Great Leaders Make Great Friends
Randy Wolken, President & CEO

What are the characteristics of a great leader? In my opinion, they are the same as those of a truly great friend.

Last weekend, I had the wonderful experience of traveling to San Antonio, Texas to be with 15 of my classmates from West Point for an impromptu reunion. The occasion was the Army versus the University of Texas at San Antonio football game – or at least that was our excuse to be together. At West Point, we were divided into companies of about 30 individuals with whom we’d spend a great deal of time during the academic year. We got to know each other very well. What I learned about this group both during my time at West Point and after is a testimony to leadership and friendship.

A great leader is one who is devoted, hardworking, loyal, capable, and willing to sacrifice for others. The best leaders are both kind and firm. They can get the job done with integrity and do so while inspiring confidence and trust. They also make the best of friends. I was with just such a group of people and their spouses this last weekend. It was truly an honor and blessing to be with them after 33 years.

My classmates from West Point are leaders from government and industry. They all served our country. Many have served or still serve in high echelons of leadership. One of our company classmates who was not able to join us this weekend is even the current Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper. I am always in awe when I gather with them. They are just good people. They are genuine and caring parents, spouses, and community leaders. They began demonstrating this at a young age and it seems to have continued on. We had a great time just being together. When you are with a good person – and leader – it just feels good to be around them. You feel cared for. I always feel this way when I am in the presence of my classmates. It’s what I think makes them such great leaders. They just care so much for others.

As you consider your own leadership, what characteristics do you consider important? What characteristics of a great friend are also present in the best leaders you know? How can you be a better friend and leader? What can you do to help others be better leaders and friends?

I will leave you with one final moment in particular that struck me as telling of our time together. After the game, we all gathered for dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant. During the meal, one of my classmates stopped us to propose a toast for three special people who could not join us – two had passed away since our graduation and one was battling cancer. We lifted our glasses in remembrance. Great friends, like great leaders, should be honored and remembered.