Commander conveys importance of leadership

Lt. Col. Ben McMullen
86th Air Mobility Squadron Commander

***image1***I grew up watching and admiring many great actors like Clint Eastwood, George C. Scott, and Gregory Peck portraying epic military leaders. But my all time favorite is John Wayne. Do you remember him portraying Lt. Col. Kirby York in the Rio Grande, Col. Mike Kirby in The Green Berets and Sgt. Stryker in The Sands of Iwo Jima.
John Wayne was the epic warrior, a larger than life leader of men and the ultimate American hero all wrapped into one. His characters embraced ultra-strong convictions and made tough, actionable decisions simply because it was the right thing to do.
While I haven’t had to make the same tough decisions as John Wayne’s characters, I’ve found some help in some of his greatest trinkets of wisdom.
‘Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much.’ Too many times we want to shout our victories and capabilities, mostly to get noticed. However, words are hollow. We should try to be quiet professionals who let our actions speak for us.
“A man’s word to anything, even his own destruction, is his honor.” Our word is our bond. Period. It builds trust up the chain of command, and more importantly, it builds trust within the unit. The lack of trust can demoralize a unit, uproot cohesion and destroy esprit de corps – the true foundation of all successful organizations.
“Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.” Given what we’ve been through for operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom these words ring true. In times of personal uncertainty leaders need to be a rock upon which the unit can anchor.
“Never apologize, Mister. It’s a sign of weakness.” While you may disagree, there is common sense to these words. All of us have engaged in difficult projects, missions and operations in our careers. Every one of those endeavors started with a target for success, never failure. Apologizing acknowledges failure from the moment of conception and doesn’t apply to honest, hard working leaders doing the right thing.
“Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid.” Believe me, if you adhere to this bit of wisdom your chances of being successful are limitless. Even better, if you can get your unit to “buy into” this, you’re the definition of leader.
John Wayne’s characters provide amazing perspective. His words have sometimes helped me and hopefully they can help you make hard decisions based on what’s right.
Perhaps John Wayne’s most enduring quote was written on his headstone.
“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”