Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lead, Follow, or Get the Hell Out of the Way*

Follow Me! - Iron Mike, Fort Benning Georgia
Photo by John D. Helms (Source)
While casting about for a topic for today's post, a couple of things in Juvat's latest offering kept coming to mind. Mostly this -
The wing commander went on to wear a couple of stars.  Vegas and Ricks retired as O-6s. Ras made Major at the first opportunity, 3 years below the zone, and retired as a Major.
You see, that wing commander Juvat mentioned had about the same level of flying experience as one of his junior officers. One would expect that a man of that rank (colonel) and that length of time in service would have more flying time than a JO**. It was obvious to me that that particular officer had probably spent a lot of time in staff jobs, not flying jobs. It would be my guess that that fellow was a shoe clerk wearing pilot wings. Not a fighter pilot.

Now the fact that Ed Rasimus, a superb stick with over 250 combat missions up north as a Thud and Phantom pilot retired as a major still sticks in my craw. The man was a proven combat pilot and leader. Did he go on to wear stars?

No, he did not.

Robin Olds, another proven combat pilot who did eventually get a star should have gone on to lead the entire damn Air Force. Did he?

No, he did not.

Now the title of today's post is something I have always adhered to. One of my biggest failings is my inability to know when to "get the Hell out of the way." I can lead, I can follow, but sometimes I will butt heads with folks who have been "appointed and anointed" to lead an effort. Sometimes the result ain't so good. I tell you, it's tough to follow someone who couldn't pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel." But sometimes you just have to drive on and embrace the suck.

I am mellowing though, in my old age. Sometimes it's just easier to get out of the way and let the "appointed and anointed" ones screw the pooch so badly that things go completely sideways. Sigh, FUBAR situations are only fun from a distance.

With that being said, here are some of my favorite quotes concerning leadership. (Which I got from here. There are many more. Some better than others. YMMV.) The first one should be tattooed on the forehead of every business school graduate.

"You manage things; you lead people." - Grace Murray Hopper

Need I mention that that lady was an officer in the Naval Service and is a legend in my current career field? An extremely smart person!

Alrighty then, here's the list...
  • "Don't tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results." - George S. Patton Jr.
  • "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."- Abraham Lincoln
  • "The supreme quality of leadership is integrity." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • "Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned." - Harold Geneen
  • "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • "Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand." - Colin Powell
  • "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." - John F. Kennedy
  • "No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it." - Andrew Carnegie
  • "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill
  • "A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • "Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm." - Publilius Syrus
  • "Wise leaders generally have wise counselors because it takes a wise person themselves to distinguish them." - Diogenes of Sinope
  • "I can give you a six-word formula for success: Think things through- then follow through." - Edward Rickenbacker
  • "A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent." - Douglas MacArthur
  • "The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things." - Ronald Reagan
  • "Don't follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you." - Margaret Thatcher
  • "A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them."- M. D. Arnold
Good words those, now if only more of our current "leaders" would adhere to some of those things. I think we'd be much better off.

Yeah, I know. Probably not going to happen.

But I can dream.

Can't I?

* The title is an old saying, attributed to General George S. Patton, Jr. - “We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”

** JO = Junior Officer, O-1 through O-3.


  1. You have to lead people. They tend to move around, and if you don't lead them, you'll miss.

  2. Kudos to you, not many people today remember Eddie Rickenbaker

    1. Eddie Rickenbacker is one of my heroes (as can be seen on the banner above).

  3. **And then there's the poor hinge...

    With the six words and the seven p's you can rule the world!

    Perhaps the greatest compliment I ever received came from a Marine Staff Sergeant who was surprised to find I was an E-4 (flight deck jerseys didn't require rank insignia back then). "You carry yourself like a leader," he said.

    Great post. Good food for thought.

    1. That was indeed high praise from a Marine!

      (For those who don't know, I give you the seven P's: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Popular in the British army and our very own US Marine Corps.)

  4. The good news about Ras's bad news was that he was absolutely bullet proof. I mean, what were they going to do to him? Pass him over and make him a LIFT IP at Holloman? If you look up "Speaking Truth to Power" in Wikipedia, Ed's picture is right there. The wing commander stopped coming by the squadron bar on Friday nights after going 1 V 1 with him a few times. The exchanges were highly entertaining. After a couple of last minute IP changes because of unscheduled meetings that he couldn't miss, I stopped scheduling the wing commander in any flight with Ras. Seems the debriefs tended to get fairly bloody. Ah well, as Sarge quotes Harold Geneen* above "Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned." And if a person don't want to learn, well "ain't my fault."

    * To spare the processing cycles on Google's servers, Harold Geneen was the president of International Telephone and Telegraph Corp. Passed away in 1997.

    1. I do believe the Air Force was uncomfortable with actual, real live warriors. I mean they just don't fit in at the Spring Cotillion don't ya know?

      In wartime we get fighting generals, in peacetime we get shoe clerks. I don't know what you call the times we're in now. Feels like wartime, civvies think it's peacetime.

      Hhmm, perhaps another rant is birthing?

  5. My truck, when I had it, bore those words on the rear license plate frame.

  6. Yes, butting heads with the power structure usually has unpleasant consequences.

    One of the common elements of the outstanding list of people you've quoted on Leadership -they all were constantly questioning how and why they performed, and they were always learning for the great historical Leaders that had preceded them. Even Patton! :)

    Seems to be a constant that the ones causing a ruckus during peacetime are the very ones you need during wartime. Agree that we are fighting wars, and we should force the politicians to declare them as such, while most civilians really do not think about it. In general, Americans have the memory of a gnat.

    1. Learning from those who went before, what a concept!

      Sad but true on your last.

  7. All great statements, I will consider them when making my vote this November.

    I found that all too often those that moved up in the corporation I worked for were simply people who looked good in a suit.

    1. "looked good in a suit"

      Yes, I have seen that many times. Glad to know it's not just me!

  8. What is this "integrity" of which Gen. Eisenhower speaks? That word rings echoes of a distant past, but to look for it in today's leadership (I speak only of civilian leadership) is to be a modern Diogenes fruitlessly staring out past his lamplight in search of an honest man.
    It is preserved in the honor codes of our military academies, which decry lying, cheating, and tolerance of same. And which are violated almost with a cyclic regularity. (Or, at least that's my impression.)

    Coincidentally, Glenn Reynolds wrote recently of our civilian leadership:

    1. I doubt many folks in government can even spell that word.

      My favorite line from that link?

      And people may obey the law because they think that being law-abiding is an important part of maintaining a viable society.

      As they say in Maine: Ayup.

  9. Not quite on point, but your post reminded me of this quote, ascribed to Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury:

    “It is dangerous for men in power if no one dares tell them when they go wrong.”

    You can find the full quote, and more is here: http://www.serviampartners.com/the-necessity-of-candor/#sthash.DKi2ISN7.dpuf

    1. I'd say that strikes close to the heart of the matter. True leaders do not surround themselves with "yes men."

      Of course, speaking truth to power can be an iffy proposition.

      Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?

      While that may or may not be an historically accurate quote, St Thomas Becket still wound up dead.

  10. Best leadership I ever got was "Fuzz, get on my wing and stay there!" (Jesse Locke, Major USAF, 1964)

    1. I found some data on a Colonel Jesse C. Locke Jr. here and here. Three DFCs? Pretty impressive.

      Sounds like he knew his stuff. (Still love that callsign.)

    2. Gee, that's him. Kinda hard to take. Never knew that he was almost exactly ten years older than me. Thanks. He was my drinking instructor, as well. ;-)

    3. Impressive pilot, officer, and man.

  11. Many decades ago when I was in the army I could distinguish warrior generals from political generals Creighton Abrams a hero with Pattons 3rd Army, was of course a warrior general and went on to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.I would say Alexander Haig was a political general. So was Colin Powell. And this is not necessarily to disparage political generals Can you imagine a George Patton trying to fill Eisenhower's shoes? Or would Dwight Eisenhower have done the job that Patton did ?

    But there has to be some balance. I also knew people who rose in rank due to their connections and blandness.

    Sad to say if you accomplish great things you also make a list of enemies.

    1. Abrams and Patton were both combat generals. Ike's genius was in holding that coalition of Allies together. Haig I didn't care for, same with Powell. I wouldn't necessarily call Ike a political general, he was a damn fine officer even though he was a staff guy. (I'm a little prejudiced when it comes to Ike, my paternal grandfather served with him in Panama.)

      Not all staff wienies are bad, in fact they are indispensable. Ask Napoléon how things went without Berthier. Not too good.

  12. I had the distinct privilege and honor to meet then Capt Hopper when she spoke at CCSU in '81. I was wearing my khaki uniform and after her presentation she came over to me and said hello. We chatted about Navy stuff for a bit and she seemed to take a genuine interest in what I was doing and the courses I was taking. What a gracious lady she was. Her demonstration of time intervals using lengths of wire it took an electron to traverse was classic. I have always treasured the opportunity to meet and talk with her.

  13. Had a relative by marriage. Enlisted man in Korea, commissioned in the field. Started flying helicopters after Korea. Did five tours in Vietnam. 0-5,on the 0-6 list, twenty five years, three months of service. Walked in one morning and turned in his papers. Told me the money wasn't worth the loss of self respect. Much more to the story but that is the part I know. He was a leader, who wouldn't follow the Carter crap, and, at considerable personal cost, got out of the way.

    1. The really good ones will do that. Rather than compromise their principles and their honor.

      'Tis a rare thing these days.

  14. The Air Boss on my first ship was an Army helo pilot in Vietnam. You'd never know it until you looked at all the DFCs he wore when King Hussein joined us one day for lunch. This was 10 years after the drawdown and he was still very bitter that the Army took all their pilots and told them that those without college degrees were not worthy.

    1. I was about to type "Unbelievable," then stopped myself when I realized that it's very believable.


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