I had the honor of speaking to graduates of the VA’s LEAD (Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability, Development) course today. The workforce within the Veterans Administration is aging, and the organizations is proactively working to grow its next generation of leaders from within.

The organizers asked me to speak about leadership.

It is a big topic, so I focused on the age old question: Is there such a thing as a “natural born leader”, or is leadership a skill that is learned?

My answer: It is both.

The world is full of people who can see a problem, and full of people who realize something must be done to solve it. Leaders are the ones who take the additional step to say, “I will do it.” That comes from within, and reveals an inner strength that not everyone possesses. Heroism on the battlefield is a manifestation of that inner strength.

But it does not stop there. The leader then must figure out HOW to solve the problem, and it is at that point that leadership skills become important. Those skills are almost always learned by formal training or by watching others with more experience.

My advice:

1. Steal techniques from the leaders you respect; reject them from those you do not.
2. Don’t let ego get in your way. You will make mistakes. Acknowledge them, adjust, and move on.
3. Take care of those in your charge. Take care of your troops and they will take care of you.
4. Your word is everything. None of your inherent strengths (your willingness to step forward and take responsibility) or your learned skills are worth a dime of your employees do not trust you. People have to know that your word is gold.

If you take what you have learned and couple that with your natural leadership traits – and are faithful to both – there is nothing you cannot accomplish as a leader.

Congratulations to the LEAD graduates – you are the future leaders within the VA. Many thousands of veterans will rely on your leadership in the years to come. It is an awesome responsibility, but you have already stepped forward to say, “I will do it.” It is up to you, now, to finish the task.


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