Leadership can make a big difference in any workplace, not just the military. And since we all spend so much of our lives working, I believe we should find the good and enjoyment in each task, because we work for God, not men. Also, work gives us an opportunity to develop our own character, to serve others, and even to be taught by others as we come into contact with so many unique people that have skills or wisdom that we need or which God wants us to have (iron sharpening iron as the scripture says). As a military leader, I always tried to find ways to make the workplace more pleasant or enjoyable so that people would look forward to work rather than dreading it. I used the same approach in my classroom at West Point. Those young men and women put up with a lot of strict routine and high demands on their time as they are developed into leaders of character that can firmly, courageously, but compassionately lead our wonderful American troops. With that lofty goal in mind, I always made my classroom a place of sanctuary, where cadets could express any idea whatsoever to try it out and discover its real value, to compare it to the ideas of others, and to see how it might correspond with our national values in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Additionally, I brought humor into the classroom many times, showing Monty Python movie clips or whatever funny movie or picture I ran across that would help to convey the necessary lessons in a fun and memorable way which would fire their imaginations, giving them a personal stake in their own education.
I never addressed them in a superior or condescending way as some of my fellow military officers or civilian professors would sometimes do. There are two competing philosophies of leadership in West Point and in the U.S. military at large. One approach is to be stern with men and women, driving them hard, always demanding more of them, constantly criticizing, never giving positive reinforcement, encouragement, or praise. Sometimes it is necessary to be rough with young men and women to force them to go beyond their self-imposed limitations and to try a little harder, dig a little deeper. But this approach should be used sparingly or in limited circumstances such as basic training or various military schools where the learning gap is tremendous or the safety risk is significant and requires extreme methods. From my experience, leaders that consistently lead in this harsh way do not trust their people and often see themselves as morally and intellectually superior to their troops. But the drawback to this philosophy of leadership is that it relies too much on the leader’s coercion and does not train people to be self-sufficient; it often defaults to leadership by fear and maintains order by legalism rather than true morality.
The second approach, and the one which I have always used very successfully, is built upon the servant-leader concept. In this approach, people are never viewed as obstacles, tasks, or inferiors. Rather, they are looked upon in the same way a compassionate father would look upon his children, or the way our Heavenly Father looks at us. God is patient, long-suffering, and gentle in His teaching of us, so I wanted to be the same way to the people I led. I always looked on leadership as a sacred trust and a responsibility to the American people to cherish, to protect, to teach, and to improve the sons and daughters that they gave into my care. Based on the feedback I have gotten from troops and students I have served with, this method seems to have been successful, leaving them with a lasting impression of what a good leader should be, and with a model that they could emulate. This is not to lift myself up in pride. I always look on my responsibility to be a good example as a duty to God and my fellow-man which might help people to better themselves and might serve as a beacon of hope, light, truth, and love in a very dark world.