Here’s another excerpt from a book on leadership I’m writing.
Mention “character” in the same context of “a man” and you most likely will get a mental image along the lines of “Homer Simpson,” “Peter Griffin,” “Ray Barone,” or “Charlie Harper.”
In the last 30 years or so, the picture of the American man has been reduced to flatulence jokes, hedonism, being somewhat dim-witted (whether intentional on the part of the guy or not), or as I once heard him referred to, “Stupid Guy.” There seems to be no end to the string of commercials – from American diet beer to glass cleaners – which play on the theme of “Stupid Guy.”
This doesn’t seem to always have been the case. Even on television – men were portrayed in a much more positive light in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
I suspect that these are exaggerations – on both ends of the spectrum – from reality. But I also suspect that there is some truth to the exaggeration. There are some guys out there like this – “Stupid Guy” I mean. I think that the way our country is headed – morally, spiritually, and economically – can all be attributed to more and more “Stupid Guys” influencing our young men and boys.
We need men of character, competence and courage more than ever in today’s world.
Men like Richard Winters – who was known to NOT “fraternize” with the local women while overseas serving in the army, drink alcohol (at all) while on leave, and did everything to a moral code that was based on the Bible.
He did this because he felt that being a man of good character was vital to the survival of himself and the men he led into battle. He didn’t know when he would be going into battle. It could have been at any moment – and often was “at any moment.” At least once he and his men were thrust into battle at a time when they least expected it. When the Nazi forces broke through the Allied lines in the Ardennes forest at Bastogne, Winters and his men were on leave in France. But because he was a man of character, he was ready to go at the moment he was ordered to go.
It is no different today. We must be ready at a moment’s notice to “go into battle.”
For a time, my son suffered from seizures. They could happen anytime – and they did. In the middle of the night, at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, during school, on holidays like Christmas Day. I had to be ready at a moment’s notice to help him. There is not “time off the clock” for a father.
Because we live in a culture of time clocks, “nine-to-five” and weekends off and vacations, we think there will be times when we can “cut loose” and not be accountable to anyone. It’s “me time” we think.
But people are counting on us to be ready to help and serve and fight for them no matter what the time or day. Being a man of character goes a long way to being prepared to do that.
We also need to be competent. This means we must know what we are doing or are called upon to do. This means training and education. Winters and the men of Easy Co. went through some of the hardest training of any group in the United States Army during World War II. They did close-order drill over and over again, day after day. They ran up and down Mt. Currahee at Camp Teccoa. They assembled and disassembled their M1 rifles to the point that they could do it blindfolded. They trained and trained some more in Georgia, North Carolina, various other Army camps and eventually in England.
They made five jumps out of C-47’s at jump school in order to get their jump-wings and be qualified to be paratroopers. That’s three more jumps than they actually made into combat in World War II. They may not have actually used everything they became competent to do, but they were ready to do so. This is why many of them survived the war, lived to tell about it in books and movies afterward and pass on what they learned to another generation.
Our competence comes from school and self-study in the school of experience. While high school and college usually comes to an end, the school of experience is a life-long area of learning. There is no end to the amount of material available to us to continue our learning. Books, seminars, and the like are there for us to continue to learn and strengthen our leadership skills.