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Leading with Character: A Construct for Success

Today I attended a leadership summit at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. The summit was sponsored by the Academy’s James M. Loy Institute for Leadership. Like most institutions of higher education, the Coast Guard Academy has to balance demands between its major divisions—athletics, academics, and professional development. Each of those divisions has its own functions to perform and requirements to meet. Yet they work well together.

The Secret Ingredient
So, what is the secret ingredient that leads divisions at the Coast Guard Academy to collaborate instead of compete? It’s leadership. The mission of the Coast Guard Academy is to develop cadets (students) into leaders of character to serve our nation. Leader development is a powerful nexus that unites everyone at the Academy in support of a purpose greater than themselves or their division.

An Organizational Construct
But, the magic doesn’t happen on its own. It requires an organizational construct and a lot of hard work. The Loy Institute for Leadership staff facilitate execution of the 200-week (four year) Coast Guard Academy Leader Development Program. The program is grounded in the Service’s core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty. The goal is to measure and assess leader development over the course of the program as cadets partake in a variety of hands-on leader development experiences. Using a model called LEAD, cadets Learn from theory, Experience through practice, Analyze using reflection, and Deepen understanding through mentoring.

Experiential Learning
A successful construct includes experiential learning. That learning must be structured with discrete competencies, based on doctrine, that can be measured and used to assess leader development over the 200-week program. At the Coast Guard Academy, those experiences happen in each of the major divisions—on the waterfront and in the barracks (professional development), in the classroom, and on the athletic field. Assessing leader development is hard, but necessary to demonstrate effectiveness of the program.

The Value of Leader Development
Employers and employees realize the value of leadership in the workplace and are demanding more leader development. Employers need people who can step up to make decisions, be it in times of crisis, or day-to-day. Employers need leaders who others want to follow, because retaining top talent is crucial. Employees want more freedom to make decisions that impact their work and life. They want to be empowered, and that requires learning to lead both themselves and others. Ideally, leader development should start in school, be it college or vocational training, and I believe every education and training institution should include a leader development component.

To be successful in today’s environment, organizations need an effective leader development program. Such a program can help individuals achieve their full potential and unite employers and employees in support of a higher purpose. The US Coast Guard offers a shining example.

Look in the mirror. Does your organization have an effective leader development program?

Please join me again next week for more on Leading with Character.