Thursday, August 1, 2013

Guest post: Leadership

Scroll down for today's political items. ~Bob

Leadership Always Surfaces In Critical Times
Colonel Donald J. Myers USMC (Ret)

I have been reading several books over the past couple of weeks that depict leadership from ancient times to the present. My library over the years included countless books on leadership and the study of it. I taught a course on leadership at Johns Hopkins University and have lectured on the subject. Most importantly, I have led organizations in the Marines and business for years and was quite successful when one looks at the results.

Harry Truman was selected as President Roosevelt's running mate in 1944 for no particular reason and was not well known or considered a great leader. He was a senator from Missouri and had served in World War I. President Roosevelt died on 14 April 1945 and Truman became the president. He made the decision to use the nuclear bombs on Japan that ended the war. His tenure as president faced numerous critical decisions to include our support for South Korea in 1950 when the North Koreans invaded the south. Over the years, the legacy of Truman has increased because of the trials that he faced and the decisions that he made. Leaders make difficult decisions.

One of the books I just finished was about the life of Colonel John Ripley USMC. John was a year behind me at the Naval Academy and years later, I followed him as the commanding officer of 1st battalion, 2d Marines at Camp Lejeune N. C. John was a legend in the Marines because of numerous things that he had accomplished such as blowing up a key bridge in Vietnam that slowed the North Vietnam attack in 1972. How he did it was unbelievable! He also saw combat with the Royal Marines while on exchange duty with that organization. His writing and lecturing on unpopular subjects such as gays in the military and women in the combat arms are legend. He was the epitome of being courageous both in peacetime and war. Courage on moral issues is much more difficult than in the arena of war and he had both.

I recently received an Email that showed President Reagan speaking before various organization and telling jokes. He could really put people at ease with his humor. A large percentage of our population know little about him since his tenure started over thirty years ago when the country was in the doldrums with double digit unemployment, interest rates, and inflation. His leadership turned that around and in the process, he had a significant part in the defeat of the Soviet Empire. Leadership was his forte and he used it.

Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, was another superb leader who made a difference against staggering odds. England was on its back because of government control and the all powerful unions. She fought against both and returned England to respectability. She even waged and won a war during her tenure. She and President Reagan made a great team for freedom. They did not waver when faced with a challenging task.

Leaders and leadership are interesting subjects but unfortunately too little time is devoted to developing or studying them. It is amazing how many universities have no instruction on leadership or offer degrees on the topic. Management courses are taught by individuals who have never led anything, but studied the subject. There is a world of difference between management and leadership. Managers are concerned with doing thing right, while leaders are concerned with doing the right things. I read that somewhere and always tried to follow the tenet.

We are in a critical time now, but I have not seen much leadership surfacing in the civilian or military arena. When one is leading a large organization, one needs to go down a couple of levels and talk with the people to truly learn what is happening. Staffs will protect the leader from bad news, especially if he has indicated in the past that he does not want to hear it. Problems are easy to correct the sooner that they are discovered, and most importantly lower level personnel know how to fix them if given the opportunity. I have known some leaders who kept their thumb on the pulse of the unit by doing this and others who could care less. Guess which ones performed superbly?

I have never understood why it takes months and in some cases years to investigate a problem that appears so simple. I suspect that most of the time is to cover up those who are responsible for the problem in the first place. We have several examples now with the IRS, Benghazi, the NSA. Leaders take responsibility for what happens in their organization and constantly challenge the organization to excel. Those leaders who do those things excel and those who do not fail. We need more of those dynamic leaders in positions of authority and fewer of what we currently have.  


Donald J. Myers, a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, is a regular columnist for Hernando Today. He lives in Spring Hill and can be contacted at

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