MARTIN WILLOUGHBY — Baldwin gets it: CEO says leadership is about people
Leadership guru Dr. John Kotter noted in a recent Harvard Business Review article about the distinction between management and leadership, “The confusion around these two terms is massive, and that misunderstanding gets in the way of any reasonable discussion about how to build a company, position it for success and win in the twenty-first century.” In the article, Kotter went on to point out that we continue to incorrectly use management and leadership interchangeably; however, they are separate and distinct functions. He stated, “Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change.”
Clay Baldwin, CEO of TALON Ordnance, understands this distinction. A native of Magee, Baldwin graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi and the Mississippi College School of Law. In between college and law school, Baldwin enjoyed a very successful career in the military. He shared, “My first leadership position was as a Platoon Leader. It is a humbling experience at age 25 to have 40 guys looking at you to make the decisions, and it is terrifying to think that they are all depending on you to make the right decisions.” Baldwin was promoted to command of a Detachment, which had a live mission that required them to man positions 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. He said, “I remained in command of that unit for two years, and I learned more about myself as a leader and about leading people than in any position before or since.”
Baldwin shared his observation, “Leadership is a term that is thrown around a lot in the business world, but rarely do those who use the term truly understand it. Most people define good leadership in the same way they define effective management. The two are totally different, and until you understand the difference, you can never truly be a good leader.” Baldwin explained that managers allocate resources to accomplish a given task – they take a finite set of resources, and use them to achieve a goal. Interestingly Baldwin noted, “To be a good leader, you must be a good manager. But, you can be a fantastic manager and never be a leader.” Baldwin believes, “Leadership is about people. Leadership, in a nutshell, is motivating the people within your group to not only accomplish a task, but to want to do it to the best of their ability, even when it is not necessarily in their personal best interest.” I agree with Baldwin “Great leadership inspires people to work harder than they normally would to achieve a goal that is greater than themselves.”
Baldwin wisely noted that leadership failures occur every day in almost every organization, public and private because those in charge focus more on the management of resources than on motivating the people that are critical to accomplishing whatever task that group is charged with. He shared, “my leadership philosophy is to take care of your people, give them the tools and resources to do their specific job, recognize and reward their efforts, and never let them (or especially yourself) lose sight of the mission/goal and why it matters. That sounds simple, but it is the hardest thing in the world to do. That is why there are few great leaders.” I am inspired by Baldwin’s observation that, “For those of us who aspire to be better leaders, we must always measure our success and failure by the attitudes and accomplishments of our people, not ourselves.”
After returning to law school and practicing law for several years, Baldwin is back in a leadership position at TALON Ordnance. His vision for TALON is “to create a premium weapon for those whose life depends on its function, including our Nation’s military warriors, its law enforcement guardians, and its free and brave citizens who daily defend their families and our way of life.” I appreciate Baldwin’s clear understanding of the true meaning of leadership and the opportunity to learn from his insights and life experiences on this important subject.
» Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.
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