Leadership is a Life Choice

By | July 30, 2018

[July 30, 2018]  At a commissioning ceremony, where a dozen army Second Lieutenants took the oath of office, the commandant of the ROTC program said something that stuck with me my entire life.  “For those of you who swear to become an officer, leadership is a life choice.1

What he meant at the time and all those around us understood the seriousness of our commitment and that what we were doing was a life choice.  It was something that few people actually do and because of our mission to defend the nation, we would ultimately be called upon to put our lives in danger and also those who followed us.

Taking that oath, many years ago for me was like stepping off a cliff.  There was to be no return to my previous life.  Yes, I could have resigned my commission and gone back to civilian life but I knew – we all knew – that doing so would be breaking a promise to our nation that we had been trained and committed to defending.

There are only a few things do that are life choices.  One is marriage; you have a choice who to marry (well, in most societies anyway).  Another life choice is whether we are to be a productive member of society or someone who leeches off others.  Criminals come to mind in the latter case and they don’t do so because it’s hard but because it’s easy.

Leadership is something that once you make the decision to embrace it, there is no going back.  Your life’s circumstances may change radically but you will always have the skills and knowledge of a leader.  Nothing can change that.

I still remember my girlfriend pinning my lieutenant bars on my uniform that sunny warm day.  There was a little thrill that I experienced but I had no idea how far leadership would take me in my military profession but also in everything else did in my lifetime.  People looked to me as someone who had the answers and someone who could help take care of them.  Ultimately that is the pinnacle of leadership.


  1. He also said “Leaders! It’s not about you.”  You can read about it here: https://www.theleadermaker.com/leaders-not-2/
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

30 thoughts on “Leadership is a Life Choice

  1. Dale Paul Fox

    One of my personal favorite quotes:
    “Life is about choices, and each person has to decide which path they will take.” ― Carla Reighard, Settlers

  2. Janna Faulkner

    If you Google “life choices” you get mainly two main areas of inquiry. 1) termination of a pregnancy and 2) end of life decisions. Why these two should be obvious but both are sad reminders of the major choices we must face in life. One is the beginning of life (pregnancy) and the other the end of life (should we go out with dignity).

    1. Bryan Lee

      Interesting that they don’t include marriage or other such choices to be ranked high.

    2. Mr. T.J. Asper

      Thanks Janna for an interesting observation.

  3. Delf A. "Jelly"

    I’ve been listening to the lectures at Hillsdale College like Gen. Satterfield has recommended. In them, they speak to this very topic when they are lecturing about the tension between Sparta and Athens. Sparta is the best example and I also recommend each of us goes to their website for a bit of education. Thanks for reading my comment.

  4. Wesley Brown

    I liked your personal story and the comparison of jumping off a cliff. That reminded me of my thoughts when I was getting married. Divorce does not turn back the clock and it doesn’t lessen your responsibilities. It does, however, lesson one’s respect for you.

  5. Watson Bell

    “You already made the choice, you are simply here to walk it.” ― L.J. Vanier. Interesting quote on the subject of life choice. Some see these choices as already made (determinist philosophy) while others like Gen. Satterfield believe otherwise. Thanks for a great article.

  6. Drew Dill

    Thanks for another great article on an often overlooked subject matter. Rarely do we enter into a life’s choice without foreknowledge. The problem is that some folks regret it but are doubly upset when they cannot go back.

  7. Scotty Bush

    I never knew anyone who had a job requiring leadership over others that could then be just a simple team member. That’s just the way it is, in my opinion. True enough, you have to learn to follow before you can lead but going back to just following others is a tough thing to do.

  8. Andrew Dooley

    I had a neighbor who was a foreman in a steel mill in the town I grew up in. He gave it all up and moved away. Rumor has it that he couldn’t take being retired. Others said he couldn’t stand losing his “power” as foreman. I think this illustrates how giving up leadership can have an impact on your life.

    1. Albert Ayer

      Good story that reinforces the article. Thanks Andrew for another good post here.

  9. Dennis Mathes

    Yes, good article today that points toward “responsibility” as well as “trust and confidence” others have in you.

  10. Jonnie the Bart

    I liked your article today. Cheers.

  11. Jonathan B.

    I think that the reason no one can ever go back on a life’s choice is exactly as Billy noted … “trust and confidence that others have in you.” Once you gain this, you can go back but only if you give up everything. Hermits come to mind, those living in the mountains and off the grid are those who have given it away.

  12. Billy Kenningston

    I agree with Joe O. that ‘responsibility’ is at the heart of never going back once you make a life choice. Gaining responsibility is linked with trust and confidence others have in you. If you have gained that trust and confidence, to give it up is the height of irresponsibility.

  13. Joe Omerrod

    There are many things in our lives that are “life choices,” – those big things we do that have a huge impact on our lives. Gen. Satterfield, you named a few like getting married. I would also add that the decision to have children is another and getting an advanced education is another. None of these allow you to go back to a time before when you had less responsibility and that is the crux of my argument today.

  14. Doug Smith

    Good article on a key subject. Leadership is hard and complex. Once you are there, there should never be a legit reason for going back.

  15. Max Foster

    People believe, especially those in the media, that leadership can be turned on and off. They think it is a jacket that can be put on or taken off at will and can be sold or traded. This is absolute nonsense. If there are people in the world who have no idea what leadership is and is not, it’s journalists. I found them to violate most of those key characteristics true leaders possess.

    1. Len Jakosky

      Good comment again Max. Leadership is a choice that can never be undone once obtained.

  16. Army Captain

    I must say that you are spot on with this article. Once you dabble into the realm of leadership, there is no turning back.

    1. Albert Ayer

      As always, Army Captian, you have confirmed for me that the topic is current and relevant. Much appreciated.

    2. Max Foster

      All thumbs up on your comment, AC. Thanks.

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