[February 3, 2018] That’s what I was told as my girlfriend pinned my Second Lieutenant bars on me at our commissioning ceremony. “Leaders! It’s not about you,” the commandant of the ROTC program spoke to the new military officers at Penn State University. Not about you? The message was unclear but later, after I had more experience, his meaning gained clarity.
One of the core values of U.S. military members is selfless service. This means what we do and how we perform is done without any expectation of reward, recognition, or gain. We are paid, of course, and we advance in rank and authority, but selfless service focuses on other folks, not the leader.
“To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless.” – Mike Krzyzewski, American college basketball coach
When the commandant told us that it’s not about you, he didn’t mean we don’t matter or are unimportant but that a leader puts the organization and people in it ahead of one’s own. The basic building block of selfless service is the commitment of each leader to go further and longer, and look at how that leader can improve upon that effort.
It’s easy to spot a leader who adheres to this ideal. They talk about others, they talk about “we,” and they talk about the mission and how they plan to accomplish it to the benefit of everyone. Any leader that focuses on themselves, often referring to themselves and quoting themselves, is a egocentric leader. Such ego-focused leaders rarely become great leaders and often fail dramatically somewhere along the line.
Selfless leaders are those who treat everyone, regardless of rank or position or relationship to the leader, with kindness and respect. When U.S. President George W. Bush visited the troops in Baghdad, Iraq in the early part of the war, he spent time talking to hundreds of service members, shaking their hands, and listening to what they had to say. The visit was not with the “top brass” but with the common soldier. He was a selfless leader.
The ROTC commandant, a professional Navy man, knew the source of great leaders. He was telling us the “secret” to leadership and the way to future leaders success.
[Don’t forget to “Like” the Leader Maker on our Facebook Page.]