Leadership Tone

Leadership is a difficult, broad subject — a constantly evolving, context-dependent, nuanced, and complex issue while being supremely personal and driven by individual style.

Leadership tone

We have spoken before about leadership style, authentic leadership voice, but today I want to speak about leadership tone.

Leadership Style

By “tone” I mean the emphasis or coloration of how the leader’s voice resonates, its intonation, timbre, or temperament, of how the leader speaks and approaches the solving of problems or meeting challenges.

This issue of tone cuts across all swaths of life and leadership.

The nature of leadership tone

At times leadership tone may be:








Leaning forward in one’s saddle,

Execution advantage,

Aggressive, or,


I would find no fault if one deleted or added one or two other descriptors.

It is my view that leadership, effective leadership, should almost always exclude timidity, incompetence and recklessness, but maybe not?

Never reckless? Really?

General George S Patton was considered a reckless leader at times during World War II when he would send his tanks slashing into the enemy rear without regard for the sanctity of his flanks — dogma in military circles as one does not invite a flanking counterattack and being surrounded by exposing flanks.

And, yet Patton was our best “pursuit” general, a powerful leader with extraordinary results when the enemy fled and invited vigorous pursuit.

The teaching point being this — the context of the business environment will invite a certain type of tone which must also work within the authentic leadership of the leader. Patton had no problem being reckless because he was Patton.

He was not reckless by accident — he believed if his tanks were roaring through the division or corps headquarters of the units opposing him his ability to decapitate the enemy leadership would sway the battle.

Leadership evolution

General of the Army George C Marshall was an extraordinary man by any measure — General of the Army (5 stars), Army Chief of Staff, Sec Defense, Sec State, Envoy to China, Pres American Red Cross, author/sponsor of the Marshall Plan, and Nobel Peace Laureate — who was a detailed and quiet planner, but an aggressive leader when it came to execution.

None other than Winston Churchill called Gen Geo Catlett Marshall THE Architect of Victory in WWII. There are no forts named after Marshall. How can that be?

When he was the head of the Army Infantry School, he was a talent spotter of enormous skill identifying Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton and others down to the WWII division command level as the future leaders of a military that would explode from fewer than 200,000 to more than 13,500,000 men under arms.

Marshall’s standing up of the US Army was the greatest startup in US history and he did it in 2.5 years, defeating two aggressors simultaneously in two different theaters whilst conducting two very different wars and developing an industrial might that supplied all the Allied armies.

Gen Marshall took control of the US Army on the same day Hitler invaded Poland by which time he had already identified every plant in the US that could make woolen and cotton underwear and had Ford ready to make Jeeps two days after Pearl Harbor. He was an extraordinarily competent deliberate planner and leader.

Gen Marshall also relieved — fired in an inglorious purge that was the genesis of the modern US Army — every division and corps commander who he considered to be too old, slow -footed, and insufficiently quick-witted to engage in the highly mobile, combined arms, and amphibious combat of the type that WWII would demand. He was ruthless in his personnel changes.

General Marshall desperately wanted to command the D Day invasion, but President Roosevelt said he could not sleep at night if Gen Marshall was out of the country. Marshall did not whine, but agreed that Eisenhower would be a great pick.

When Patton managed to get himself relieved in Italy over the soldier slapping incident, Marshall refused to cashier him, but suggested to Eisenhower that he hold him in the dog house in England to command the Third Army to be committed to the fight after the landings.

The presence of the Third Army in England after the landings drove the Germans to believe that the Normandy landings were a feint and that Patton would arrive with the “real” invasion force shortly.

Marshall — who did not particularly like Patton — was proven out when Patton’s aggressive leadership saved the Battle of the Bulge when he turned two divisions north in a blizzard and relieved the city of Bastogne.

Gen Marshall’s tone was deliberate until it came time to execute and then it was aggressive.

Presidents, Presidential tone

Presidents of the United States’ most powerful day-to-day influence is their bully pulpit. From this bully pulpit they set forth the tone of their presidency.

If a President promises hard action — such as a red line against the use of chemical weapons in Syria — and then fails to deliver, it will color the actions of our enemies.

 1. Barrack Obama was POTUS from 20 Jan 2009 to 20 Jan 2017.

 2. Pres Obama issued his famous Syrian red line threat on 20 Aug 2012.

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground [meaning Russia], that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

 3. The Syrians violated the red line threat and the US under Pres Obama did nothing.

 4. The Russians in February 2014, assessing the Americans to be talkers and not doers, used the pretext of Ukrainian political turmoil to seize Crimea by sending in troops to conduct a referendum which Putin said resulted in 95% of the population of Crimea desiring to be part of Russia.

 5. The Russians didn’t stop there. They subsequently dummied up a fake uprising on the Ukraine – Russia border. Russia now holds 7% of Ukraine and is massing troops as we speak with more than 100,000 soldiers.

 6. China used a similar assessment of American lack of resolve to seize and militarize a dozen South China Sea atolls after providing assurances they were only building maintenance facilities for their fishing fleet.

China now controls more than 45% of the world’s shipping lanes under the umbrella of shore-to-ship missiles plus can hit what was once the US’ best anchorage, Subic Bay.

When the Chinese began to build nuclear capable 12,000′ runways, install radar arrays, and shore-to-ship missile batteries, the Obama admin did nothing.

Contrast this behavior with that of President Obama’s successor who made the same threat to the Syrians and Russians. When they immediately tested him, he unleashed two attacks of 150 cruise missiles each with the first destroying 25% of the Syrian Air Force planes and facilities and the second one destroying the headquarters of the chemical weapons efforts as well as killing many of the personnel involved.

Wrap it up, Big Red Car

Fine, dear reader, here goes:

 1. I believe the effective leader in business and international relations is a deliberate planner who plans for the worst whilst expecting/hoping for the best.

Hope is not a strategy.

 2. I believe the right tone is “leaning forward in the saddle” meaning adopting a posture that can either be a gentle tug on the reins to maintain the status quo or a hard spur which can deliver the wrath of God.

3. I believe that an organization creates an “execution advantage” by being good at what they do. This is the difference between a dozen guys talking shit on a street corner versus the Navy SEALs.

Execution advantage is why a small Ecommerce startup can carve out a silo and build a great company.

When the POTUS unleashed 300 Tomahawk missiles at Syria, I think the world took a collective deep breath and said, “Hello, America” meaning they realized there would not be any more American head fakes.

 4. I think today we, the United States, has demonstrated a repeated tendency toward incompetence which breeds recklessness. I think we are in trouble.

Care to give us a few examples, Big Red Car?

Sure, here are three:

 1. I think the POTUS was so desperately beholden to the progressive hard left after the election that he made reckless moves in shutting down the Keystone XL Pipeline, halted exploration in ANWR, cancelled Federal lands leasing, auctions, and production — resulting in a huge dip in American production that ramped up gas prices that set off inflation.

Do not take my word for it, look at the graph of American crude production. At 13.1MM bbl/day we were energy independent. Today at less than 11.5MM bbl/day we are not and are begging OPEC and Russia for assistance.



Now, we are begging OPEC and Russia to increase crude oil production while gas prices skyrocket.

Want to know from whence inflation sprouted? Look no further than energy.

 2. The POTUS failed to consider what might happen if he abandoned the border wall and the border policies that had delivered the lowest illegal immigration levels in two decades.

Now, we have 2MM illegals coming into our country in a single year with no COVID testing or treatment. It is a disaster. Totally avoidable.

I am not so naïve as to fail to ascribe this to a concerted effort to populate certain red states with blue leaning constituents.

Oh, BTW, we also have enough fentanyl pouring across the border to kill every America seven times. Yes, SEVEN times.

 3. The withdrawal from Afghanistan was an incompetent exercise that exposed horrifically bad planning, worse execution, and not a lick of enforcement.

This cost American lives, pissed away billions of dollars, and set a threatening perspective for the world just as China sharpens its knives for war, lusts after Taiwan, and Russia advances its looming sinister troop concentrations on the Ukraine border.

Luckily, our military leadership is reading up on white rage, white supremacy, and Critical Race Theory, perhaps on the theory that no army that does not know its pronouns is going to seize Taiwan.

OK, Big Red Car, bottom line it

We are in for some tough sledding, amigos. Our current POTUS is struggling with how to speak to the world, the right leadership tone, and what he is doing right now is dangerous.

I am talking about the potential to fall into a grave recession — the worst kind with zero growth and rising prices — or to stumble into a major war.

But, hey, I could be wrong. I hope I am.

“That damn Big Red Car makes a lot of sense. I should probably have a chat with that POTUS. Hey, wait, I am the damn POTUS. Let me double check that with Jill.”