Guest author Dr. Jacob Rietsema on Leadership
Note: The following thoughts about leadership were written by Dr. Jacob Rietsema, an 89 year old veteran of the Dutch underground in WWII, now living in Cape Cod MA (Rietsema@verizon.net). On the occasion of Memorial Day, we thought it might be interesting to ask him what his thoughts were on leadership. His response follows:
A recent issue of TIME (May 7, 2012) gave a detailed description how the President reached the decision to take out Osama bin Laden. After asking opinions from his closest advisors and giving them ample consideration he felt capable to make the ultimate decision, which was his and his alone. It is a perfect example of how to exercise leadership. To make such decisions at the top is not a casual thing and it s also very difficult and this is nothing new. Moses, who led his 12 tribes through the desert to the promised land more than 3,000 years ago knew all about it and he had divine help.
Decision making usually follows the same pattern of setting objectives, collecting data, acquiring advice and opinions, and estimating consequences.
For some people making decisions comes naturally. For others it has to be learned which is one reason why we have courses in leadership.
In conferences and textbooks about leadership we always talk about the leadership at the top. But the ability to make decisions is needed at all levels of organization, whether it is a business, the bureaucracy or armed forces. Everybody who is responsible for an action that influences others must make decisions and is accountable for them in exerting some measure of leadership; no matter how insignificant they may be in the grand scheme of things.
As I write this, my mind turns to a situation during WWII when as a young man I had to go what was called “underground”. People of my age group (I was about 20), were not supposed to be free unless they were willing to serve the Reich. I came upon and joined a small group of similar young men who were engaged in what the Germans called “subversive actions”. We were handling weapons in preparation for D-day as we called it. Fortunately this never came about, the Germans capitulated first.
Nevertheless, we were well armed and were playing soldier with the weapons we had. However none of us had any military experience. To train during the time we had nothing going on did not appeal to us. Nor did our “leaders” have any clue what to do. We were untrained and unprepared for real action. The few times we became engaged (minor fortunately) the results were not good because we were unprepared. None of us could make the proper decisions at the right times. When I look back at it now, it is obvious that the lack of training, education and good leadership led to unpreparedness. To this day I am thankful that we never had to fight in earnest.
Although at leadership conferences the talk is about the top layer of the country and the need to provide leadership, we must not forget that all layers of society and of organization require good leadership. The sergeant who commands a platoon, the foreman in a factory who oversees a group of mechanics or the manager of an office who oversees clerks, they all must have some ability to lead, to direct and make decisions some more critical than others but decisions just the same.
While at the upper layers of our society, government, armed forces or commerce/industry, leadership is critical for our wellbeing as a country, it is no less important at all lower levels of society for a proper functioning. It must be based on knowledge, education and training.
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