In my line of work, I work with all kinds of leaders. As someone who has been in multiple leadership roles before I started my own consulting practice, I always have been, and continue to be intrigued by how many different ways there are to lead but how often great leadership simply comes down to relationships, authenticity, and values.
Last year, I met Steve McCamy. He isn't a household name. Steve is the President and CEO of a physician based health care company in Texas, which he has been leading for the past eight years. He's a good healthcare leader in a transforming healthcare industry, but I was more fascinated by Steve's life before healthcare.
Before I was a CEO...
Steve is a retired 2-Star General who started out as a fighter pilot in the Navy flying missions in Vietnam and who ended up completing his career as the Commanding Officer of the Missouri Air National Guard. When you talk to Steve, he tells stories of everything from aborted air strike missions as a fighter pilot in Vietnam to what it was like to serve in a leadership role under Colin Powell in Desert Storm.
Regardless of your political views or perspectives on the military, Steve's insights on leadership are both insightful and humbling coming from a man who's authentic and sincere voice comes through everything he says, including when he jokes in a self-deprecating way that:
"I thought 2-stars was pretty good until I realized I was just there to get coffee for the 5 stars."
In my discussions with Steve, two things come out that are both insightful and inspiring about what leadership really requires of you:
1. Incredible compassion for people
Often, great leaders are depicted as drivers of strategy and vision with lenses for pushing the envelope in their industry. Then there are great people leaders and great orators who are able to motivate their people and get the best out of them.
Underlying the second is something we don't often talk about with leaders, and that is how much they have to sincerely care about the people who work for them.
Regardless of the military story Steve is telling, there is genuine emotion behind it. He tells stories about sending people half way around the globe to what he describes as "terrible places you'd never want to go" with a strong sense of purpose and direction but also with great empathy for the work those same people needed to do and genuine caring for them and their families.
Steve defines his job as a leader quite simply:
"My opinion is that the great leaders have it in their gut that they want to make everything they touch better and just want to help others go to places they didn't think they could get to."
2. The highest moral and ethical standards
As a self-identified student of human behavior, I often ask myself the question of what people really do when they know that no one is watching or listening. Do we act differently or the same when no one would know the difference?
It is an interesting question, especially with leadership. Putting aside the numerous cases in the business world where we find leaders not maintaining ethical and moral standards, you come across this 2-star General who not only maintains it but speaks about it being one of the most important parts of leadership.
"I can't tell you how many decisions I made late at night in my office that came under the heading of 'Top Secret.' In these cases, not only did no one know what decision I made but most didn't even know that a decision was made in the first place."
As I leader, you have to always know that you are doing the right thing even in cases where you may be the only person who knows what you did. You can't do the wrong thing even when there are zero repercussions to you personally for doing the wrong thing."
This standard of behavior is not only refreshing but inspiring when you consider how easy it is for any of us to take the easy way instead of the right way on hard decisions when we know that it will never come back to us.
When I talk with Steve, he talks about a moral compass that is such a critical part of leadership. His perspectives are great reminders about how important simply caring about the people you lead and caring about doing the right thing are for leaders.