Leadership: the Medal of Honor

By | July 12, 2018

[July 12, 2018]  French statesman and military leader Napoléon Bonaparte once famously wrote, “Give me enough medals and I’ll win you any war.”  It’s a line of thought that tells us first about how leadership rests on the principle of knowing how people act emotionally and second, to capitalize on it.  On this date, July 12th in 1862, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a measure calling for the awarding of a U.S. Army Medal of Honor.1

I was once told that men don’t fight for medals, they fight for their buddies.  And while this is true in many aspects, it is also true that to bring out the best in anyone is to provide a well-established award system.  The U.S. Medal of Honor (Navy and Army) was created in the great Civil War to reward those fighting men with the highest military honor possible.2

Honor is a complex idea and hard to define; less so, courage and steadfastness.  These latter two are the elements of honor … honor being a code of conduct link between an individual and a society.   Honor includes ideas such as valor, chivalry, honesty, compassion, worthiness, respectability, social standing, and self-evaluation.

Those in our Armed Forces that receive those admired and respected national awards – such as the Medal of Honor – are considered to be among our most prized individuals; those whom we look up to and for us to emulate.  Leaders want us to copy their bravery and meritorious service because that is what helps the nation win wars.

War demands personal sacrifice.  And it is demanded in such a way that the natural tendency of any person is to avoid those situations with behavior that protects the individual.  In battle with the enemy, a soldier is inclined to run away and hide (indeed, some have done so).

The Medal of Honor is the best known medal of the U.S. Armed Forces and, as such, it is rarely awarded; often posthumously.  Napoléon had it right.  If you have enough medals (a reward system) with the knowledge that the rewards are highly desirable, military men and women will be inclined to bravery.


  1. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/medal-of-honor-created
  2. The first U.S. Army soldiers to receive what would become the nation’s highest military honor were six members of a Union raiding party who in 1862 penetrated deep into Confederate territory to destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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

27 thoughts on “Leadership: the Medal of Honor

  1. Drew Dill

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield for giving us a little history on the Medal of Honor. I think other commentators are right when they point out the main issue is the reward to doing something important and its affect on the motivation of others. 😉

  2. Jung Hoon Kim

    The Order of Military Merit (Hangul: 무공훈장) is the primary military decoration awarded by the South Korean government.

  3. José Luis Rodriguez

    I’d heard about this medal growing up because there was a Vietnam vet on my housing block who had been given one. He was a great person to be around and always talked about others in the service with him. He was army and his buddies meant everything to him. I never heard him talk about himself or what he did in the war.

  4. Delf A. "Jelly"

    Mike. Yes, I agree with you that there is something perhaps innate about wanting to be honorable in our lives. Lately there are those who will do anything for it to include being fake. Honor is truly the connection between the individual and his society. Someone needs to do some advanced research on the topic and not inject the typical academic anti-military bias into it.

  5. Mike Baker

    Honor is an important concept in human affairs and always has been. I predict it always will be. What we should avoid is a false honor. Many of the younger generation like to put themselves over others through their “moral superiority.” This is, I will argue, their attempt to win honor.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Interesting. You make a good point here. Thanks.

  6. Max Foster

    A lot of information about the history of the MoH and rightly so. Thanks everyone for posting it. What Gen. Satterfield has made a crucial point about is that awards play to the needs of the individual. See Napoleon’s quote. Reward systems motivate. Leaders motivate.

    1. Shawn C. Stolarz

      You’re right again, Max. I think this is the main point Brig. Gen. Satterfield is trying to make. Thanks for jumping on it.

    2. Andrew Dooley

      Thanks Max. I was going to make the same point. This is a key leader lesson for us all.

  7. Jonathan B.

    Douglas MacArthur (26 January 1880 – 5 April 1964) was an American five-star general and Field Marshal of the Philippine Army . He was Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Philippines Campaign , which made him and his father Arthur MacArthur Jr. , the first father and son to be awarded the medal.

  8. Dale Paul Fox

    A little more history of the MoH. The first recipient of the US Medal of Honor was Civil War Union Private Jacob Parrott. He received the medal as a member of the famous Andrews’ Raid. It was awarded on 25 March 1863.

  9. Wesley Brown

    19 Medals of Honor winners were awarded the medal 2 times. 5 however were to U.S. Marines in WWI for the same action by the Army and Navy. After 1917 only 1 Medal of Honor per lifetime could be awarded. The other 14 were awarded for separate actions in the Civil War, Indian War, etc. The last double Medal or Honor winner was Smedley Darlington Butler. One in Mexico for actions on April 22, 1914 and the second in Haiti for actions on November 17, 1915.

  10. Nick Lighthouse

    While the Medal of Honor began under US Pres Lincoln, the civil war in which was cast saw the medal awarded for things other than bravery in combat. Since that war, however, we see it as originally envisioned. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  11. Lynn Pitts

    “This Medal of Honor does not belong to me. This medal belongs to every man and woman who has ever served their country. We were doing what we were trained to do. We were doing our job.” quote by MoH winner Michael E Thorton, US Navy SEAL.

    1. Albert Ayer

      Great quote of humility. In my experience, the greatest leaders are the most humble. There are exceptions, of course, as we look back over history as it was written. Today, whether you have won the Medal of Honor or some other high award is presented to you, only the most humble are those who rightly deserve it.

    2. Georgie M.

      Thanks Lynn for helping us get right to the point of Gen. Satterfield’s post today.

  12. Tracey Brockman

    Great quote from Napoleon. Yes, you are correct that leaders must understand what motivates. Failure to do so means the leader will ultimately fail also.

  13. Anita

    I never knew much about the Medal of Honor. Thanks for showing us today what it means.

  14. Army Captain

    The MoH is awarded for bravery in the face of the enemy but it is also much much more. The person receiving it has had a history of being an excellent person.


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