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Blisters over Blather

The Korean War has often been called America’s “forgotten war.” People remember World War II and Vietnam, but sandwiched between those conflicts was Korea, and people tend to overlook it.

I was no different. That is, until I read David Halberstam’s last (and, in my opinion, best) book, The Coldest Winter. That’s when I gained an appreciation for the quiet, forgotten Korean War veterans and learned a lot about General Matthew Ridgway. One can learn a lot of life lessons from that man’s leadership style.

Foremost among those lessons is the importance of leading by personal example. Ridgway knew the importance of getting out among his soldiers, of seeing things from their perspective, of coming to a firsthand understanding of the problems they faced. He made a point of rubbing shoulders with the grunts, not just the colonels, majors, and captains.

I was reminded of Ridgway’s style of leadership the other day when I saw a quotation by a motivational speaker of an earlier generation, Napoleon Hill. He said,

Don’t push others around if you have no blisters on your own feet. You cannot expect others to continue marching until they have blisters on their feet while you ride in the jeep. Leading others means you must be willing to give far more of yourself than you would ever ask from them.

We’ve all no doubt had bosses (I won’t dignify them by calling them leaders) whose attitude was “Do as I say, not as I do,” who hadn’t the foggiest idea how to implement the orders they so glibly dictated without a bit of true knowledge of the situation, but they were forever throwing out orders and then expecting miracles from their (supposed) inferiors. And then they had the gall to act as though they were the ones who had achieved the impossible.

With their negative example before us, let’s determine to be different. If we do, we’ll achieve far more, and the people working for us will achieve far more, than anyone ever expects. And no one will have to toot his own horn. The results will speak for themselves.

By the way, this is just one of several lessons one can learn from the life of General Ridgway. Seven others are found in Chapter 12, “Command and Control: Leadership,” in my book Combat! Spiritual Lessons from Military History.

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