to act. Being courageous is having the perseverance to accomplish a goal, regardless of the seemingly insurmountable odds. Doing what is standard, common and habitual is natural. We can walk the path of least resistance without thinking. But to be true to our character, to step out with integrity, to instill trust and competence requires the courage to embrace change and its associated discomfort.

Courage is crucial in all walks of life. A lack of courage can be paralyzing. Speaking up at a meeting, confronting gossip, embracing change, admitting a need for help are all examples of every day opportunities to exhibit courage.

Offering opinions and solutions that may be unpopular is a scary proposition. Yet, the courage leader leaves conformity and comfort behind to voice their opinions and judgments and they stand by that commitment even when challenged. I ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen? Usually, the worst doesn’t happen, so take the risk.

Organizations need new ideas. It takes courage to introduce those ideas. And it takes time and nurturing for those ideas to mature. To overcome challenge, we must think and act out of the box. People must do their homework and they must effectively present their ideas. Between the conception and the execution, there is courage. Leaders fail when they don’t act on their ideas. Be bold and faithful to yourself and your team.

The recent massive corporate failures of Wall Street and Detroit are only the latest in a recent series that includes Enron and WorldCom. These corporate failures represent corruption and unethical behavior on an unimaginable scale. They also represent a major failure of courage. To speak out against the madness may be the downfall of those who have succumbed and also those who report. The culture of restraint to “whistle blow” is a failure of nerve and courage because it is far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone. You must have the courage to care, to care enough about your deeply held personal principles that you hold to these in the face of personal risks. Companies and their leaders must hold themselves to higher standards and not to short term profits. And when infractions occur, it takes courage to point out the weaknesses.

“The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, `I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line, it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt


A commitment to review and renew personal tenets of leadership is essential to sustaining a healthy perspective on personal and business life. Understanding underlying core values and ethics strengthens character and essence. One of my favorite stories about David and Goliath ties C4 leadership principles together. Because of his character, David was willing to standup and fight against evil. He faced a giant and was able to defeat him. He was principled and committed to accomplishing what he was called to do. David ran to the battle. He knew that action needed to be taken and he did the right thing in spite of discouraging insults and fearful threats. David took the skills that he learned as a youth and using his sling shot, brought the giant to the ground. He then displayed even greater courage as he completed his duty with the sword in spite of his small stature.

When facing leadership decisions, we all face giants. How to face them is the question. So, be prepared because America needs and demands your leadership. C4 is a great recipe for facing those leadership demands.

To do the right thing when no one is looking is character
To know how to do it is competency
To dedicate to doing something is commitment
To uphold your values in the face of risk is courage
To get others to do all these things is C4 leadership

Explore posts in the same categories: Leadership

Tags: , , , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: