What Memorial Day Can Teach Us about Leadership

This weekend, we celebrate Memorial Day here in the US. I want to thank my dad for inspiring today’s post and for informing the message I’ve tried to pass on to my children and to the young people and leaders I’ve worked with over the years.

Fiercely patriotic, I think my father always regretted that he missed World War II by a year. He joined the Marines right after high school in 1946 and spent two years on an aircraft carrier as part of the post-war peacekeeping mission in the European theater. This was an experience that shaped who he was. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” was an oft-repeated phrase in our house. This was more than a saying; it was a way of life. To my father it was a way of life that he modeled for us that included lessons on responsibility and service.

“Do the right thing” was a consistent message from my father. We learned – sometimes the hard way – right from wrong. He made sure of it. It took a while to sink in but eventually it became clear to me that when we do the right thing, we act in service. This is the only possible outcome as responsibility and service go hand in hand. When we serve others we are being responsible and vice versa.

Whether you’re a parent, a business leader, or both, I think that embracing this lesson from my dad and making it your own will serve you well. We need more responsible people in our organizations, our schools, and our communities. Responsible people do the right thing even when no one is looking; obedient people do so only with an external authority figure watching them. It is much better to teach responsibility than to expect obedience. The obedient follow. The responsible lead.

If you are a leader, model personal and professional responsibility. Ask yourself if you are expecting compliance or accountability. Do you expect your team do just do what you say? Or, do you encourage your people to accept responsibility for their contributions? Expect every member of your team to be responsible for themselves, their work, and for supporting one another. Give them what they need to accept and follow through on their responsibilities.  That’s your responsibility. That’s how you serve them. That’s “doing the right thing.”

Thanks, Dad. And thanks to those who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice. May we be worthy of your service and sacrifice.


Categories: Leadership.