Reflections on leadership values

This week was the second and final week of the Virginia Executive Institute. The week was intense with dynamic speakers on ethics, conflict resolution, candor, state budgets, and individuals as historical actors. Graduation was held in the chamber of the Virginia House of Delegates – that was pretty cool.

The VEI staff have developed an interesting approach to leadership. They don’t tell you how to be leader, or attempt to mold Virginia state government executives into a single mold of leadership. Instead, they provide a selection of speakers with a differing perspectives that allow one to develop, or enhance, their own style of leading. I think it works.

For me though, it creates new thought collisions.

“It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner. He must be that, of course, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.
He should be the soul of tact, patience, justice, firmness, kindness, and charity. No meritorious act of a subordinate should escape his attention or be left to pass without its reward, even if the reward is only a word of approval.
Conversely, he should not be blind to a single fault in any subordinate, though at the same time, he should be quick and unfailing to distinguish error from malice, thoughtlessness from incompetency, and well meant shortcomings from heedless or stupid blunder. In one word, every commander should keep constantly before him the great truth, that to be well obeyed, he must be perfectly esteemed.”
–Compiled by Augustus C. Buell from letters written by John Paul Jones

This was read by one presenter. It seems to me that if John Paul Jones felt that officers of the US Navy should have a liberal education, one would think that would be desirable for all educated citizens.  Ahh, but I am not going to dwell on that issue. If folks aren’t going to be outraged or amused by my conjoining of a liberal education to the Second Amendment, it is clear that interest lacks.

I also made connections between some of the speakers and the not-quite-classic movie, “Circle of Iron,” also known as “The Silent Flute.” I like this movie, even as painful as it is to watch at times. David Carradine makes up for a lot of sins, but some scenes just don’t work quite the way they should. However, it does have some occasional good stuff, including an underlying theme about the value of a mentor (although others interpret this role as a spiritual guide, which has, to me, less difference than that between my black and slightly darker black turtlenecks).

And this brings to mind another collision. Some of the presentations, especially on conflict resolution, had very painful moments. Not because of the presenter, just the nature of wrestling with knowledge of my own inadequacies. Most of time, I am on good terms with these inadequacies – I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me. Sometimes self-knowledge and reflection just kind of suck.

When our speaker on individuals as historical actors brought up the history of the song, “We Shall Overcome,” I started thinking again about how I think of that as much less of a protest song than a love song. Try it some time. Sit and listen, and then sing it to your significant other, or a child, and see if it does not feel like a love song, or a song of love, if you prefer.

Anyhow, I came away from the week with more to think about and expansions to my reading list. As much as I would like to say that all I need to know about leadership I have learned from Tony Soprano, Frances Urqhart, and Frank Underwood, I suspect those who know me will disagree. Certainly now, I cannot stop with those three.


Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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