The Laws of Success – Part 5

Lesson five in The Law of Success in 16 Lessons concerns initiative and leadership. Napoleon Hill quotes Elbert Hubbard to define initiative as “doing the right thing without being told.” Again I am reminded of the same principle within Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; it is what Covey refers to as “being proactive”.

You have probably heard that there are three kinds of people in the world: those that make things happen; those that watch things happen; and those who wonder what happened. Hubbard uses different language to express the same idea and he asks the reader to evaluate to which class he or she belongs. It is a good question. Of course, if you have internalised the habit of being proactive, you will be in the first group (make things happen). If you are not yet in the first group, there’s still room enough for you.

In this lesson, Hill recommends reading The Science of Power by Benjamin Kidd so that the reader might fully grasp the principle of cooperative effort (Covey refers to this principle as ‘synergy’ in the 7 Habits). A free download of this book is available here: The Science of Power Download.

Hill provides an excellent example of synergy (cooperative effort) from his own experience. It concerned how he managed to get a railroad bridge built when the rail company felt they were unable to justify the expense of building it. Hill was apparently able to see that two other large companies would also benefit from the presence of the bridge. Approaching all three companies – the railway company and the other two – he proposed that they should all pay one third of the cost of getting the bridge built.

They all agreed and the bridge was indeed built. In the process of getting it built, Hill had clearly exercised the important qualities of leadership encompassing: having a vision (definite chief aim), taking the initiative and inspiring the parties concerned.

An address made by a Major Bach and given to a group of the student-officers of the Second Training Camp at Fort Sheridan during World War I is reproduced by Hill as instruction in the qualities that are necessary of an effective leader. Hill comments that, “it is my earnest hope that … this remarkable dissertation on leadership will find its way into the hands of every employer and every worker and every ambitious person who aspires to leadership in any walk of life.”

The speech itself turns out to be quite lengthy. However, here are a few selected excerpts from Major Bach’s speech:

When you join your organization you will find there a willing body of men who ask from you nothing more than the qualities that will command their respect, their loyalty and their obedience.

They are perfectly ready and eager to follow you so long as you can convince them that you have these qualities. When the time comes that they are satisfied you do not possess them you might as well kiss yourself good-bye. Your usefulness in that organization is at an end.

In a few days the great mass of you men will receive commissions as officers. These commissions will not make you leaders; they will merely make you officers. They will place you in a position where you can become leaders if you possess the proper attributes. But you must make good, not so much with the men over you as with the men under you.

You will ask yourselves: “Of just what, then, does leadership consist? What must I do to become a leader? What are the attributes of leadership, and how can I cultivate them?” Leadership is a composite of a number of qualities. Among the most important, I would list Self-Confidence, Moral Ascendency, Self-Sacrifice, Paternalism, Fairness, Initiative, Decision, Dignity and Courage.

In my leadership workshops, I sometimes get people to brainstorm the characteristics of effective leaders and then consider whether or not those characteristics can be learned or acquired. The above list provided by Major Bach is an excellent summary of what is required to become an effective leader.

His comment that the usefulness of the leader is ‘at an end’ when people become satisfied that the leader no longer possesses these qualities is also very astute in my opinion.

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