The Ultimate Three Pieces of Advice on Command; NeoDeMarcoian Thought

300px-Air_Force_Mobility_Command_-_HQ_-_Scott_AFBYears ago I attended a Squadron Commanders’ conference at Scott Air Force Base.  I always assumed these events were designed to make one a better leader when in fact, they are designed to enlighten a commander as to what the headquarters staff is working on to include the various “programs” available to assist warriors in trouble.  Think equal opportunity, sexual assault programs, legal advice, alcoholic dependency programs—all of which are indeed very important, but should probably be layered over proper leader development and advice to a commander.

At these events, the “command” will assign a general officer to sponsor or emcee the event.  In this case the general was an amazing leader who spent time between breaks with us dispensing invaluable advice.  After one particular break the general came forward, looked the audience in the eye (with a bit of a scowl) and said, “Don’t any of you think for a second your jokes got any funnier or you got any better looking just because you have become a commander!”  

He then proceeded to pull a piece of paper out of his pocket.  The paper was small and had a strange gum wrapper appearance to it.  As he opened it, he said, “Let me give you some advice that was handed down to me when I became a squadron commander.”

Immediately, I opened my notebook- pen prepared, mind ready.

The general stared at his “gum wrapper” and told us that a little known book in the Bible would tell us everything we needed to know about leadership…Micah 6:8.

He folded the wrapper, placed it in his pocket, and left the stage.

Wait…I wasn’t very familiar with Micah.

The Book of Micah is a prophetic book in the Old Testament, and the sixth of the twelve minor prophets.  It records the sayings of MicahMikayahu, meaning “Who is like Yahweh?”  An 8th-century B.C. prophet. Micah reproaches unjust leaders, defends the rights of the poor against the rich and powerful, and preaches social justice all while looking forward to a world at peace. Micah’s career corresponds to the period when, after a long period of peace, Israel, Judah, and the other nations of the region came under increasing pressure from the aggressive and rapidly expanding Assyrian empire.

So… Micah 6:8?

act justly and … love mercy

    and walk humbly…

That’s it!  What more is there? Three simple steps that ensure stellar leadership.

I find myself reflecting on these three things every time I come across a tough issue.  Am I acting justly, showing appropriate mercy, and walking humbly?  Note the tension there between those three things.

As the years have gone by, I have had the verse etched on my dog tags, so the three rules are always symbolically and physically close to my heart.

IMG_0098It looks something like this:

1) Act Justly:  Justice is treating people in a way that is considered morally right: reasonable or proper.  Justice, in its broadest context, includes both the attainment of that which is just and the philosophical discussion of that which is just. The concept of justice is based on numerous fields, and many differing viewpoints and perspectives including the concepts of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, religion, equity, and fairness. Often, the general discussion of justice is divided into the realm of social justice as found in philosophy, theology and religion, and, procedural justice as found in the study and application of the law both of which are incredibly applicable to the life of a commander.

2) Love Mercy:  Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. Mercy is a broad term that refers to benevolence, forgiveness, and kindness.  It includes the concepts of zeal toward the people we work with showing love, kindness, grace, and favor in good and in misfortune.  Leadership is tough and there will be times where justice and mercy externally may conflict with each other, but take a moment and reflect.  Are your actions as a leader just and merciful?  We are in the business of building leaders.  We may uncover a mistake today, and with mercy help a leader develop tomorrow.

3) Walk Humbly:  Humility. In Good To Great, Jim Collins discusses the “Level 5” Leader as the highest level of leadership one can achieve and notes the “level 5” leader possesses humility and fierce resolve.  Humility enhances leadership effectiveness. It is absolutely multi-dimensional and it furthers our self-understanding, awareness, openness, and perspective taking. Above all humility enables us to trust others, to practice integrity, to be open to improvement, to be sincere in everything we do.  Humility gives us the ability to bounce back, try again, experiment and innovate with fresh ideas, to stand up to resistance, and admit we might not be the smartest, strongest, or best looking in the room.

Again, there is a very interesting tension between justice, mercy, and humility.  Ponder and feel the tension while in a difficult leadership scenario.

IMG_3265That’s it—that’s all there is to it: Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly.  I put these words on items I give to my boys like Luke’s lightsaber he received as a dad to son gift at high school graduation.  We all need to learn it and live it.  Now go ahead, take Micah 6:8 (M6:8) and put your own spice, spin, and audacity on it.  GO LEAD!

9 Replies to “The Ultimate Three Pieces of Advice on Command; NeoDeMarcoian Thought”

  1. Sir,

    Wonderful rules for any human being.

    I believe three qualities are necessary but not sufficient for a leader.
    – I would hope all members of an organization have those characteristics
    – On the other hand, leaders need to have greater perspective than most. Sun Tzu talks about the orthodox and the extraordinary. Justice, mercy and humility should be orthodox characteristics of all, including the leader. The leader, through these characteristics and more, should facilitate the extraordinary.
    What additional characteristics should leaders have? I wish I had the answer…
    – One interesting characteristic of a successful leader is the ability to predict the future… better than the competition. They tend to deliver strategic victories for their organizations ( Jack Whelch, Patton, Steve Jobs).

    On a side note, I think the general’s expectation reverberates the risk adverse nature of some leaders in command. They display justice, mercy and are very humble. But nothing changes for the better, no vision is delivered, no strategy is executed.

    1. Drei: Obviously leadership is complex, but simplification is important. I disagree that these characteristics lead to risk adverse leaders….I’ve worked with some extremely risk adverse leaders and justice, mercy and humility were no where in their vocabulary.
      I agree we need to be anticipatory in our leadership… seeing the future might be a bit much to ask…wrote on that one a while ago…and I know we need to get better at it…better at talking about it and better in training for it.
      I do understand it is tough to come up with characteristics, but we need to try. These three were excellent advice from a stellar leader, he really did walk the walk–these three are simply three, but they are very near and dear to my heart (literally and figuratively).
      As always…thank you so much for the comment and the thoughts.

  2. Sir,
    This reminds me of other core values former commanders of mine lived by as well…
    – “C-cubed”: “Courage, Conviction, & Comittment”
    – “The 5 R’s”: “Do the Right thing, at the Right time, at the Right place, with the Right attitude, wearing the Right uniform…” 😀
    – and one of my favorites “learned” early on as a young Airman from my “seasoned” Chief… “The 6 P’s”: “Prior planning prevents piss poor performance… ” but I like the simplicity of the sage advice provided to you by the General you mentioned and the words of the “Good Book”…


    1. Kook: Great to “See” you out there. Thanks for the comment. H4, P2 vs G2, fighting C3 with the 3 Cs… all great stuff that hopefully helps folks to embrace the leader within them. All the best

  3. Sir,

    As always, I happen across one of your posts at the time I most need it. There is a good bit going on in life right now and things can swirl quite quickly. This post reminds me I need to spend more time reflecting, reading and thinking about the leader I want to be and the leaders we want and need to grow. One thing I always remember about our time working together was your morning reflection time that I tended to interrupt unceremoniously. Recently, as I’ve been on my “better today than yesterday” mission, I’ve incorporated workout time in my morning routine which has helped cage my thoughts and focused my day. It also was an easy stress relief because my hard physical work was done and I didn’t need to think about it anymore. However, physical is only one “pillar” and I’ve neglected the intellectual… Hyperfocused on the happenings of the day and not allowing myself to step back and think about tomorrow. Reading your post and Drei’s response, it reminded me of our talks. We recently had a change of command and my previous commander had a very catchy vision… “Greatness”… Very nebulous but it also got people thinking what it meant. Perfection? No… because he outright would say that’s not the goal, but he also could never really answer what “Greatness” was. Today, I spoke with my new commander and asked him what his vision was… He turned the question around on me and asked what I thought it should be. Of course, you know I hope my next move is Squadron command and of course, through your guidance, as well as through the various courses and discussions I’ve had with other leaders I respect, I’ve put some thought into it but before I answered him, I asked his candid thoughts on why we wouldn’t persist with “Greatness” and his answer was perfect. He said a vision should be something people can quantify, something more concrete than an abstract concept. Something people could use as a means of finding meaning and pride in their day-to-day work. He then afforded me the opportunity to share my thoughts and I explained how leaders I respect always present philosophies in threes. Micah 6:8 is a PERFECT example of that. I will share your thoughts with him tomorrow in fact, but my response back to him was I want to focus on three things. People, Process and Passion. As a future commander, I will never forget how important the mission is but my job is to make sure my people have the manning, training and equipment to “Do Your Job”. As a strategic leader, I want to review the processes the people use to ensure they are being utilized in the most effective and time conserved manner possible. And lastly, I want passion to resonate through the organization. Our Airmen spend a large portion of their daily lives focusing on doing their jobs. I can only hope the environment in the Squadron is such that they want to be there executing the processes, managing the people to ensure the job is getting done in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

    As is the usual, I put a lot of words on here but my TL:DR version is…. Thank you. This was the perfect post at the perfect time. I’d love to catch up with you sometime soon and I will really try to make Leadercast this coming year!


    1. Great Comment Kevin–Thank you. Of course you know I have tons of thoughts. First a command vision should be a very personal thing to the CC or leader. In my opinion he/she should hear what folks are thinking but ultimately it is the commander’s vision for the organization. Second–if said commander feels it must be measurable–very good, but see above–it is the commander’s vision for what that organization might be. Metrics can help, but they can also hurt if the become the laser focus of the organization such that we forget the vision. Third–personality type matters–be YOU! Know yourself to lead yourself–so if Kevin Walton believes the vision should be more inspirational and less measurable–do it! -BILL

  4. Command demands respect. I don’t mean commanders demand respect of subordinates, much the other way. Commanders must respect command – the awesome responsibility of command. You can see, a mile away, a commander who respects command. You can see the other from even further. I think, Dude, Micah can be looked at in terms of how a leader looks at command and as a guide to command.

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