Experience was valuable only if one imbued it with meaning, drew from it purposeful conclusions. – Sam Damon (Myrer, 2000)
Inflexibility – it was the worst human failing: you could learn to check impetuosity, you could overcome fear through confidence and laziness through discipline, but rigidity of mind allowed for no antidote. It carried the seeds of its own destruction. – Sam Damon
You can’t help what you were born and you may not have much to say about where you die, but you can and should try to pass the days in between as a good man. – Sam Damon
DUTY is the sublimest word in the language, you can never do more than your duty; you should never wish to do less. – General Robert E. Lee
Leadership is something I ponder a lot. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been subject to so much poor leadership over the years. I’ve almost made it a mission to determine if I truly perceive a lack of leadership being endemic in so many organizations, or if I am just crazy.
In 1968, Anton Myrer wrote what I consider to be the ultimate tale about leadership. The protagonist is Sam Damon, a person who seems, from the very beginning, to have been born with that certain something that makes a person a leader. Very few modern works of fiction have been as analyzed and discussed as this one. In fact, in 1997, the book was made required reading at the US Army War College as well as other military educational institutions.
What is it about this book makes it so compelling? I think it’s because so many of us want to become Sam Damon. But, the Courtney Massengales of the world seem to far outnumber the Sam Damons.
In a commentary written by Lt Col Andrew Kovich (2007), he asks, Are you a Sam or a Courtney? We’ve seen a little of Sam, but let me introduce you to Courtney.
Courtney is, like Sam, a very bright officer that studies his profession with the same drive and dedication that Sam shows. (Kovich, 2007)
That’s pretty much where the similarity ends. Here are Sam’s attributes (Kovich, 2007):
- Natural leader & excellent commander.
- Successful soldier.
- Kind, caring, selfless servant to the Army, his troops, and his country.
- Demands excellence of self.
- Works uncounted hours honing his combat proficiency.
- Knows the value of intuition and, how to develop it.
- Demands high standards in training to assure his troops’ success and survival.
- Provides vital information to his commanders and gives honest assessments of every situation, even when it’s not popular and could jeopardize his own career goals.
- Never takes the easy road, never avoids controversial situations, never takes advantage of his subordinates, and never engages in sycophantic behavior.
- Always takes good care of his subordinates.
Okay, let’s take a look at Courtney (Kovich, 2007):
- Worries about the potential political fallout from every situation.
- Sees no reason to upset the status quo by taking a stand on an issue he believes he can do nothing about.
- Better to present a can-do attitude to his superiors rather than rock the boat.
- Is concerned about making all the right connections and doing anything necessary to advance his career.
- Makes every effort to assure that blame is never affixed to his organization, and if it is, makes sure it’s not him that’s held personally responsible.
- Works toward the perception that his organization’s success is always attributable to his command ability and tactical skill. This perception is often attributable to his personal public relations efforts.
- He always seeks out opportunities that will give him the best opportunity to shine and ensure that his ideas always meet with the approval of his superiors. This is also a good way to pass the blame when things go badly.
- When the chips are really down, he tends to show very little moral courage.
Now, you tell me who you, seemingly more often than not, see rising to middle, upper-middle, and upper- management of most organizations?
Previously, I cited a favorite talk of mine on leadership. It’s by Hugh Nibley. (Nibley, 1983)
In this speech, Dr. Nibley takes rather pointed aim at the difference between leaders and managers. He says that the shift from leadership to management is a fatal shift that marks the decline and fall of civilization! He was never one to be stingy with his opinions.
He cites Admiral Grace Hopper who points out the contrast between leadership and management (Nibley, 1983). She points out that nobody ever ‘managed’ someone into battle (well, maybe Courtney). Leaders are the ones that make waves and get reprimands. Managers are the ones whose primary objective is to please their commanders. They would never do the unpredictable imaginative things that a leader does. It’s just not safe or predictable.
Leaders want equality. To managers, equality is counter-productive. What are important are praise, position, privileges and power. Managers do not promote those whose competence may threaten their own position. What happens is, as management shuns equality, it feeds on mediocrity. (Nibley, 1983)
Let’s not get too carried away, thought. Leaders should have management skills just as managers should develop leadership skills.
Nibley sums up the product of leadership as follows:
“...leadership is an escape from mediocrity. All the great deposits of art, science, and literature from the past on which all civilization is nourished come to us from a mere handful of leaders. For the qualities of leadership are the same in all fields, the leader being simply the one who sets the highest example; and to do that and open the way to greater light and knowledge, the leader must break the mold.”
George Washington gave the greatest object lesson on leadership at the end of the Revolutionary War when he could have become a King or even tyrant; he simply bade his troops farewell and went home.
So, are we able to become like Sam Damon and do all we can to promote the good of all; or, are we “Courtneys” who are only interested in self-promotion?
We need to step back and think about our goals and their possible effect on our own souls and the well-being of others.
Kovich, A. (2007, November 21). Are you a Sam or a Courtney. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from F.E. Warren Air Force Base: http://www.warren.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123076902
Myrer, A. (2000). Once an Eagle. New York: HarperCollins.
Nibley, H. (1983, Aug 19). Leaders and managers. Retrieved Nov 10, 2015, from BYU Speeches: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/hugh-nibley_leaders-managers/