The vision, loyalty, and sacrifice of countless men and women of the military ranks provide lessons for us to consider as we march along the frontlines of our victorious leadership battles.
General Colin Powell retired from the United States Army as a four-star general. He served as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005 and was the first African-American to hold that position. He served successfully as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War and is a highly regarded icon of American leadership.
One of his key leadership principals is the need for a strong leadership vision. In his book with Tony Koltz It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, he says:
Leaders must embed their own sense of purpose into the heart and soul of every follower. The purpose starts from the leader at the top, and through infectious, dynamic, passionate leadership, it is driven down throughout the organization. Every follower has his own organizational purpose that connects with the leader’s overall purpose.
Powerful leaders communicate passion and purpose to their followers. They ignite their souls and their spirits to action. They are able to establish a shared since of purpose and meaning that aligns actions and produces results.
Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlin was a college professor from Maine who volunteered to join the Union Army during the American Civil War. With no formal training in military strategy, his leadership was critical in the victory of the Battle of Gettysburg that proved so critical in the outcome of the war.
Michael Useem in The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All recounts the series of moments that became critical to the success at Gettysburg. When Chamberlin took command, he immediately faced the dilemma of having to deal with a group of potential mutineers. They were hungry, tired, and viewed defeat as inevitable against the formidable rebel army. Chamberlin had an obligation to guard them and treat them as traitors, but he was able to persuade them to share his vision and see a higher purpose in the path they needed to take. Useem recounts the reconstructed comments that Chamberlin makes to his troops:
This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. . . . This hasn’t happened much in the history of the world. We’re an army going out to set other men free. . . . Here you can be something. Here’s a place to build a home. It isn’t the land — there’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me, we’re worth something more than the dirt. . . . What we’re fighting for, in the end, is each other. . . . I think if we lose this fight the war will be over. So if you choose to come with us I’ll be personally grateful.
These men bravely followed Chamberlin into battle. He won their confidence and they took up arms providing essential manpower for the victory at Little Round Top.
Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was a computer scientist and United States Navy officer during World War II. She was an inventor and pioneer in what was then the uncharted field of computer programming. As an early adopter of “crowdsourcing” – the act of enlisting the wisdom of the crowd to produce innovations – she is credited with the creation of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages.
The power of Grace Hopper’s leadership was in her followership – her loyalty to those in command and her duty to her country. Following the call to serve her country led her to serve a leader for whom she had profound respect and faith. She translated this conviction and belief into words and actions that empowered both her crew and a community of others. She gave away power to her followers and never took credit for their work. As she once put it, “Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one’s superiors; care for one’s crew.”
These are but three examples of Veterans that provide mighty examples of leadership. I offer appreciation to them and to all Veterans from a grateful nation.