Friday, Apr 25, 2014
Columns

What leadership can do


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I recently finished reading a book on the history of the 82d Airborne Division during World War II — The Sword of St Michael. It was fascinating to learn how often units were led by soldiers junior to what was expected for companies, battalions and regiments. 

The percentage of casualties for the leaders was especially high, because they led from the front. I am currently reading the book “The Generals” that describes generals from World War II to the present time.

The theme is always leadership or the lack of it. It was fascinating to relearn how many generals were relieved during that war because they were not getting the desired results. Victory was expected and anything short of that was unacceptable.

After the U.S. forces were pushed out of North Korea by the Chinese in 1950 during the Korean War, the morale of the army was poor. Gen Matthew Ridgway was assigned as the new ground forces commander and he immediately educated himself on the terrain and troops while visiting all of the units. In only five weeks, he turned around the morale of the forces.

Gen. Lewis Wilson became the Commandant of the Marine Corps on 1 July, 1976. At that time, all of the services were having an extremely difficult time with discipline. The entire country was also having a tough time following the end of the Vietnam War and the all-volunteer military.

When junior leaders questioned the direction of the Corps, they were told that we were merely a reflection of society. Wilson implemented a new approach and directed units to discharge those individuals who were impersonating Marines. Administrative programs were implemented to discharge those people and the good Marines cheered.  

New York City was another disaster with crime off the page, streets dirty and general malaise. Mayor Rudy Giuliani turned that around by enforcing current laws to such a degree that criminals were afraid to carry weapons for fear of being stopped for minor infractions. The murder rate tumbled and other crimes dramatically reduced. One wonders why other cities such as Chicago do not follow that example. Leadership led the way.

On a national level, our country was experiencing double-digit inflation, unemployment and interest rates when Ronald Reagan assumed duties as our president. He changed the attitude of the people and the country went on a record level of growth and wealth creation. He went to the people with his plan to move the nation forward and Congress reluctantly went along. Again, leadership led the way.

During world War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill assumed his duties when England was at its lowest in history. Europe had fallen under the sway of Germany and The Battle of Britain was under way. He promised the people “blood, sweat, and tears” as he led them to ultimate victory. That is what leadership did.

Today, our country continues to move at a snail’s pace because of all the stupid regulations and roadblocks established by the government. Far too often when something stupid occurs, a new regulation is created to prevent it from happening again without ever considering the effects of unintended consequences. Many of our states are moving forward because of their leadership, but it remains difficult. Examples of how to do this are available, but far too many fail to learn while expecting the government to be the ultimate savior.

Our history shows the way to success. There are fantastic examples in business, education, politics, military and any other endeavor. I fear that too little of that is being covered in our schools and far too little is being encouraged in society. Show me an organization that encourages that and I’ll show you one that is probably very successful.

Our system is unique in the world and because of it, we continue to develop new techniques in most areas, but that must be rewarded or it will fade. 

I remain optimistic about this great country, but there is much to fear with the direction that we seem to be moving toward. That is not the America that I served for most of my adult life. There are leaders in the country and it is up to us to select them for duty.

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