by Colonel Wes Martin

True success is not determined by having attained a position of authority or influence. True success determined in positive accomplishments and the legacy that remains after vacating that position. Harry Truman correctly pointed out that all power is temporary, and should be left in the best condition possible. American history has scribed the names of many influential people. Their names will forever be remembered as long as our great nation stands: Washington, Jefferson, Burr, Custer, Pershing, Marshall, and McCarthy are just a few. The difference between each of the aforementioned is where they placed their commitments.

Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Pershing, Truman, and Marshall dedicated their lives to the common good of the nation. These great leaders led others through uncertainty, often at great personal expense. Others like Burr, Custer, and McCarthy used events and uncertainty for personal gain. Burr tried to form his own nation because he was not satisfied with being a team player in a developing government. Custer led 225 men to their deaths while trying to once again attack a village in his never-ending selfish quest for glory. To promote himself, McCarthy capitalized on national fears and destroyed the lives of many people. History has been very kind to the first group, and very critical of the second.

Harry Truman, cast into the role of being the most powerful man in the world, had no problem maintaining proper focus on his temporary position. Few will ever reach such a position. However, every person who achieves a position of authority must make the same value judgments. However great or small, the commitment must be to the position, not to oneself.

An old debate among the senior service schools concerns the principles of "Be," "Know," and "Do." The question for discussion is which principle is the most important. Dedicated young officers and NCOs often argue for "Do." Their belief is that by getting out and making things happen, progress will be made. The dedicated senior generation, who has spent many years making things happen in spite of environments and situations, often leans toward "Be." Experienced soldiers have realized the value of a true and deep rooted inner commitment. Undoubtedly twenty years prior they too thought "Do" was most important. This change in attitude is best reflected in Franklin’s analysis, "At twenty the will reigns, at thirty the wit, at forty the wisdom."

A leader who possesses the inner composition to develop a professional organization will provide dedicated members with three needs: direction, trust, and hope. A leader who progressed through his or her career while focused on fulfilling expectations of "Be" will also achieve expectations of "Know" and "Do." Continually learning and working as a professional the individual will achieve the established military values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. If "Be" is lacking from the very beginning, and never comes into play, knowledge and effort will not be focused towards the good of the organization.

Abraham Zalenik accurately captured the danger of people in authority lacking this inner commitment when he wrote, "More often than not, people think of their own advancement or personal goals in terms of salary rather than the long-range effects of their work on others or on larger organizational objectives. Nothing destroys mutual confidence between a person in authority and the subordinates more than the awareness that the supervisor, executive, or officer is fundamentally looking out for his own self-interest."

President John F. Kennedy began his term of office with the statement "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." The same must be asked of each member and leader at an organizational level. However, if the leadership is out for itself, then the membership cannot be expected to be held to high standards. A supervisor can chant self-righteousness statements every day, but observations of righteousness violations will provide complete testimony to the commitment. The more senior the individual, the greater the visibility.

A committed leader, secure in the knowledge of his or her abilities, and determined to provide the time and energy to lead, will quickly bond with other members of the organization. The leader will understand that increased authority means increased responsibility, not increased immunity. Self-serving abuse of the "rank has its privileges" concept has continually been allowed to bring discredit and dishonor to positions of authority.

Committed to the organization, the dedicated leader will develop a professional relationship with fellow team members. The leader will learn the mission and identify organizational goals. He or she will take time to learn the skills and attributes of the people in the organization. The mission to be achieved and direction in which to go will be shared with the membership. If all members are expected to contribute their fullest, they need to know where to focus their energy. The leader will never achieve final satisfaction with what he or she has accomplished. That satisfaction belongs to the membership. The leader will always be determined to achieve more, but not at unrealistic expense of the membership. The professional leader presents positive energy and serves as an anchor for the dedicated membership.

Giving direction and guidance to an organization is only part of the role of a leader. The leader must also be the example. The term "lead by example" is an excellent jacket that represents the finest morale fabric. It is continually on display, but worn much less frequently. Patton once reflected, "There has been a great deal of talk about loyalty from the bottom to the top. Loyalty from the top to the bottom is much more important, and also much less prevalent. It is this loyalty from the top to the bottom which binds juniors to their seniors with the strength of steel."

A leader cannot show loyalty to the members, or the organization, when he or she uses the position of authority for personal gain or pleasure. A person can dedicate many years developing a professional relationship with the people he or she supervises. That relationship can be destroyed in a matter of seconds. People recognize that everyone has shortfalls. If these shortfalls are the result of "Know" or Do" they will generally be forgiven with no permanent damage. If the shortfall is a result of failure of the supervisor’s "Be" composition, then trust is lost and forgiveness will never be found. Congressional Medal of Honor winner Admiral James Stockdale directed his thoughts to this issue, "…people cling to those they know they can trust--those who are not detached, but involved--those who have consciences, those who can repent, those who do not dodge unpleasantness." Seldom will a person last in a position of authority for very long before subordinates discover the true individual.

After a person of authority vacates the position, true judgment will be rendered. People who use their positions for personal gain are eventually left with nothing. An old New England tombstone reads, "What I gave, I have. What I kept, I lost." Nearing the end of his long life, Charles DeGaule stated, "We go through life looking for hidden treasures. In the end we find there are no hidden treasures, and friendship is all that remains." Immediate personal gains and pleasures, although quested after like pirates seeking treasure, are temporary. Professional long term gains and relationships achieved through commitment and comradery are permanent. Truman serves as a great example of a leader who did not use his power to attain personal gain. Financially, he was not a wealthy man. However, the wealth of the legacy he left behind far exceeds most. Truman understood the true success of authority and he left the power of his position in the best condition possible.

©2021 Wes Martin