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Humility the mark of true leaders

  • Published
  • By R.J. Oriez
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
One of the best lessons I learned about "true leadership" was from a guy who lost an election.

For people too young to remember, the presidential election of 1992 was a hard-fought, cantankerous campaign. One of the issues those opposed to Bill Clinton brought up was that he had managed to avoid military service during the Vietnam Conflict--partially through college deferments, including a few semesters spent in England.

Many called him a "draft dodger." They said the military would not respect him and might not obey him. One southern senator went so far as to suggest that, if elected, it might not be good for President Clinton's health to visit a military base in the senator's state.

Of course, Clinton did win the election that November. Then, in December, President George H.W. Bush ordered elements of the American military into Somalia. I was a member of the Navy's Pacific Combat Camera Group and was sent attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

New Year's Day found me in the small village of Badoa. Bush visited us in the closing weeks of his presidency.

As the recently-defeated president spoke to a group of about 500 Marines, nobody would have noticed if he had simply not mentioned Clinton's name or if he had not referred to the election at all.

Instead, he went out of his way to praise his recent opponent's intelligence and said how confident he was in Clinton's ability to be Commander-in-Chief.

After the nastiness of the campaign, he must have had some difficulty in saying such nice things about the man who had defeated him.

But Bush understood that doing so was in the best interest of the country and the military. It was not done for public consumption to make him look good. There were no media there.

Being a true leader means putting the interests of your people, your unit or your country ahead of your own -- a true testament to "Service Before Self."

With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, much time was spent by TV analysts trying to dissect what made him great. I heard two events of his life mentioned repeatedly.

The first was that, when released after more than 25 years in prison, he forgave his captors. People who knew him said it was not that he wasn't angry at those who imprisoned and mistreated him. But, he knew for his country to have a peaceful transition to democracy and to avoid a bloody civil war he had to set aside his own animosity and desire for revenge in order to unite his country.

The second decision of Mandela's that added to his greatness is that at the end of his presidential term, he stepped down. He willingly gave up power.

What earned Mandela's comparison to George Washington was not just leading people to freedom. It was also showing them the importance of making room for the followers to lead, to step up, to assume their rightful places so the country may grow.

Too many "leaders" fail when it comes to that test. Many a liberator has become a tyrant in his own right.

In the military, we know we may be called upon to make sacrifices, maybe even the ultimate sacrifice. However, we need to remember that part of what we need to sacrifice is our own self-pride and ego.

We all have seen supervisors and commanders whose only thought seems to be how to get the next promotion. They only give thought to the unit or their people as a stepping stone for their career. The irony is leaders of that type tend to hit a ceiling, while the leaders who put their people and the team first are noticed and get promoted.

Maybe it is because when people working for you see that you have their back, they are more willing to have yours.