Senior Leader Courage

By | January 11, 2015

[January 11, 2015] A good friend that I will call “John”, an admiral retired from the U.S. Navy about a year, tells me that looking back gives him a healthier perspective. As many do, he keeps in touch with his active military comrades. He tells me that if there is one thing that angered him, it was that there were flag officers and senior defense civilians who were short on senior leader courage.

John was not referring to physical courage. There was plenty of that to go around and sometimes perhaps some observers would say a few flag officers were courageous in combat. He was talking about the lack of moral courage. The impact of this lack of courage was significant. Foremost, there was a failure to clearly identify and define problems; and consequently the breakdown to see solutions. “We knew who they were. They were easy to spot because they would always lead from behind.”

After the killings in France over the past few days by Islamic terrorist, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stated, “We’re at war …” and added that “It’s a war against terrorism and radical Islam, against everything aimed at breaking solidarity, liberty, and fraternity.”1 The speech was strong, clearly identifies a threat to the French nation, and draws a line between French values and that which they believe to be evil and intolerable.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an equally compelling speech by stating, “The fact of the matter is [that] the international jihadist movement has declared war … war on any country, like ourselves, that value freedom, openness, and tolerance.”2 Harper has made several statements to prepare his country’s citizens for the reality of Islamic extremism.

… And a few days ago, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi made a dramatic speech which put the problem of Islamic extremism in perspective.3 This was probably the best speech on the topic given by a senior leader. Other national leaders, it is claimed, have been more timid.

“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” – Mark Twain

My retired friend remembers asking flag officers and senior civilians tough questions about serious problems. He did not get satisfactory answers from those who led from behind. One of his favorite questions went something like this, “Of your top five priorities, which one are you going to give up?”   It is not the purview of senior leaders to make lower level decisions; it being outside the scope of their informal authority.   Senior leaders make hard decisions; that is their main purpose.

Senior leaders however must make decisions when all the choices are not good. Many fear it. Many fail in their duty to grasp the difficult challenge and fail to make a stand and do the right thing. Let us demand that our senior leaders stand strong against the scourge of Islamic extremism.

[Don’t forget to “Like” the Leader Maker at our Facebook Page.]


[1] [note the speech is in French but I’m sure it will be translated soon]





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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.