Memorial Day Leadership Lessons
by Mike Myatt
Is Memorial Day just another holiday, or does it mean something more to you? While this weekend simply signifies a long awaited prelude to summer for some, it is much more than that for me. As a veteran and lifelong student of leadership I have always found Memorial Day weekend to be one of the most meaningful and significant of all holidays. In today’s post I’ll share two events which occurred over the past week that inspired me to write about why I believe all business executives can learn valuable leadership lessons from those in uniform.
Memorial Day not only provides great opportunity for introspective reflection, but the stories of what constitutes great leadership surrounding this holiday are frankly too numerous to count. As many of you know, my son is an active duty officer in the US Air Force. This weekend I had the honor of attending his graduation from EOD school where he was recognized as the Honor Graduate in his class (see above picture). As I listened to the commencement speeches, gazed at the Memorial Wall, thought about my experiences and what the EOD graduates are about to encounter, the more I pondered the heroism of our military (past and present), the more it became clear that the same characteristics that are present in the heart of a warrior are nothing short of a blueprint for success with respect to the leadership traits that should also be present in our business leaders.
While it is clearly not necessary for an executive to have military experience to be an effective leader, I would submit that today’s business leaders would do well to possess the characteristics of a warrior in their pursuit to become better leaders and to build better organizations. Commitment, passion, attention to detail, discipline, service above self, honor, integrity, perseverance, compassion, the ability to both lead and follow, to execute with precision, and the ability to adapt, improvise, and overcome are representative traits possessed by successful military leaders. From personal experience I can absolutely guarantee you that these same traits will serve you well as a business leader.
The characteristics mentioned above will allow you to inspire and lead with a focus and commitment not present in DNA of those leaders who don’t possess a warrior’s heart. It is the ability to stay mentally focused on achieving the mission at hand, regardless of circumstances, that will help you take your organization to that next level.
While the following may not be politically correct, I believe it nonetheless represents the truth – it also takes guts to be a leader. Watching the EOD graduates stand at attention in front of the Memorial Wall there was no doubt that these were motivated, committed, passionate, honorable individuals with a clear sense of duty, and who hold in high regard the principle of service above self. Let’s face it, it takes a unique individual to knowingly and willingly walk toward a live explosive placing his life at risk in order that other lives may be saved. Examine the most successful business leaders and you’ll find they possess this same zeal – they don’t see their leadership role as just a job, but rather they view it as a passion; a calling if you will. Moreover, it is those leaders who receive the negative press, those leaders who just can’t seem to get the job done that universally seem to be void in some or all of the aforementioned traits.
I left my son’s graduation in Florida on Sunday evening headed for Dallas and then traveling on to San Antonio. On the heels of being inspired by watching the character and quality of the individuals who graduated with my son, yesterday my wife and I had the opportunity to visit The Alamo. Standing on the grounds where less than 200 men, mostly volunteers, gave their lives in sacrifice to protect the freedom and liberty they so cherished just built upon the observations made while attending my son’s graduation. The men and women who remained at The Alamo had the opportunity to leave, and yet they chose to stay. They embodied the character, the sense of duty, the commitment, and the values that our nation was built upon. How many of you would choose to make an uncompromising stand on your principles and values if you knew the outcome would result in certain death?
There are many so-called management gurus in today’s politically correct world who would take great exception to what I’m putting forth in today’s post. They would tell you that the classic strong leadership traits that define our nation’s best military leaders are outdated and they don’t display a proper amount of empathy and compassion. They could not be more wrong – I’m here to tell you that strength and compassion are not mutually exclusive terms. The strongest leaders are in fact the most compassionate leaders. When I was in the service my troops slept before I did, they ate before I did, and they were cared for before I was. A leader’s greatest responsibility is not for his/her own glory, but it is for the well being of those whose care has been entrusted to them.
A warrior’s heart, and the spirit of a servant leader have served my family well in both business and life in general. It is the mental agility, a fierce determination, a never say die attitude, and placing other’s interests above our own that has carried us through the best of times and the worst of times. My father was a Marine before he was an attorney, I served in the Army before I entered the business world, and well, I’m sure you can tell how proud I am of my son’s choice to serve in the Air Force. While not all great business leaders have served in the military, those of you who have worked to develop the leadership traits mentioned above understand the advantages you derive from a having a military leadership state of mind.
I strongly recommend to all business leaders that they learn to develop a command presence, and lead from a committed and passionate position of strength through service. For those of you who don’t know, the word “passion” comes from a Latin root which means quite literally to suffer. If you’re passionate about something it means you care so much that it hurts. Refusing to surrender, having the ability to make the tough decision, the needed sacrifice, and the focus to place fiduciary obligations above your self interest will allow your company to continue taking ground and will keep the competitive advantage on the side of your enterprise. Remember that the world does not revolve around you, but rather what you can do for others through the privileges afforded to you by nature of your role as a leader…
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