Next Monday is Memorial Day. Most of us will celebrate at backyard barbeques, in the company of friends and family, enjoying the fruits of our hard work. But what are we celebrating?
We are celebrating – indeed, we are honoring - the courage of those who do what must be done, who bear the load for others so that they may be free to live their lives.
On Memorial Day we bear witness to the leadership demonstrated by the members of the armed forces – those who sacrifice so we don’t have to.
General Norman Schwarzkopf, who led America’s combat forces to victory in the first Gulf War, understands this sacrifice that comes with leadership.
In a speech about leadership to several hundred real estate executives assembled for a conference he posed the question, “Why do the troops go? Why do their families let them go?
His answer: They go because their country asks them to.
Schwarzkopf continued, “As I speak to you right now, somewhere in this great nation, servicemen and women are saying goodbye to their families as they go off to war. I know what it's like. Think of the anxiety of a family that is saying goodbye to a loved one with absolutely no idea when they will see them again or worse yet if they will ever see them again alive.”
The general defines leadership as the ability to inspire people to willingly do that which they wouldn't ordinarily do. He distinguishes managers from leaders: whereas managers oversee processes, systems or equipment, leaders lead people who have their own dreams and ambitions.
Sounding like a preacher delivering a Sunday morning sermon, Schwarzkopf emphatically stated: “Leadership involves a sense of duty. Leadership involves a value system. Leadership involves ethics. Leadership certainly involves integrity.”
So, as you enjoy our American freedoms this Memorial Day, join me in reflecting on the model of sacrifice and leadership embodied in the men and women of our Armed Forces.
Think, too, how you might apply that model to inspire others around you to higher ideals – those places they might not otherwise go.