The West Point Way of Leadership by Larry Donnithorne is the best book on leadership that I have read. Published in 1993, the Harvard Business Review said "The philosophy that underlies it...is based on moral principle, timeless values, and the leader’s selfless commitment to others.” Such an approach to leadership is also the way that great teams are made.
A recent email illustrates how the U.S. military builds teams based on these values. Dr. Bill Tejeiro is an orthopedic surgeon in Miami and volunteers his time as a doctor at the Coast Guard Academy and as an auxiliarist with the Coast Guard (where I also volunteer). Bill's email follows:
It’s 2308 as I set my radio into the charge cradle at my bedside table. I am tired and sore, but I have had a good day.
Up at 0600, I get to sick call at 0700. There are 22 Swabs and Cadets on the floor, on chairs and on stretchers. They are this morning’s fallouts. The corridor smells like sweat. Their fellow Swabs are at morning chow, having already completed 2 hours of calisthenics. These Swabs will miss breakfast. Most of them are suffering from heat exhaustion, dehydration; three sprained ankles, two low back pains, one ear infection, one broken finger and three just want to go home. By 0930 my team has dispensed 2 liters of Maalox, dozens of Zantac, bottles of Motrin, infused 10 liters of IV fluids, applied bandages, braces, splints, sampled blood, urine and synovial fluid and spoken to parents of injured students.
At 2120, I am at the bedside of an 18-year-old ___________. Mr. _____ just broke his ankle at the soccer field one hour ago. He has not yet had any pain meds since the corpsman has to complete her count of the narcotics locker prior to dispensing the medications. I ask him how he feels. He states, “Sir, I am fine sir.” As I hold his leg in reduction, waiting for the plaster to dry, I see on his hospital bedside table, an old-fashioned 50-cent composition notebook with his name neatly written on the cover. On inspection, his first name has been hastily crossed out with a large black X. I asked him why his first name is crossed out. He states, “Sir, a Swab does not have a first name sir.” He tells me that this book is where he is required to write his daily “thought of the day.” With his consent I read, “Today was a rough day. I broke my ankle during drill practice and I have let my company down. I will try to do better tomorrow.” The corpsman finally comes with the medicine. She is followed by the Swab’s senior classmen. After returning his salute from the bed, he turns to the Swab and states “Swab, what is your code of conduct?”
From memory, the Swab begins slowly but steadily.
1. I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
2. I will never surrender of my own freewill. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my company while they still have the means to resist.
3. If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aide others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
4. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am a senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number and date of birth. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their case.
5. I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions and dedicated to the principles which make my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America .
The senior cadet again returns a salute from the Swab. The senior cadet and the corpsman leave. I look firmly at my Swab. My heart aches for what he is enduring, but I know that we are all better for his gift. I return to my room. I settle for the night.
It’s 23:09 as I set my radio into the charge cradle at my bedside table. I am tired and sore, but I have had a good day.
(The emphasis and certain editing is mine.)
To build a great company, one needs to build a good team. To build a team, you need selfless leadership, morality, guiding principles and a vision that people can engage in.
My views on morality are summed up in the Ten Commandments. Other systems work equally well. Islam and Buddhism immediately come to mind.