Dr. Seuss on leadership

by Col. Randall Reed
521st Air Mobility Wing

I am not the first and certainly not the last to turn to Theodor Geisel, better known as children’s author Dr. Seuss, for a light-hearted look at leadership. Quip for quip, let’s see what we can learn from a few rhymes from childhood times.

1. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” (From “The Lorax”) Every one of us can make a difference, both for the mission and for another individual. If we want improvement, then let’s make it happen.

2. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” (From “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”) We all understand the importance of professional military education, but we must do more than that. A good place to start is the chief of staff of the Air Force reading list. My recommendation is “Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton,” by former Air Force officer Lee Ellis. He uses the backdrop of life as a Vietnam prisoner of war to discuss one of the most fascinating human behaviors — leadership. My favorite part of the book is his formula for success: Purpose plus passion equals success. Success really is a first class ticket for the ride of life. Prepare for the trip with reading and learning.

3. “It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” (From “The Lorax”) Airmen are never satisfied with the achievements of yesterday. I’ve heard it said that the best way to predict the future is to make it. So, what are we waiting for?

4. “It all began with a shoe on the wall. A shoe on the wall shouldn’t be there at all.” (From “Wacky Wednesday”) I can’t count the many times I’ve walked past an opportunity to make a correction to fix something that wasn’t right. I’m sure that I’m the only one who’s ever done that, so do me a favor and don’t start. Continue to pick up pieces of trash on your way to the duty station. Continue to remind neighbors to respect quiet hours. Continue to confront unprofessional behavior. No more Wacky Wednesdays!

5. “And what would you do if you met a jibboo?” (From “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!”) This is all about readiness! I’ve had the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of readiness from the former captain of the USS Cole, Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, as well as retired United Airlines Captain Al Haynes. Lippold’s ship was the target of a terrorist attack while Haynes’s aircraft suffered a catastrophic failure, forcing him to crash land at Sioux City, Iowa. In each case, these leaders faced unique circumstances that were not in the training or operating manuals. Nevertheless, they stared down their fears and saved the lives of others because they trained for the unexpected. Moments before their worst day, they could not have told you what they would do if they met a jibboo. In the end it didn’t matter; they were the best at their craft and they were ready for anything. So bring it!

6. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” (From “I’ll Teach My Dog 100 Words”) This one is simple; don’t take things at face value. Dig into it,a then decide.

7. “I’m telling you this ’cause you’re one of my friends. My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!” (From “On Beyond Zebra!”) We are all connected, no one is isolated. Look to the left, look to the right. Take care of the individual by your side and never leave them behind. Sound familiar?

8. “And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day” (From “How the Grinch Stole Christmas! And other stories”) When we have a sense of purpose, passion and commitment, there is no limit to the good we can do. I know at least two times a year when Airmen’s hearts grow many sizes in a single day — when we donate to the Air Force Assistance Fund and the Combined Federal Campaign. Do we really need to wait for semiannual campaigns to make a difference? Of course not! Donating money has its place, but there are plenty of other ways to keep from leaving an Airman behind.

When we take a moment to think about it, Dr. Seuss provides a number of leadership insights. While they may seem whimsical on the surface, the underlying meanings are actually quite profound. But I would be remiss if I did not address the most fundamental leadership principle from his most famous work, “The Cat In the Hat.”

“Fun is good.” Let’s not forget to have fun. Following a fun leader is, well, fun!