[May 7, 2018] It was ten years ago but it seemed like yesterday. I was standing with three fellow U.S. military officers discussing our electrical designs for a construction project in the country of Iraq. We were at war and a young Engineer Lieutenant asked us a simple question, What’s the standard?
We never answered that question with any real confidence. U.S. law and military regulations required we use American electrical standards but the reality of war prevented us from doing so. If you don’t think that is important, just ask the widows of those servicemen accidentally electrocuted and who had died as a result.
“Barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made.” – Jose Ortega y Gasset, Spanish philosopher
The commander of the 1st Cavalry Division was Major General Peter W. Chiarelli. He asked me one day, after this event took place, what was the electrical standard that we were using. At the time there was nothing in writing that truly set a standard. My answer was simple and direct. “Sir, as long as we don’t kill anybody, then we have met the standard.”
Standards go beyond simple electrical construction but involve a host of behavior and activities which provide benefits to those who follow them. For our purposes here, the quality of a leader is revealed in the ethical and work standards they set for themselves and for others who follow them.
Leaders overcome obstacles and how those obstacles are handled makes for how we view their leadership. Learning to develop the ability to set expectations and standards and then holding people accountable is a key attribute of successful leadership.
General Chiarelli’s response to me was, “Well, that sounds right. Carry on!” Off we went, the 1st Cavalry Engineers moving out to get er done once again. But no one was ever killed by the work we did and that, in itself, was an accomplishment that I’m proud of to this day.