Over the years I have had the unique opportunity to speak to a variety of audiences in many different areas related to public safety, intelligence, and command leadership principles. Some of my favorite experiences were speaking in front of newly promoted members of police organizations that were set on making a difference in lives of the men and women that they would be leading on the street. What always comes to mind when I reminisce on these times was working with the Newark, New Jersey Police Department in their new promotee training program. I can still see the eagerness in many of their faces knowing that they were about to embark into an area that would leave an indelible mark on those they were sworn to lead. With that as a backdrop, regardless of the time I spoke with the group and the content covered, I would always prioritize the top three things they needed to be doing starting today to become a better leader of people.
Read, read, and read!
Read to gain experience from the experience of others
I have often remarked about NYPD Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple and how his insights revolutionized the way crime can be fought. While I have met many who have worked with or were mentored by Maple, unfortunately he passed well before I had the opportunity to meet him personally. Yet not being in his presence never limited my exposure to him or his insights. Reading The Crime Fighter: Putting the Bad Guys Out of Business provided me a master’s level education into understanding crime as a business, how to enact measures both proactively and reactively to address crime, and the value of relentless follow-up to ensure that tactics and strategies implemented were functioning as designed. While technology has come a long way since Maple published his book in 2000, aspiring leaders can learn a great deal about leveraging people, processes, and available technology to achieve groundbreaking achievements. Sadly, many of us will never have the opportunity to experience Jack Maple in the flesh, but we can gain immensely from reading about his insights and how he implemented them to make New York City a safer place at the time.
Read to travel to another time and place
I have been to Thermopylae, a rocky mountain pass in northern Greece, where the feared and admired Spartan soldiers stood three hundred strong. Here the Spartans were eager to take on a suicide mission necessary for holding back the pass of invading Persian army that stood a million strong. Thanks to Steven Pressfield, in the Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, I was transported to another universe. It was here I learned about the ideals of duty, patriotism, and honor. Escaping to this other world, I joined millions of readers that came before me and those after me to fully appreciate the difference between being a king as opposed to a leader. A leader sacrifices with his people, earns loyalty through sacrifice not intimidation or reward, and serves the led! Pressfield’s world, some say immortalized in the movie 300, transported me to a fictional superstitious land where I could witness first-hand the honor, duty, and bravery of the Spartans. This experience has served me well in understanding the mantle of leadership and its impact on inspiring others to do things for the greater good of society or an organization.
Read to understand more about leaders you can never meet
When I think of leadership and those that have created a legacy worth emulating, I will always turn to Abraham Lincoln. His memory will be forever etched in my own as someone – while seemingly immortal – who is the greatest leader of our time. Lincoln was a lifelong learner, who was open-minded with a tremendous sense of empathy that offered him the skills needed to persuade and lead teams even if they were against him. The 750-page tome, by Doris Kearns, entitled Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, introduced me to a man whose character was unmatched. He had the incredible ability to bring disgruntled opponents together, build a diverse cabinet, and then marshal their skills and talents to preserve the Union. Meeting Lincoln in this way offered me an incredible vantage point into his long and tenacious struggle with a hostile Congress, incompetent generals, and rivals, some who turned into close friends. Team of Rivals was such a compelling read for me of this great man. So much so, that when he was assassinated in the book, I could feel the emotional blow as if it was someone I had known personally for some time. While I could never be Lincoln, my interaction with him provided me with the standards I will always aspire to. I am better for it but could have never met this man without the power of reading.
George R.R. Martin, an American novelist and screen writer, once wrote, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” Harry Truman once said, “not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Both Martin and Truman’s words offer sound advice today for those aspiring leaders seeking to prepare themselves for tomorrow. Reading challenges your own status quo. Reading inspires you to innovate. Reading increases your knowledge of history. Reading strengthens your worldview and convictions. Reading introduces you to new ideas and helps you solve problems.
Message to aspiring leaders: Experience a thousand lives…read, read, read!!!