[February 8, 2021] My final trip home to New York City after retiring from the U.S. Army took me through the Atlanta Airport; the largest airport in the U.S. Atlanta remains a central air-transport hub and is the site of the biggest USO on the East Coast. As I walked into this USO, it brought back fond memories of many trips across the world where the USO was a home away from home.
The United Service Organization (USO) began 80 years ago on February 4, 1941. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to create a support system for the nation’s Armed Forces. Bringing together the Salvation Army, the YMCA, the National Catholic Community Service, the National Travelers Aid Association, and the National Jewish Welfare Board; these six formed the USO. It was created specifically to provide morale and recreation services to the troops.1
“The USO Mission Statement: The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home, and country, throughout their service to the nation.”2
Yet, can we really gain lessons, especially lessons on leadership, from the USO? I think so. Here are some of those I believe need highlighting:
- Good leadership matters.
- Tune into the hearts and minds of people.
- Create an environment of trust and support.
- Stay calm during turbulent times.
- Actively seek feedback on your organization.
- Have a clearly articulated mission.
- Adhere to your core values.
- Develop a strategy and be prepared to change it.
- Ensure top-leadership support and commitment.
- Build external support.
These lessons are factors and propositions that serve as a compass for leaders seeking lessons from the USO. If there is one thing the USO is, it is flexible and is tolerant of change. The USO has a leadership culture often overlooked. I was fortunate to work with many overseas when setting up new USO locations. Those leaders are not that different from those in senior military positions. They are certainly not pansies.3
Congratulations on your 80th Birthday, USO. Once the risk of travel during our current pandemic is reduced, I’ll once again travel and grace the doors of the USO.