Thoughts on Authentic Leadership
By John P. Schreitmueller
While driving recently I plugged in my Iphone to the car’s sound system and cranked up some vintage music. Selecting the “shuffle all” option, Dobie Gray’s “The In Crowd” from early 1965 blasted away. I felt chills and deep, visceral connection on many levels.
In March 1965 “The In Crowd” was climbing the charts and I recall listening to its powerful beat on WPOP, the Hartford-based AM station to which we connoisseurs in Cheshire, CT listened most often. Mind you, there was no “streaming” music, no internet, no smart phones and no IPods then. FM and FM Stereo radio broadcasts were marginally available, but most radio broadcasting in 1965 was still via AM.
While 1965 was an extraordinary year for Top 40 rock and roll, the year was pivotal in another, and much more significant, way. You see, in March 1965, America went to war.
On March 8, 1965, elements of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), 3rd Marine Division, landed amphibiously and by air at Da Nang, Republic of South Vietnam, as the first official U.S ground combat force sent to that tortured land. 9th MEB’s initial mission was to provide security for the expanding U.S. airbase at Da Nang against Communist insurgents infiltrating throughout the countryside.
Viewed through the prism of experience as a Marine infantry officer and service with the 3rd Marine Division, it seems to me the 10-year odyssey that took place after those Marines landed at Da Nang is etched into the souls of almost all who recall the era with clarity. It was a life-changing experience.
I would like my readers to pause for a moment and consider where we were then, and our journey since. One need not be an historian, nor does one need to have even been alive during those turbulent years, to appreciate the impact of the Vietnam War on our national psyche. Much of what our elected leaders do – or fail to do - is touched by the experience. Much of our defense-related actions and inactions are touched by the experience. And much of what the media presents to us is also touched by the experience.
Millions of words and thousands of volumes have been written on the American experience in Vietnam, and many more will follow. Good. That needs to happen.
What also needs to happen is meaningful discussion on the war’s legacy for organizational leaders. If I had to sum up its true impact on those who lead organizations, I would define it with one word: trust. The Vietnam experience, piggybacked with Watergate and all that followed brought us, at least to a large degree, to where we are today… an age of distrust and cynicism. It brought us inauthentic elected leaders. It brought us inauthentic organizational systems.
On this 50th anniversary of those brave Marines landing at Da Nang, I think leaders bear a special responsibility to restore trust. In our country, our organizations, our teams, our relationships. Trust is the glue that holds the whole experiment together. Without it, it all falls apart. If you are a leader, think about that. What are you doing right now that instills trust in your organization? Restoring trust is one of the most powerful things you can do to obtain powerful results and, at the same time, honor all those who served during that agonizing period in our nation’s history. It may have been 50 years ago, but its legacies are right there, in front of you, right now. What are you going to do about it?
John P. Schreitmueller, PCC, ECP-BC is CEO of Resolute Consulting Group LLC. His Atlanta-based practice provides specialized executive coaching, counseling and consulting for organizational leaders and professionals. Mr. Schreitmueller commanded an infantry rifle platoon with the III Marine Amphibious Force, 3rd Marine Division.
Copyright 2015 by Resolute Consulting Group LLC