Local crowd given leadership secrets

February 14, 2019

Good leaders are like gardeners, a leadership consultant said Wednesday.

“Gardeners don’t make plants grow; plants grow by themselves, right? All gardeners do is cultivate an ecosystem where plants can grow,” Jeff Eggers told a luncheon meeting of the Northeast Indiana Base Community Council.

Leaders should be thinking about cultivating members of their organizations “rather than always controlling” them, he said at the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation.

Eggers was a 20-year Navy SEAL and a former national security adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Today, he is executive director of the Leadership Institute for McChrystal Group, a consulting firm begun by retired Army general Stanley McChrystal, former commander of international forces in Afghanistan.

Eggers, who with McChrystal and Jeff Mangone wrote the bestseller “Leaders: Myth and Reality,” offered his Fort Wayne audience examples of failed leadership: his own.

He recalled almost getting two of his forces killed in Iraq when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device after Eggers “made a decision to do X instead of Y.” He talked about another Iraq mission he led that went “sideways” and resulted in civilian injuries.

The lesson learned? “Domineering leaders are an impediment to good decision-making,” Eggers said.

About 120 people attended Wednesday’s luncheon. The Northeast Indiana Base Community Council participates in programs and projects that support area military personnel and their families.

Context dictates leadership, Eggers said. For instance, the stirring remarks Bush delivered in New York City days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks came only after somebody in the crowd yelled that he couldn’t hear the president’s comments.

“I can hear you! I can hear you!” Bush shouted back into a bullhorn. “The rest of the world hears you! And the people : and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

Eggers said Bush has acknowledged that his speech, which the crowd cheered, had been an accident.

“So we usually say that leadership is in the moment. But there was no leadership in that moment until the president became responsive to that person who yelled at him,” Eggers said.

During a meeting with Obama in 2011, the head of the Navy SEAL team that killed Sept. 11 organizer Osama bin Laden in Pakistan deflected attention to his team members, Eggers recounted.

“We think of leadership as being something the leader brings to a situation. Leadership is found equally within the followers. That leader’s style was as determined by the team as it was by himself,” Eggers said.

Effective leaders embrace and manage paradox, Eggers said. Steve Jobs, the late chief executive of Apple, could be supremely confident and humble. The late U.S. senator John McCain of Arizona could see both sides of a divisive issue, such as when the former prisoner of war befriended a Vietnam War protester who had disparaged U.S. soldiers.

Such leaders “practice and leverage what we call polarities, which is doing two things at once that seem contradictory, not treating things as black and white,” Eggers said.

They “have the right answer, have the strength of vision” to inspire confidence from followers, Eggers said, “but they’re also fallible, vulnerable, humble, so that they unlock the potential of the team. And leaders who can develop both of those attributes are incredibly effective.”

He added that military veterans are “uniquely skilled” at managing paradox.