On the Subject of Leadership
by E.P. Unum
February 5, 2021
Our nation is facing a crisis in leadership
I’d like to offer some comments and perspectives on the subject of leadership. There are many kinds of leaders, many styles, approaches, and traits. But, the most important leadership traits in my opinion are character and integrity. The first of these, character may be defined as being selfless; having moral courage, and the strength to always do the right thing as opposed to doing things right. There is, of course, a difference. And one thing is absolutely certain…..
“You cannot lead by memo or email; you cannot lead by shouting or berating others; you cannot lead by abdicating your responsibilities and pointing fingers at others…..you must lead by example!”
Most leadership traits are “gifts”…..either hereditary or God-given. Character, on the other hand, is a choice. You choose to be a person of character. Leaders are in the people business and the inspiration business and anyone who seeks to lead others must first have the character to inspire. Good leaders seldom worry about who gets the credit; they only worry about getting the job done. For them, the concept of being mission-oriented holds real meaning. Good leaders are never afraid to tell the “Emperor that he has no clothes”. And most of all, good leaders…successful leaders…..tell the truth in all things; they don’t worry about looking good, because, quite frankly, they are too busy being good!
Good leaders have the moral courage to face up to any obstacle and to adapt, improvise and overcome them in order to complete their mission whether that be on the athletic field, the battlefield, the boardroom, or in the marketplace.
But of all the moral and ethical guideposts that we have been brought up to recognize and value, the one that for me stands above all the rest is integrity.
Integrity as I have been taught by the Good Sisters of Charity since the first grade stands for soundness of moral principle and character….. uprightness…..honesty. But, there is more. Integrity is also an ideal, a goal to strive for. And in the business of journalism, which is the business I have been involved in for most of my adult business life, integrity is a goal for which sight can never be lost. Compromise your integrity just once, sacrifice it for some economic gain or political favor, present only one side of the story at the expense of the other, without research or facts, lie or stretch the truth to influence others and achieve some objective, and you will find yourself with declining support for your publication and worse, a lack of faith from your readers, the people you serve and those employees whom you seek to lead. Integrity, not just in business, but throughout life means you report on the issues and the facts objectively and fairly, and you do not take sides except in matters of great moral conscience and ethics as they relate to the people you serve.
Good leaders are ever mindful of the words “all that is needed for evil to prosper is for good men to stand by and do nothing.” And good leaders need to be steadfast in their resolve to walk in their integrity…always.
But what exactly is the meaning of this word integrity?The word integrity itself is a martial word that comes to us from an ancient Roman army tradition. During the time of the twelve Caesars, the Roman army would conduct morning inspections. As the inspecting centurion would come in front of each legionnaire, the soldier would strike with his right fist the armor breastplate that covered his heart. The armor had to be strongest there to protect the heart from sword thrusts and arrow strikes. As the soldier struck his armor he would shout “Integritas” which in Latin means material, wholeness, completeness and entirety. The inspecting centurion would listen carefully for this affirmation and also for the sound that well-kept armor would give off. Satisfied that the armor was sound and that the soldier beneath it was protected, he would move on to the next man.
At about the same time, the Praetorians or Imperial Guards were ascending into power and influence. These were drawn from the best “politically correct” soldiers of the Legions. They received the finest armor, equipment, housing, and food. They were also not required to shout ‘integritas” during inspections. Instead, they struck their breastplate and shouted: “Hail Caesar” to signify that their heart belonged to the Imperial personage, not to their unit, not to the institution of the Roman Legion, and not to a code of ideals. They armored themselves to serve the cause of a single man….Caesar.
A century passed and the rift between the Legion and the Imperial Bodyguard and its excesses grew larger. To signify the difference between the two organizations, the Legionnaire also no longer shouted “integritas” but shouted instead “Integer”…Latin for undiminished, complete, perfect. It indicated that the soldier wearing the armor was of sound character. He was complete in his integrity…his standards and morals were high. He was not associated with the immoral conduct that was rapidly becoming the signature of the Praetorian Guards.
The armor of integrity continued to serve the Legions well. For over four centuries they held the line against the Goths and Vandals. But by 383 AD the social decline that infected the Republic and the Praetorian Guard began to have its effect on the Legions. As a Fourth Century Roman General wrote:
“When, because of laziness and negligence parade ground drills were abandoned, the customary armor began to feel heavy since the soldiers rarely, if ever wore it. Therefore, they first asked the emperor to set aside the breastplates and mail and then helmets. So, our soldiers fought the Goths without any protection for the heart and head and were often beaten by archers. Although there were many disasters which led to the loss of great cities, no one tried to restore the armor to the infantry. They took their armor off and when the armor came off, so too came off their integrity”
It was only a matter of a few years until the Legion rotted from within and discipline was sacrificed for expediency, that they were unable to hold the frontiers and suddenly, the barbarians were at the gates. They were upon Rome itself. Rome found itself mired in a crisis of leadership as well as the dangers of ignorance and complacency. They lacked the moral fortitude and the strength of will to survive…and the Republic collapsed.
Integrity…..it is a combination of words…..integritas and integer. It refers to the putting on of armor, of building completeness, a wholeness, a wholeness of character. It is something that builds in us over time and is woven into the very fabric of our lives and our souls. Just as was true in the days of imperial Rome, you either walk in your integrity daily, or you take off the armor of your integer and leave your heart and soul open to attack.
And the significant point here is that no one can take your integrity away from you. Only you can give it away.
So, why do I spend so much time on this point? Because it is crucial to who we are, what we stand for, and how we lead others. And I believe that every student at every institution, from kindergarten through university, needs to learn these principles and to have them reinforced in every class until he or she graduates. They are, sadly, concepts no longer taught in our schools and they are issues not committed to in corporations and government and that is very dangerous for us as a people and as a nation. Just the other day, the much-publicized lightning rod Alexandria Ocascio-Cortez (AOC) was caught in a bald-faced lie saying she was in danger of her life in the unfortunate riot that occurred in our Nation’s Capital on January 6, 2021. She was actually nowhere near the event, although claimed that she feared for her life. She even went on to suggest that a Senator, Ted Cruz resign because was “responsible for her nearly being murdered” Lying and exaggeration are words that do not even begin to do justice to this kind of hyperbole.
How many times did we hear President Joe Biden say “I am not against fracking” and “I have no intention of doing away with fracking” only to find that one of the very first things he did as President is to halt fracking on Federal land, halt construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and halt oil exploration. With the stroke of his pen he has imperiled America’s energy independence which took us decades to achieve and made us once again dependent on foreign energy…at greater cost and much greater risk in a world sitting on a powder keg…the cost of which will ultimately be borne by the American consumer? These are not principles of leadership nor are they reflective of character and integrity. In a fleeting moment, he stopped the construction of the Southern Border Wall which has served to significantly control the flow of illegal aliens into the U.S. and once again, opened our doors to caravans from Ecuador, Honduras, and Nicaragua heading for our southern border….in the middle of a pandemic! Are we to assume all these people are disease and Covid free? Is this the time we should be doing this as a nation or is the objective to import more illegals who might one day vote for democrats? In the blink of an eye, he authorized the implementation of a $15 minimum wage…at a time when small businesses are struggling to keep open their businesses and to survive.
What are we to assume when a man who professes to be a devout Roman Catholic supports abortion? Mr. Biden made the unforced unilateral decision to reverse the Mexico City Policy Ban on prohibiting the use of taxpayer funding of foreign abortion providers. His voluntary action on this matter is unconscionable in light of his Catholic Faith and will now subsidize the killing of unborn children beyond our borders. What are we to think of a leader who talks about “following the science” when his own CDC Director says it is now safe to open our schools and bring teachers back to work, but Mr. Biden says no? Where is the science in that?
All of these actions and others are not only detrimental to our economy but are reflective of a man without character and integrity.
And, I have not yet commented on the dark cloud that surrounds Mr. Biden’s dealings in the Ukraine and Communist China with his son Hunter Biden, a story that I pray will eventually come to the surface. While I am reluctant to bring up the past, the fact that Mr. Biden lied to the American people is not news…he has done this time and time again (plagiarism, Benghazi, Civil Rights). The man lacks character and integrity but he is now in a position of leadership and in control of the nuclear codes. It is, at once, sad and terrifying.
This is not the stuff of good leaders nor is it the stuff of people of character and integrity.
Let me conclude by telling you a story. It is a true story with a valuable lesson that I hope I can do justice to.
Perhaps the most recognized photo of World War II is the classic photo taken by Richard Rosenthal of Marines raising the American Flag on Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific. One of those flag-raisers was a man named John Bradley who was a Navy Corpsman. The night before the flag-raising, John held a dying marine in his arms and gave him his canteen of water. He just would not let a dying marine go thirsty. Then he went off crawling from foxhole to foxhole treating marines for various combat injuries and wounds, himself being hit twice by bullets in his leg and upper torso. For his actions on Iwo Jima, he received the Navy Cross, a Bronze Star with V for valor, and two Purple Hearts.
His actions on Iwo Jima were a clear and compelling case of selfless sacrifice….serving a need greater than himself. Indeed, the words “non sibi, sed patriae” Latin “not for self, for country” describe the passion and conviction by which these young men, the best our county had to offer, approached their duties. I saw those words for the very first time some 52 years ago inscribed on the entrance to the Chapel at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. I really did not have an appreciation for them back then but I sure understand their significance today.
So again, why do I spend so much time focusing on these arguably “old fashioned ideas and concepts”. Well, this is why.
Selflessness is unforgettable. Even small acts of selflessness are unforgettable. As I have told my five sons, at some point in life you will find yourselves placed into positions of great responsibility. You will one day be men and women of letters and possess a special and unique educational experience. That alone will cause the mantle of responsibility to be thrust upon you. And, because of who and what you are, you must don that mantle of responsibility. Whether you like it or not. With responsibility comes many challenges. These challenges normally are translated into choices. A choice to cheat or not. A choice to buy or sell. A choice for surgery or therapy. A choice to approve or disapprove. A choice to invest or not. A choice to do nothing. But of all the choices you will face there is none greater than the choice between self or selflessness. Is the benefit for you? Or is it for your team, or your patient, or your clinic, or your company, or the troops under your command or your family?
Selflessness takes time to develop. Rarely does a man or woman suddenly grow a brain and a spine in the middle of an operating room, boardroom, or on a battlefield.
Likewise, rarely does a person develop a sense of selflessness in a single moment in time. Spontaneous selfless acts rarely happen. Instead, they manifest themselves and are built on a strong moral foundation, then carefully layered by doing the right thing time and time again.
All of us possess the ability to develop a strong character, strong morals, a strong sense of duty and integrity. The question is do we have the will?
Regrettably, the leadership of our country today is sorely lacking in these traits. But that should not diminish our efforts to value them, to augment them with the strengths of selfless sacrifice buttressed by character and integrity. Use them to teach, to provide the kind of leadership for your families, your children, and grandchildren.
Start by attending a School Board meeting and voice your concerns over what children are being taught. Demand that American history be taught as well as the principles upon which our nation was founded. Demand that schools retain their names like Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, MacArthur, Adams, Hamilton. Focus on American Exceptionalism and refuse to accept educational curriculums like the 1619 Project. Stand up for your country…and for the children…whether you have a child in school or not! From your ranks may come one day the kind of individuals who will step forward to lead our great nation back to the principles upon which the American Experiment was founded…a love of God, freedom, truth, and justice.
As Polonius said to his son in Act I of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true and it must follow as night and day, thou canst not be false to any man”
Your future……our future…..your children’s and grandchildren’s future depend on it.