[August 19, 2017] There’s always a lot of talk about bad leaders … toxic managers, bad bosses and incompetent commanders. Found in common among those folks who betray us is a general disregard for people and the habit of not living up to their commitments. Even as children we learn quickly who can be relied upon to never walk out on a commitment. Yet, a person’s reputation is sullied only by their own unfaithful false words and deeds.
Leaders have an responsibility, known to everyone, that leadership is an obligation of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, integrity, and honor to the team. Without these traits, a leader cannot exist. Yet, the failure of any single leader often rests on their own acts to uphold these inviolate traits.
There’s an old saying that to be a respected leader, one must “under promise and over deliver on their commitments.” That way, no one is ever disappointed in that leader’s performance. Certainly, that is a good quote but it fails to allow room to achieve excellence; something all leaders want. As we study the greatest of leaders throughout history one thing they never did was walk out on a commitment.
One of the most unforgivable examples in U.S. history and relationship with allies occurred on January 12, 1950 when U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson in a speech on the “Far East” left out South Korea as being within the U.S. “defensive perimeter.” Six months later, North Korea, with approval from both the Chinese government, invaded South Korea. The war failed to settle the problems between Communism and Democracy and those same issues are raising their ugly heads again today.
Words do have consequences and as such leaders must take great care in the words they select. Those words (as well as the intent behind them) should be made in such a way as to be clear and concise in addition to difficult to misinterpret. Words are powerful. What we say – the commitments we make – can have deep meaning for others and lives depend upon it. In the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, some 5 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives.
Secretary of State Acheson had unwittingly failed to communicate the commitment the United States had for its South Korean ally. Even after the June 1950 invasion by North Korea, there was a vigorous debate inside the U.S. President Truman Administration whether it was “worth it” to protect the people of South Korea. The loss of life, culture, and treasure was an unforgivable error on the part of Acheson and Truman.
All leaders understand that they should never walk out on a commitment – or be unclear about that commitment – whether it be purposefully or unintentionally. Otherwise, they are no different than bad leaders of the past.
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