Author Archives: leadernow

About leadernow

Just retired from the Air Force after serving over 32 years. A graduate of the US Air Force Academy, and officer in the nation's Air Force, it's been my privilege to observe and (hopefully) practice great leadership principles and practices. This blog is my attempt to expand the discussion and advance the importance that leadership brings to our world. I'll be continuing this in my new role as Commandant of Cadets at Virginia Tech.

Leading in the Trenches

I recently read an article that provided an interesting story related to leadership.  In the Corps today we are working to establish a culture that includes “practicing the way you are going to play”.  By that, we mean that cadets should be developing and practicing leadership the way they will engage with others after graduation.  Cadets (and the rest of us) can fall into the trap of simply relying on our rank and position to influence people, without realizing that in the long term that will foster minimalist performance by the people we lead.

Here’s the story I recently read:

Trench Leadership

April 23, 2012 in Leadership, Military, Self-Improvement

There appears to be a figurative fork in the road in the journey we take while forming our own personal leadership style.

It’s almost as if we all come to a point where we must decide how we will manage the increased responsibility and decreased oversight- and we take one path or the other.

I’ve witnessed the damage that a leader can do when they abide by the old military adage of R.H.I.P. (Rank Hath Its Privileges), and the dramatic impact a leader can have when they never forget what it’s like to live in the trenches.

Let me tell you a story.

Close to a battlefield nearly 200 years ago, a man in civilian clothes rode upon a small group of exhausted, battle-weary soldiers digging an obviously important defensive position. The section leader, making no effort to help, was shouting orders and threatening punishment if the work was not completed within the hour.

“What are you doing?” asked the stranger on horseback from across the trench.

“I am in charge of leading these men- they do as I tell them. We must fortify this position- the orders came directly from the top!” said the section leader.

“So why aren’t you helping them?” inquired the rider.

“I’m the ranking officer here- these are my men.” the Soldier shot back indignantly.

“So why don’t you help them?” the rider asked again seeming vexed.

“I just told you why, but help them yourself if you feel so strongly about it!” the section leader retorted.

To his great surprise, the stranger dismounted his horse, removed his jacket and jumped into the trench along with the other men and helped until the job was finished.

Before the stranger climbed out of the trench, he walked down the line to congratulate each of the men for their success and thanked them for their hard work. Afterward he wiped his dirty hands on his saddle blanket, donned his jacket and approached the young section leader saying, “You should notify higher command the next time your rank prevents you from supporting your men – and I will happily provide a more permanent solution.”

As he began to mutter a snappy retort, the young man found himself standing face to face with the stranger. The section leader fell utterly silent and snapped to the position of attention to render a proper (albeit shaky) salute.

General George Washington had just helped to dig his fighting position while he stood idly by. Without another word, Washington mounted his horse and rode away leaving the young leader with a new outlook on leadership.

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Posted by on March 18, 2014 in Hey, look at this!


The importance of trust and its relationship to loyalty…

One of the pylons at the War Memorial plaza at Virginia Tech represents the value of Loyalty.  If you look at the words that describe what it represents…it talks about Loyalty to the nation, the state, your school, and your home.  There is a deliberate hierarchy there.

One of the most challenging lessons to learn, especially in organizations like ours, is the balance between the loyalty and trust that is engendered in the New Cadet experience (our ‘basic training’ and first-year) between fellow cadets, and the larger responsibilities to loyalty to the values of the larger institutions…nation, state, school, etc.  These values are embodied at the basic level by the Honor Code but extend to the adherence to regulations and policies of the Corps…and the laws of the land.

We further make the distinction more difficult to discern when we emphasize ‘team’ and concepts like ‘leave no one behind.’

Those concepts have an underlying assumption….and that assumption is that everyone is living up to the standards.

When one fails to live up to the standards, all are effected.  It may be in the form of the reputation of the institution, or the doubt it creates within the ranks of the organization.  When an individual or group breaks faith with the standards…they have broken a trust with everyone…and put others in a position where they have to choose between the bonds of comradeship or keeping faith with the standards that are expected of them by the nation, the state, the school, and so on.  It is a question of loyalty…but to who or what, and in what order?

Whether it be a military organization that is facing the crucible of combat, or a public or private sector institution that seeks a long-term relationship of trust with those they serve…(to paraphrase from a movie)…the loyalty to the values of the institution outweigh the loyalty to the one that breaks trust with all.



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Posted by on November 8, 2013 in Hey, look at this!


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A Wonderful Story

Someone sent this to me recently…I had to share with all of you.  It may be dated, but the message is timeless…

For  half a century, the world has applauded John Glenn as  a heart-stirring American hero.  He lifted the nation’s spirits when, as one  of the original Mercury 7  astronauts, he was blasted alone into orbit  around the Earth; the enduring affection for him is so powerful that even now people find themselves misting up at the sight of his face or the sound of his voice.

But for all these years, Glenn has had a hero of his own, someone who he has seen display endless courage of a different kind:  Annie Glenn.

They have been married for 68 years.

He is 92; she turned 93 in February.

This weekend there has been news coverage of the 50th  anniversary of Glenn’s flight into orbit. We  are being reminded that, half a century down the line, he remains America’s unforgettable hero.

He has never really bought that.

Because the heroism he most cherishes is of a sort that is seldom cheered. It belongs to the person he has known longer than he has  known anyone else in the world.

John Glenn and Annie Castor first knew each other when —  literally — they shared a  playpen.

In New Concord, Ohio, his parents and hers were friends.  When the families got together, their children played.

John — the future Marine fighter pilot, the future test-pilot ace, the future astronaut — was pure gold from the start. He would end up having what it took to rise to the  absolute pinnacle of American regard during the space race; imagine what it meant to be the young John Glenn in the small confines of New Concord.

Three-sport varsity athlete, most admired boy in town, Mr. Everything.

Annie Castor was bright, was caring, was talented, was generous of spirit. But she could talk only with the most excruciating of difficulty.  It haunted her.

Her stuttering was so severe that it was categorized as an  “85%” disability — 85% of the time, she could not manage to make words come out.

When she tried to recite a poem in elementary school, she was laughed at. She was not able to speak on the telephone. She could not have a regular conversation with a  friend.

And John Glenn loved her.

Even as a boy he was wise enough to understand that people who could not see past her stutter were missing out on knowing a rare and wonderful girl.

They married on April 6, 1943. As a military wife, she found that life as she and John moved around the country could be quite hurtful. She has written: “I can remember some very painful experiences — especially the ridicule.”

In department stores, she would wander unfamiliar aisles trying to find the right section, embarrassed to attempt to ask the sales clerks for help. In taxis, she would have to write requests to the driver, because she couldn’t speak the destination out loud. In restaurants, she would point to the items on the menu.

A fine musician, Annie, in every community where she and John moved, would play the organ in church as a way to make new friends. She and John had two children; she has  written: “Can you imagine living in the modern world and being afraid to use the telephone? ‘Hello’ used to be so hard for me to say. I worried that my children would be injured and need a doctor.  Could I somehow find the words to get the information across on the phone?”

John, as a Marine aviator, flew 59 combat missions in World War II and 90 during the Korean War.  Every time he was deployed, he and Annie said goodbye the same way.

His last words to her before leaving were:

“I’m  just going down to the corner store to get a pack of  gum.”

And, with just the two of them there, she was able to always reply:

“Don’t be long.”

On that February day in 1962 when the world held its breath and the Atlas rocket was about to propel him toward space, those were their words, once again. And in 1998, when, at 77, he went back to space aboard the shuttle Discovery, it was an  understandably tense time for them. What if something happened to end their life together?

She knew what he would say to her before boarding the  shuttle. He did — and this time he gave her a present to hold onto:

A pack of gum.

She carried it in a pocket next to her heart until he was safely home.

Many times in her life she attempted various treatments to  cure her stutter. None worked.

But in 1973, she found a doctor in Virginia who ran an intensive program she and John hoped would help her. She traveled there to enroll and to give it her best effort.  The miracle she and John had always waited for at last, as miracles will do, arrived. At age 53, she was able to talk fluidly, and not in brief, anxiety-ridden, agonizing bursts.

John has said that on the first day he heard her speak to him with confidence and clarity, he dropped to his knees to offer a prayer of gratitude.

He has written: “I saw Annie’s perseverance and strength through the years and it just made me admire her and love her even more.” He has heard roaring ovations in countries around the globe for his own valor, but his awe is reserved for Annie, and  what she accomplished: “I don’t know if I would have had the courage.”

Her voice is so clear and steady now that she regularly gives public talks. If you are lucky enough to know the Glenn’s, the sight and sound of them bantering and joking with each other and playfully finishing each others’ sentences is something that warms you and makes you thankful just to be in the same room.

Monday will be the anniversary of the Mercury space shot, and once again people will remember, and will speak of the heroism of Glenn the astronaut.

But if you ever find yourself at an event where the Glenn’s are appearing, and you want to see  someone so brimming with pride and love that you may feel your own tears  start to well up, wait until the moment that Annie stands to say a few  words to the audience.

And as she begins, take a look at her husband’s eyes.

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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Hey, look at this!


Inspiring Leaders

Back from the recent Hesselbein Global Summit!  As in past years, it was a wonderful experience to meet and have the opportunity to work with outstanding young men and women from all around the country and the world.

It reinforced the idea that learning about leadership goes beyond books and presentations…it is about relationships between people and learning from one another.

We’re just a few days away from that process beginning anew as our next class of Cadets start their journey, and our upperclassmen return to be part of that.  Can’t wait to get started!

Here’s a video that highlights the great people who were part of this year’s leadership summit!

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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Hey, look at this!


Heading to Hesselbein Global Summit

Each year it is my great privilege to participate as a mentor at the Frances Hesselbein Global Summit at the University of Pittsburgh.  Amazing college students from around the country and the world gather for four days of intense, stimulating, and ultimately rewarding leadership development dialogues and activities.  You can learn more about the summit by clicking here.

Frances Hesselbein, recipient of the nation’s highest honor awarded to non-military…the Presidential Medal of Freedom is an inspiration to all.  Through her non-profit organization, she seeks ways for business, non-profit, government, and the military to raise up leaders of character.

You can find out more about Frances, and sample outstanding articles on leadership by clicking here.

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Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Hey, look at this!


What’s Going On at Google?

“Pause to consider that just 15 years ago, Google’s search engine, now used globally over 100 billion times a month, didn’t exist.”

Now…for some, 15 years is almost a lifetime.  But imagine what might be possible 15 years in the future…and you begin to wonder if paying attention, deliberately, to how organizations and people work can mean the difference between success or failure, relevance or its opposite, or even extinction.

So Google not only purposely goes about its business, but its leaders purposely go about studying how great organizations and people work and apply it to their own company.

What is fascinating about this is the role that Emotional Intelligence is playing and how Google is helping their employees master it.  By no coincidence, here in the Corps of Cadets we are doing the same.  Last year we began by asking all members of the Cadre, the upperclass cadets specifically chosen to conduct New Cadet training, to use a diagnostic to measure their current Emotional Intelligence.  With that awareness in mind, they also received training and materials to help them purposely improve.

We are in the process now of having those same cadets re-take the diagnostic and the results so far have been very encouraging.  We intend to continue this process and develop our programs further.

A recent article in Fast Company highlights the work that Google is doing, and includes a video of one of their leaders talking about how to increase one’s Emotional Intelligence.  He also has written a book, which you can learn more about here.

You can read the article and learn more by clicking here.

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Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Hey, look at this!


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What is your “Lollipop Moment” Going to Be?

As our cadets are returning from Spring Break…we look ahead to all the opportunities to learn about and practice leadership over the coming months.

As we do so, it’s important to remember that great change can come from small beginnings. We talk about preparing leaders to go out and make a big difference in the world…but sometimes that can mask the power that we can have on one life through seemingly small acts.

A Ted Talk speaker offered a powerful insight into one such small act, something that he didn’t even recall, can have a profound impact.

Watch the short talk by clicking here…and then ask yourself these questions!

What have those moments been in your life? Did you go back and tell the person?  What have you done to have that effect on others?

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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Hey, look at this!




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