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Vol. 9, No. 9
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102  

Dare the Impossible – Achieve the Extraordinary.



© 2012  William A. Cohen, PhD  

Real leaders put the mission and those who they are responsible for above their own personal needs. This has been true throughout history and I’m happy to relate two separate such leaders who lived more than 2000 years apart.

The World Conqueror Who Took Care of Others Before Himself

                Alexander the Great conquered the entire known world of his day. By the time of his death in June 323BC, except for Genghis Khan who maintained his empire for but a short period, Alexander controlled the largest area of the earth’s surface ever to be conquered by a single individual. It is said that Alexander mourned the fact that there were no further worlds to conquer.  I do not know whether this was actually true or not. However, what is most certainly true is that a good deal of Alexander’s success was due to the fact that he was an exceptional leader who looked out for those he led even before he looked after himself. He made certain they were well fed before every battle. Though he must have been tired after the Battle of Granicus in May of 334 B.C. as he entered Persia and managed to defeat a superior number of Persians under the Emperor Darius, Alexander took the time to visit all of his wounded. He personally examined each of their wounds and asked how they were received. He even encouraged them to boast of their exploits. As noted by military historian John Keegan, “ . . . excellent psychotherapy, however wearisome for the listener.”[i] Only afterwards did Alexander look to his own needs and got some rest.

                At the Battle of Issus, in Mesopotamia in November of 333 B.C., Alexander received a sword wound in the thigh. It was not life threatening, but Alexander was in considerable pain. As supreme commander and king, Alexander had access to the best doctors available. They were responsible for his life, and no doubt they erred on the side of caution and advised him to stay put for a couple of days. Nevertheless, Alexander ignored their advice. Though uncomfortable, he again personally made the rounds to visit his wounded soldiers before calling it day a day and seeing to his own comfort.[ii]


Hap Arnold Risks Death as a Four Star General During World War II

                Now flash ahead two thousand two hunded and seventy six years. Not looking after your own well being first could be at some risk. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold commanded the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Fighting to build an air force that was second to none in the world and to support it in action all over the world, he drove himself unmercifully. He worked seven days a week, every week. Hap Arnold never flew in combat. Still, during World War II, he secretly risked his life in total disregard of his own welfare, placing the importance of the mission first.

                 In the middle of the war, Arnold had a severe heart attack. Some doctors advised him to immediately retire and give up the job of commanding the Army Air Forces. Others told him that he must at least slow down significantly and delegate much of his responsibilities. His condition, they told him, was life threatening. Arnold would not follow their advice. He fought to stay on active duty and succeeded. He restricted his activities only long enough to avoid retirement. Then he pressed on with his busy schedule. Almost predictably, he had another heart attack. Now his doctors were really insistent on curtailing his mind-numbing schedule.

                But Arnold told them this: “I cannot ask my aircrews to do something which I am unwilling to do my self. I know that in not slowing down, as you advise, I am risking my life. But, we are at war. My airmen risk their lives every day. Until the war is over, I can do no less.” With few deviations, he continued his life-threatening schedule throughout the war. All told, he had four heart attacks before the war ended.[iii]

                Arnold finally succumbed to a fatal attack. However, it was not until 1950, four and a half years after the war was over. Like Alexander the Great, Hap Arnold disregarded his personal well being. Like Alexander the Great, he put his self-interest last and practiced duty before self.

                Arnold’s legacy continues in the U.S. Air Force to this day. Even the buttons worn on the current Air Force uniform are called “Hap Arnold buttons” because the insignia on them is reminiscent of the insignia worn by the Army Air Force, which Arnold commanded during World War II. Arnold’s major contributions were recognized with his promotion to the five-star rank of General of the Air Force towards the end of the war, the only five-star general the Air Force has ever had.

                I cannot say you will be called “your majesty” or “general” if you do this, but I can guarantee that if you look after those for whom you are responsible first before yourself, whether your organization works on a production line, in the jungle, in the air, in an operating room, in a boardroom, or on a battlefield, you will be known and recognized as the leader.


[i] Keegan, John The Mask of Command New York: penguin Books, 1988). P.46.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Coffey, Thomas M., Hap (New York: The Voking press, 1982) pp. 296-299, 300-301, 304-305, 334-336, 348-354.

Recent Linked Articles by Dr. Cohen not  Published  in the Journal of Leadership Applications:


The Value of Peter Drucker’s Contributions Today from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Don’t Buy People from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

There is no such Thing as an Irrational Customer from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Drucker’s Five Deadly Marketing Sins from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Do the Right Thing at the Right Time from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Exploiting Demographic Change in Your Organization from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Drucker’s Billion Dollar Reality Test  from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Marketing and Selling May Be Adversarial from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Success by Abandoning Success from Human Resources IQ, Customer Management IQ, and Six Sigma Management IQ

Why What You Thought about Heroic Leadership is Probably Wrong from Integral Leadership Review

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Few people are only too glad to obey the man who they believe takes wiser thoughts for their interests than they themselves do.

– Xenophon, Ancient Greek General