Jason B. Ladd

Author | Apologist | Entrepreneur

Listening, Learning, and Leadership


Is it better to be feared, or to be loved?

The American war film Twelve O’Clock High explores this Machiavellian question in the context of American bomber squadrons in World War II.  The story unfolds to highlight the similarities and differences between two commanding officers with different leadership styles.

The first was close to his men and well-liked.  The second practiced unbending discipline and kept a distance from his men.

Both commanding officers cared about their men and the mission.  In the end, they were both loved by their men.

Ever wonder what makes a great leader? Here I highlight two habits every great leader must learn if they wish to be successful:

  1. Listening
  2. Learning

These are simple practices which can easily fall by the wayside if a leader is not careful.



Dealing with real flak.

Here are three actions leaders can take to improve their listening skills:

  • Feedback
  • One-on-one communication
  • Mentoring

There is a good reason every great instructional session ends with a request for feedback or a critique sheet.  This practice sends many positive messages:

  • Concern for the level of instruction received
  • Desire to improve the presentation
  • Humility
  • Accountability

Informal one-on-one communication is an invaluable tool for getting to know your people.  There is something special about face-to-face communication.  Nothing tells your people you care more than when you give them your time and undivided attention.

If your genuineness comes through, your people may feel comfortable sharing things otherwise guarded.  You can’t help your people if you don’t truly know them.

Formal mentoring sessions provide another opportunity to listen.  People are recognizing the broken promises of worldviews based on secular humanism.  Mentorship provides an opportunity to emphasize the importance of understanding your worldview and living life within a moral framework.

With the pluralization of America, many competing frameworks abound, not all of them moral, and not all of them good.  You must listen to each person and grasp how they relate to their cultural experiences.


The second habit a leader should pick up is learning.  Here are three specific areas a leader should focus on:

  1. History
  2. Future development and technology
  3. Cultural studies

Philosopher, essayist, and poet George Santayana said:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Unfortunately, history is sometimes ignored, and

only in the aftermath of war, famine, and tyranny do we look back and recognize the familiar consequences of ignorance and inaction.

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A leader must also be concerned with future developments and emerging technologies.  Author, blogger, and former CEO of Thomas Neslon Michael Hyatt remarks that there are two things you can do when a giant ocean wave is heading your way.  You can stand your ground and get smashed, or you can grab a surfboard and ride the wave.

Social media has led to anti-social behavior, but its forces can be used for good, too.  A good leader will stop fighting technology and learn how to surf.


Part of a team.

Finally, cultural studies have a great impact on learning what motivates people.  Great leaders

  • Employ their people in accordance with their capabilities
  • Convey why their work is important
  • Foster a sense of teamwork within the group

The first commanding officer in the movie Twelve O’Clock High failed to learn why his squadron wasn’t operating at satisfactory levels.  In the end, he was relieved of his command.

The second commanding officer failed to listen to his advisors when his squadron was breaking apart from the stresses of continuous combat operations.  In the end, he suffered a nervous breakdown until his men returned home from their missions.

As a leader,  you should never stop learning, and never stop listening.

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What’s the most important thing you have learned about leadership?


Photo credit:  USGOV/PD

Photo credit: USGOV/PD

Photo credit: USGOV/PD

About Jason B. Ladd

Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.