Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts on leadership. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
General Tata: I’m a surfer and have surfed in North America, Central America, Europe, and Australia. Still many great locations left to explore but I love the sheer challenge of tackling a new location and all that entails. The physically demanding and unique aspect of attempting to merge with nature and enjoy what it presents is a great escape and to reflect on other challenges.
Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
General Tata: As the son of two public school teachers, I was taught the value of public service. Being an athlete at an early age, I learned the value of quick, decisive decision making. My military career shaped who I am as a leader from the time I was a young officer leading 35 men to when I was a brigadier general leading 25,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. Losing servicemen and women in combat always caused me to step back, assess, and strive to do better. Leading America’s finest is a privilege and that privilege must be honored every day with self reflection on how to be the best leader possible.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader?
1. Leaders serve their employees and their company’s purpose (not the other way around)
2. Be selfless; understand that you only matter in so much as how you further your team’s success
3. Build your team knowing that they will become your second family
4. Invest time in truly understanding and knowing the teammates you serve
5. Understand that your team is talented
a. Give concise guidance
b. Eliminate obstacles to their success
c. Provide resources
d. Let them execute
6. Lead from the edge of your organization-be visible and accessible to the people in the foxhole, classroom or boardroom, wherever the epi-center of your organization is
7. Be visionary, and also be able to connect that vision to reality by identifying a practical path to your vision
8. Have a sense of humor; it comes with being humble and will defuse tense situations better than anything else
Adam: Who are the greatest leaders you have been around and what did you learn from them?
General Tata: Eli Broad taught me the value of education leadership and that education was the new civil rights movement. Holding bureaucracies accountable for student performance is no different than holding a headquarters responsible for tactical victory. Likewise, General Stanley McChrystal taught me the value of precision in planning while I was a young major planning the Haiti invasion.
Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
General Tata: When you lead with a servant’s heart, placing the needs of your organization and people first, then it becomes clear what must be done. From there, success is assured because you will be leading with purity of mission and not from a personal or selfish standpoint. The organization’s success is always more important than your own advancement.
Adam: What is the best advice you have on building, managing and leading teams?
General Tata: Building your team is probably the single most important action a leader takes. First, a leader must know her/his weaknesses and hire to shore up what you know you don’t do well. Second, know your strategic vision and interview/hire the people that can best help you achieve that vision. Management is transactional; leadership is values based and hands on. Lead, and manage only when your team isn’t doing it for you. Set the vision, make sure resources are in place, and talk to those executing the vision.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they impacted your development as a leader?
General Tata: Anything athletic, reading, and writing. That combination has made me decisive and thoughtful throughout my career.
Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?
General Tata: As a fiction author, it is enjoyable creating a protagonist that embodies leadership qualities we all admire, while also making him/her flawed when confronted with moral ambiguity.