A Leader Must be Part Teacher, Part Preacher, and Always a Student


A Leader Must be Part Teacher, Part Preacher, and Always a Student

Bob Harkins

CEO of Harkins Consulting LLC 

For 27 years I served in the U.S. Army. That was followed by 25 years of leadership at two universities. As a leader I always focused on a quote from a former paratrooper leader. “To be a leader you must be part teacher, part preacher and part little boy who loves to be a soldier.” 

A leader is always a teacher, working with employees, teaching, by example, clear communications and directions. The leader must believe in the company and organization for which they work and preach the values and mission of the organization. The leader must love the work they are doing. If a leader can’t do these things, they should seriously consider a switch of companies or careers. 

All leaders believe and support the organization for which they work. The leader sets goals and instills the value system of the organization. A good leader communicates in clear language. They provide training and growth opportunities for the employees. The leader ensures that that workers have the resources they need to do their jobs. A manager focuses on accomplishment of tasks. 

Good leaders are grounded in the belief that if a leader “walks by” a mistake or bad action then that leader owns that mistake or action. That thought motivated me for all my years of leadership. The leader must define the values and mission of the organization with clear communications. The leader must be visible and available to all employees. A good leader is confident in his position and its responsibilities. 

In the 2022 era there are many challenges that face leaders in all fields. I think the biggest challenge for leaders is to make merit the reward for hard work. All areas of our industry must balance merit with the need to address diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels of the organization. The reality of leading an organization must be based on talent and merit, but we must also be aware and work to correct past discrimination. Hire and promote on growth potential. Grow leaders on the quality of their work performance. 

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a Union hero of the Gettysburg Battle, 1863. He commanded the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment and won the medal of honor for leading the bayonet charge to stop the Confederate attack on July 3, 1863. He was promoted to Major General. He returned to civilian life after the war and served as President of Bowdoin College and Governor of Maine. He was a solid leader under the most difficult circumstance and a man of honor. 

Teamwork is essential to the success of the organization. Essential to successful teams is competency of the members. This means training and common understanding of the mission, goals, and values. The leader must value input by all members. Team members must be recognized for superior performance. Teams need leaders who will represent their needs. The leader obtains resources for mission accomplishment. 

During my Army career I held leadership positions from platoon (44 soldiers) to a brigade (3,000 soldiers). The best job was as an infantry battalion commander. I was privileged to do the job for two years. Two years of leading 750 soldiers. I was able to focus that unit on combat skills and prepare them for future conflicts. In my post Army career, I retired as the Associate Vice President for Campus Safety and Security for the University of Texas. It was a stressful job. However, that job had daily challenges and many moving parts daily. So, I was lucky to have my dream job twice. 

How do you re-invent yourself daily to avoid being complacent? 

By being visible and “out of the office.” In our industry it is said the parking leadership begins with an understanding of the lanes. Talk with people! But it is most important to learn to listen and understand what your employees are saying to you. Be out wherever the action is. Yes, that means at night, on the weekend, and holidays also. If you are a teacher, preacher and that person who loves their job, each day will be a new challenge.”

Bob Harkins is a Retired US Army Colonel and former vice president at the University of Texas. He is CEO of Harkins Consulting LLC

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