Leadership consultant and former Air Force pilot Sean Lynch remembers his first day in flight-training school. After an exhilarating familiarization flight, he followed his pilot and others to a debriefing room. Lynch listened intently to the fascinating no-holds-barred discussion on what went right or wrong in each flight. After the debriefing, the major berated him for not saying anything. When Lynch protested that he was new, the major retorted, “Stop with the excuses, start contributing. You’re new but you’re not dumb. Now, get out of here … and get a haircut!”
At that moment, Lynch realized that in the Air Force, leadership was not a matter of ranking officers giving orders. It was a matter of being accountable and responsible, of always looking to make a contribution and, at the same time, of welcoming and appreciating criticism.
Lynch is the co-author of the book Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success. His co-authors, Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch (his sister-in-law) are also ex-military — both were officers in the Marine Corps before co-founding their leadership consultancy. Many of the book’s examples are drawn from their military experiences, where, the authors write, they learned the leadership and communication skills required to be “sparks.”
Sparks, the authors write, are the people who take the initiative and lead others. Sparks derive their power not from formal position but from the credibility and respect that they’ve earned through their knowledge, skills and actions.
In Spark, the authors focus on seven essential behaviors required to become a leader in any organization:
Know your values. Character is the confluence of your values and your actions. Identify your values and never lose sight of them.
Earn trust and credibility. People will only trust and follow you if they see you as dependable, trustworthy and committed.
Be accountable. Sparks never blame others for setbacks or missed expectations. They understand how their own actions might have caused problems, and always seek to be part of the solution.
Act with intent. Have a clear vision of your future, and take intentional actions to achieve it.
Be a service leader. Sparks have an outward focus. They strengthen their teams and build camaraderie by recognizing and meeting the needs of others.
Build your confidence. Don’t leave your confidence to chance. Take definite steps to build and develop it.
Demonstrate consistency. Set a high standard for consistency; then meet that standard by valuing readiness, persistence and courage.
For each behavior, the authors offer a short series of imperatives to guide readers in achieving and maintaining the essential behavior. For example, to stay true to their values, sparks must 1) identify the values that are most important to them; 2) maintain a support group of advisors and mentors who can offer feedback and guidance; and 3) remain vigilant and aware of when they might compromise those values.
All of the guidelines and imperatives for the seven behaviors are illustrated through compelling, often personal stories. In the chapter on service leadership, for example, Morgan describes a tough Marine Corps captain she encountered in a six-month infantry course called The Basic School (TBS). The captain, who called himself Coca-Cola because he was “the real thing,” terrified the recruits in the course, Morgan included. When her grandmother died, however, Morgan was astounded by Coca-Cola’s compassion (“Just go home and stay home and come back when you’re ready”) and quick action (immediately reserving tickets and a driver to take her to the airport and explaining the situation to her training officer).
As Morgan explains, Coca-Cola may have spent 30 minutes helping her that day, but those 30 minutes helped produce her lifelong loyalty and commitment to the Corps. Spark is filled with stories of such leaders and will inspire readers to follow the guidelines in the book and aspire to become sparks themselves.