[October 9, 2021] Symbolic of the U.S. military’s reserve components (the National Guard and Reserves) is the “Revolutionary Minuteman,” who forever stands as a sentinel against this nation’s enemies. Our military forces stand ready to protect the United States, ever-present and dedicated to the future. This is what we can call vigilance, perpetually being present at the helm and watchful of troubles. Leaders possess this trait of eternal vigilance; the ability to remain on the lookout for problems and opportunities.
“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” – Wendell Phillips1
To be vigilant, a leader must have the traits of persistence, presence, and patience. Any leader struggles to maintain one’s ability to remain focused over the long term. Whether running an organization as the acting CEO or temporarily organizing a group of people for a short-term purpose is far easier than remaining in place for the long haul. Many a leader have achieved notoriety for quickly coming in to save a company from failure. But it’s the leader who stays with the organization that is the real champion because it is that person who ensures things work.
It is indeed challenging to remain vigilant. That is why this is an essential trait of leaders. More junior leaders are not as likely to understand its precise value. Also, junior leaders are less likely to remain in any particular position long. But the senior leader, who has the task to see the future and possesses the vision, is the one who must keep his eye on that future to guide and mentor those who follow.
“And we ask the American people to play an important part of our layered defense. We ask for cooperation, patience and a commitment to vigilance in the face of a determined enemy.” – Janet Napolitano
Senior leaders recognize both the value of vigilance and also its difficulty. It is human nature to let one’s guard down, to lay back and relax. The difficulty of maintaining a high state of readiness has been well known to humankind throughout our history. There have been famous battles where the weak prevailed because the others failed to maintain their vigilance.
To Americans, we recall our history when General George Washington led a small band of Minutemen across the Delaware River to attack Trenton, New Jersey, on Christmas night, December 25, 1776. After the nighttime crossing, Washington’s forces attacked the Hessian troops, surprising them and quickly overwhelming their inadequate defenses. The surprise maneuver and the small victory gave the American colonies a much-needed boost in morale.
Eternal vigilance is a leader trait. Failure to maintain it can mean the difference between success in business and bankruptcy … or winning a battle as George Washington did on that night over 200 years ago.
- Wendell Phillips’ quote comes from a speech he made on January 28, 1852. The speech was to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society that day. Often the quote is incorrectly credited to either John Philpot Curran or U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. Both of these gentlemen said something similar. See reference: http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/2011/01/eternal-vigilance-is-price-of-liberty.html
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