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Are You Knighting Your Leaders? (#141)

TCL Illustration 141

The Confident Leader


Upon the merger of two competing railroads, the newly created BNSF Railway had a decision to make: how do we create a unified workforce from two competitors? The answer is remarkable. 

““Commissioning leaders is not just about finding someone who can do the job, it’s about finding someone who can lead others to do the job even better. A true leader inspires and empowers their team to reach new heights of success.”

— Liz Wiseman (American researcher and executive advisor)

This Week’s Edition

Last week’s newsletter about my daughter’s high school principal conducting a ceremony to commission leaders received numerous comments. Several of you asked, “what does it mean to commission a leader in this day in age?” 

To “commission” means: a group of people officially charged with a particular function. Let’s discuss.

Clarify Your Thinking

The BNSF story, I’ve been told, is that the leaders of the newly merged company went to the Aspen Institute to develop a long-term vision for the organization. 

One of the key elements of their work centered around the creation of five leadership tenets. Since the inception of this leadership model, BNSF has designed a custom leadership development program around one or more of the tenets. 

Annually they bring over 4000 leaders to Ft. Worth, Texas to participate in the in-depth two-day program – quite the financial commitment to “commission” their leaders. 

As someone who was a part of that training program for five years, I observed leaders: 

  • Grow in their leadership skills
  • Gain clarity of BNSF’s expectations of a successful leader 
  • Believe in their own abilities as a leader 
  • Effectively perform as leaders during the most challenging of times

When people have the title of leader but have not been “commissioned” by their organization, it can leave them questioning their role on numerous fronts.

Old Thinking:

  • What qualifies me to be at this level of leadership?
  • I think I may have gotten here accidentally
  • I’m not sure what I am supposed to be doing differently now that I am a leader.
  • In many areas I just don’t know how to do certain “leadership” things.

New Thinking: I want to train to be the best leader I can so I can train other leaders.

Thoughts Lead to Actions

In the military, after a certain amount of training, a soldier receives their commission, a certain rank prior to officially assuming the role.

This process to commission a leader is something every organization can undertake. The following is a high level process you can begin to think about deploying:

  1. Identify people you deem to be leaders or may become leaders.
  2. Assess their talent: their competencies in the realm of leadership.
  3. Train them to be the leaders you need them to be.
  4. Set the expectations of what it means to be a leader in your organization.
  5. Provide them the resources to be successful.

Here are some of the benefits you and the organization may experience:

  1. A culture of leadership and people who aspire to be leaders.
  2. A reputation known for highly effective leadership.
  3. The right people in the right role doing the right things at the right time.
  4. Overall resilience during challenging times.

Many who completed the BNSF two-day course were inspired to lead and returned to their day-to-day leadership duties with a greater sense of confidence. 

In 2009 Warren Buffet bought the company and owns it to this day. Coincidence? We might never know. What we do know is that the world needs more confident leaders. 

Boost Your Performance

At the end of each of our leadership cohort programs we host a “graduation” ceremony to formally “commission” each leader. We knight them with a special challenge coin signifying their accomplishment and new “rank” as an established leader. Learn more about commissioning leaders in this week’s video.

#141 from Robin Pou on Vimeo.

What’s Your Opinion?

Have you been commissioned as a leader? If so, how? Share it with me at

If you are going to be a leader, you might as well be a good one. Don’t let doubt count you out. Have a confident week!

Robin Pou, Chief Advisor and Strategist

We live to make bad leadership extinct so forward this newsletter to others who strive to be confident leaders. 


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What is “The Confident Leader”?

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, I began a video series called “Panic or Plan?” It was designed to equip leaders to navigate the doubt they experienced and to rise in the confidence they needed to lead during turbulent times. It took off. I then started this newsletter to equip leaders in the same fashion each week for the doubt that crashes across the bow of their leaderSHIP.

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