Back in the early 1970’s when I enlisted in the Marine Corps, racial tensions in my beloved Corps were at an all-time high. Enlisted clubs had riots almost every night and riot squads had to be formed to help the military police restore order during these violent episodes. In an effort to reduce the racial tensions, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Leonard Cushman had a Human Relations Course developed that became a mandatory annual training requirement for all Marines regardless of rank or position. Sounds like a wonderful step in the right direction but the manner in which the course was conducted defied logic and ended up causing more problems than it was intended to fix. I intend no slight toward General Cushman. He instituted what he felt was a solution to a very important problem and he should be commended for his willingness to admit that the problem existed and he attempted to create a fix. However, a better solution was needed.
When General Cushman retired, General Louis Wilson became the new Commandant of the Marine Corps. It did not take General Wilson long to cancel the requirement for the annual Human Relations training. To get the Marine Corps back to its roots and correct the racial divide, General Wilson instituted Leadership Training. Slowly, the esprit de corps that was missing in the hearts of Marines began to grow and flourish and the racial tensions ebbed as Marines began to see that great leadership would never tolerate discrimination in any form. Yes, bigots still existed but the leadership focus of all Marines quickly identified them and once their inappropriate actions and attitudes were revealed in the light of truth, they either changed their ways or left the Corps voluntarily or involuntarily. The Marine Corps weathered a serious storm and came out of the situation a stronger, more united, and more capable of accomplishing its mission to defend America against all enemies. And it was accomplished through leadership.
And that, my friends, is what America needs today. Leadership at all levels – in our elected officials, in our military, in our corporate world, in our schools, in our churches, and in our families. So, if we look at the eleven principles of leadership espoused by the Marine Corps back in those volatile times, how can we, as Americans, apply them in our lives? Let’s see.
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Know yourself and seek self-improvement. As a Nation, we must realize that we have accomplished something wonderful by creating a government for the people and by the people. Our Founding Fathers realized they were victims of a tyrant king. But rather than focusing on being a victim, they focused on how they viewed themselves – as free men and women who deserved dignity and respect from those who had been blessed to lead them. They fought and died for the right to be free to govern themselves with the Judeo-Christian value of love your neighbor and do unto others as the foundation of their new American experiment in self-rule. Were mistakes made? Absolutely. But we will never grow if we only focus on the mistakes and never see that the solution to overcoming the errors of the past is to embrace the strengths of our past. Our leaders need to stop apologizing for past wrongs and get on to the business of creating a Nation that lives up to the words “…all men are created equal…” It is through that kind of leadership that we will begin to heal as a Nation.
Be technically proficient. At one time, our schools, colleges, and universities encouraged excellence and rewarded innovative thinking. Today, these institutions are focused on self-interests and political agendas that ensure funding from the Federal and State governments continues to fill the coffers of the institution. The result has been reduced standards of excellence. The focus is to ensure all students feel good about themselves – learning seems to have been put on the back burner. That is not the purpose of any educational system. The purpose is to teach. I do not want my doctor to feel good about himself – I want my doctor to know the latest innovations in the field of medicine and medical science so that I can be cured of my ailment and so do you. So, let’s insist our halls of learning actually teach and tell our leaders to stop using funding to push political agendas.
Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions. America was a leader on the world stage and nations depended upon our Country to always do what is right and to stand up for what is right. But today, many of our allies question our commitment and our willingness to defend justice because our politicians are focused on their own private agendas and re-election. We have gone from “give me liberty or give me death” to “give me your campaign contribution or get no vote.” If we, as a Country, do not insist on responsible leadership, then another nation, who may not embrace the liberties we hold dear, will step in and fill that void and it will be disastrous for our Nation.
Make sound and timely decisions. On September 11, 2001, when it became clear that America’s enemy was using commercial airliners to attach the American way of life, every single plane on the ground was returned to the terminal, every plane in the air over the United States was forced to land, every plane outside our airspace was ordered to divert to a location outside of the United States. Within hours, all commercial air traffic was removed from our air space and all Americans breathed a sigh of relief. This was a great day for leadership in America and we need that kind of leadership again.
Set the example. Politicians lie and we re-elect them. Business leaders reap huge salaries but cut workers to increase profit. Professional athletes, singers, and actors garner millions of dollars and teach our children that moral values are relative and mean nothing. Why have we as Americans allowed this to happen? We have bought into the myth that personal happiness trumps all other values because it serves those in power and not the everyday person. We need leaders who will not only talk about right and wrong, but who will live as an example for which we can be proud.
Know your people and look out for their welfare. Our leaders have an obligation to put the needs and welfare of the American people first. So protecting us from those who would do us harm is not against American values, it is an American value. And if that hurts the feeling of people from other countries, so be it. They expect their leaders to protect them so we can expect our leaders to protect us. Making decisions based upon what is best for Americans is not arrogant, it is leadership.
Develop a sense of responsibility among your people. Freedom was never free. Many of our founders died so that the Country we love could be established as a nation ruled by the will of the people. Since our founding, many good Americans, both men and women, have fought and died to keep the American Dream alive. So, we, as Americans must know our history, must understand how our government works at all levels, must be willing to sacrifice to support and defend our cherished freedoms, must be willing to force change when a wrong must be righted, and must come together to keep this country the land of the free and home of the brave. That is our heritage. That is who we are. That is leadership.
Keep your people informed. Out news outlets have become propaganda machines for politicians and special interest groups. Because of this, the level of trust for the media is lower than at any other time in our history. We are being told what to think and feel instead of being provided factual information so we can formulate our own opinions. We have forgotten that what helps keep American strong is the difference of opinions that forces us to honestly examine issues and reach an agreement as a nation as to who we are as a people and what we believe as a people. A nation of free thinkers is not a bad thing. Open debate allowed the Founding Fathers to move from the Articles of Confederation, which was not serving the people of our new nation, to the Constitution which has been the foundation of the greatest freedom based government of the people that has ever been in existence. So, as Americans, we need to insist that our news outlets go back to providing us the truth so that as a nation, we can grow and change together and thus be stronger.
Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished. When “We the People” elect folks to positions of leadership at any level of government, we need to hold them accountable that they fulfill their promises and obligations to the electorate. We must never forget that politicians work for us, not the other way around. If your circumstances are not improving, then you need to vote for someone else – because strong leaders know that changing personnel is sometimes the very best thing for any organization.
Train your people. Again, the purpose of our education system is to teach our children critical thinking skills. Challenging them to learn to reason and think through a problem will prepare them for a life in the real world. Parents, let your children experience failure and then talk about what they can learn from failing. Teach them how to face down bigotry with knowledge and logical thinking, not violence. Remind them of the truth in the words of John Wayne from the movie Sergeant York when he said, “Life is hard. It is even harder when you are stupid.” The government never will be able to protect us from the illogical biases of people, but preparing ourselves and our children to succeed in an unfair world is called leadership.
Employ your people in accordance with their capabilities. In Operation Desert Storm, we were able to kick the Iraqi military out of Kuwait in 100 hours of ground war. More military personnel died from friendly fire than from the fighting. We allowed our military to do their job to quickly defeat our enemy and then they came home. This is how we must deploy our young people who are willing to fight and die for our Country and the freedoms we love. Engaging with our military might always be the last resort but once we are forced to do so, let us fight to win and win decisively, so all nations realize that tangling with the United States is not something advisable. Sun Tsu, the ancient Chinese General, wrote in his book, “The Art of War” that only the government should decide when to go to war. But once they have made the decision, they need to get out of the way and let the generals fight to win the war. This is leadership. [/message][su_spacer]
I miss the leadership I saw demonstrated by the political leaders, spiritual leaders, teachers, businessmen, and parents when I was growing up. I served 20 years in the Marine Corps because of the sense of duty and honor that was instilled in me as I grew from a boy to a man. If America is ever going to be the beacon of hope she once was, we need one thing to get us reignited: the passion for the justice and freedom I know we are capable of showing the world. What America needs is leadership.