Saturday, December 28, 2013


Several weeks ago (On December 3rd) a man died who had a great deal to tell us about real leadership.  The and was Edwin Shuman III, a retired Navy Captain, an A-6 pilot, father of four - two sons and a daughter and one stepson, grandfather of nine, great-grandfather of one, brother to five - three sisters and two other brothers, an instructor at the Naval Academy.  And a Prisoner-Of-War in Hanoi from March of 1968 to March of 1973.

He was noted among the other ‘inmates’ as the guy who, in December 1970, organized the first church service in the prison.  For this act he and four others were severely beaten.  But they did have a church service, and many more in the years that followed.

There are a great many things to say about Captain Ed Shuman – all of them good; he was an exemplary man in every way.  He was also an excellent leader and there is an important lesson in leadership to be learned from his actions.

It is important to understand that Shuman was not the senior man in the prison – not by a long shot.  But he happened to be the senior man in the crowded room that held 42 prisoners. And so he took charge; he acted as he believed was right.

Very few will ever face the kind of situation faced by Captain Shuman and the other POWs.  But there are a host of valuable lessons to glean from his actions, the simplest and most obvious is this: when you believe something needs to be done – take charge.  It doesn’t really matter whether it a great issue or a minor one; if you think something really should be done – then take charge, get ‘it’ started, whatever ‘it’ might be.

This is not necessarily an easy thing to do.  There is a natural reticence in most people to act, to lead, when they are clearly not ‘in charge.’  And there certainly are certain times when it is clearly inappropriate to act and passivity is the preferred course of action.

But our real fear in acting overwhelmingly involves two possibilities: 1) that we will ‘go off’ in the wrong direction, or 2) that even though we are going in the right direction, we will be chastised for ‘leading the charge.’

And neither really is that important.  A story a friend of mine used to use perfectly illustrates the point: the rhinoceros and the turtle:

There were two animals on the svelte in central Africa, a rhinoceros and a turtle, and they were friends.  The rhinoceros was always going off, charging at things and running off in a great hurry, breaking things and getting everyone angry at him.  His friend the turtle moved slowly and deliberately, with no miss-steps and no grave errors, and everyone liked him.  The other animals noted all this and one by one they asked the wise old owl what they could learn from it.  The owl answered:

“The turtle is patient and calm, and never offends anyone.
The rhinoceros is loud, brash, constantly charging about, constantly breaking things, and he makes everyone upset and angry.
Therefore, it is best to be…the rhinoceros.”

“But why?” asked all the animals.

“It is simple,” replied the owl, “the turtle never gets anywhere or accomplishes anything of note.  No matter what direction he heads, it doesn’t matter. The rhinoceros on the other hand is loud and brash and he breaks things. His eyesight isn’t very good and he sometimes even breaks things he wants to keep.  But he makes things happen.  Even when he goes off in the wrong direction others see him doing so and tell him and he turns and heads in a new direction.  And when he is finally pointed in the right direction he charges through any barrier.  The rhinoceros gets things done.  Be a rhinoceros.”

Every organization, of any size, engaged in any and every kind of activity, needs rhinoceroses if it wants to succeed.  As a boss, you need to foster an atmosphere that allows people to “take over” and “lead a charge.”  As one of the folks in the middle, you need to be ready to lead a charge, to stand up and take command.  To be a rhinoceros.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home