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Vol. 7, No. 8
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102  

Extraordinary achievements demand extraordinary leaders.

THIS MONTH’S FREE DOWNLOADABLE BOOK: The Origins of Leadership by Eben Mumford


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

Integrity is Not About Profit from Human Resources IQ

What Everyone Knows is Frequently Wrong from Human Resources IQ

Tough Times from Leadership Excellence

Why Leadership is a Marketing Job from Human Resources IQ

What to do about Office Politics from Human Resources IQ

Don’t Be Afraid of Getting Laid Off from Human Resources IQ

The Most Important Leadership Decision from Human Resources IQ

What are You Going to Do About It? from Human Resources IQ

Peter Drucker Says Leaders Make Themselves from Training Magazine

Leadership Laws – It was Drucker’s Favorite Book   from Leadership Excellence Magazine

People Have no Limits – Even after Failure from Human Resources IQ

A Sure Way to Fail from

What to Do about the Crisis from

Drucker: Every Leader Must Declare his Expectations from

Peter Drucker of the Value of Ignorance from Performance and Profits

Peter Drucker’s Story of Two Vice Presidents (Why What Everybody Knows Is Frequently Wrong) from Moving Ahead

Webcast: The Lost Lessons of Peter Drucker from The American Management Association

Five Things William Cohen Has Learned From Peter Drucker from CIO Magazine

How the World’s Most Celebrated Management Consultant Got His Title from Industry Week

The Night Peter Drucker Declared He Was Not My Father from

Drucker’s Lost Lesson from Training Magazine

Effective Leadership in Leadership Excellence

Other Recent Articles; Not Linked

“Leading in Crisis,” The Keystone Review, March 2009, Vol.2

“What Drucker Taught Us about Social Responsibility,” Leader to Leader Journal, Winter 2009, pp.29 -34

“What Drucker Taught Us about Social Responsibility and Leadership,” Creativity and Innovation, Peter F. Drucker Society of Korea, Summer, 2008, pp.1-30.


From the Forthcoming Book Heroic Leadership to be published by Jossey-Bass in 2010

© 2009 William A. Cohen, PhD  


When someone is wounded in battle, that individual is for all extensive purposes adopted by the medic who is responsible for his care. He becomes one of the medic’s “people.” The medic is not a doctor, but he has received medical training and goes by the general term “corpsman,” but the title of his military rank depends on the branch of the service in which he serves. On March 23rd , 2003, Hospital Apprentice Luis Fonseca, a Navy corpsman was serving in a Marine amphibious assault vehicle platoon during an attack on the Saddam Canal Bridge in Iraq.  An amphibious assault vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and set on fire. The five Marines inside were wounded. Corpsman Fonseca braved small arms, machine gun, and intense rocket propelled grenade fire to rush to the vehicle to evacuate the wounded Marines and tend to their wounds. He established a casualty collection point inside the unit’s medical evacuation amphibious assault vehicle and stabilized two of the casualties with serious injuries, life-threatening injuries. He continued to treat and care for all of the wounded while awaiting evacuation. But then this vehicle was hit and immobilized by enemy fire. Under a hail of enemy machine gun fire, he organized litter teams and directed the movement of four casualties from the damaged vehicle. He personally carried one critically wounded Marine over open ground to another vehicle. Then the whole unit came under an artillery barrage. Fonseca again exposed himself to treat Marines wounded resulting from this attack. Returning to the newly designated casualty evacuation vehicle, he accompanied the wounded to a Battalion Aid Station. After briefing medical personnel on the status of each patient, he returned to the battle to treat Marines that had been wounded in his absence. Taking care of “his people” that day saved the lives of many Marines.[1] They obeyed his every order because they knew that he cared more for their safety than he did for his own. Two thousand years ago, Xenophon wrote: . . . “people are only too glad to obey the man who they believe takes wiser thoughts for their interests than they themselves do.”

Philip Bolte served in combat in armored vehicles in both Korea and Vietnam and retired as Brigadier General. General Bolte puts it in way shared by many combat leaders: “Take care of your men and they will take care of you.”[2] Thomas Noel, who fought in Vietnam left the Army to assume a senior executive post in the Department of Energy where he was in charge of the strategic petroleum reserves. He then became president of a succession of companies. “Believe in your people and take care of them,” he says. “You are what your people are, no more, and no less.”[3]

Who are Your People?

Most think of “your people” as those you supervise directly, either on a temporary or a permanent basis. However, that is not necessarily true. In business, “your people” include your customers. The Chinese managers who allowed milk contaminated with industrial chemicals to be sold killed infants and put babies in danger all over the world through their exports.[4] The same was true of the managers of the American plant in Georgia which knowingly shipped peanut butter contaminated with salmonella to customers.[5] These are blatant instances of failure to even meet minimal standards in taking care of customers and are the worst examples of the leadership law discussed in the next chapter, duty before self.

How Far Should You Go In Taking Care of Your People?

How far should you go in taking care of your people? Fortunately, a civilian career does not normally require a leader to lay down his life for his people in order to take care of them. But, make no mistake. You must be willing to go “to the mat” in taking care of your people if you really expect them to follow you to the same extent as a successful battle leader.

They say that Thomas Watson, who founded IBM and later instituted extensive programs in education, health care, and recreation for IBM employees was continually visiting his factories and spent hours talking to his employees. On one occasion, he told an employee, “If you have any problem at all, let me know.” Later, the same employee went to New York and asked to see Watson. On being ushered in to Watson’s office, he told Watson that his younger brother had an incurable disease and he had been told he would not live long. Remembering Watson’s promise, he asked whether anything could be done that was beyond the medical resources of the small community where his brother resided. Watson had the brother put in a top hospital under the care of a famous specialist. At this point, the employee began to feel a little guilty that perhaps he had overstepped Watson’s invitation and he began to apologize to Watson. But, Watson interrupted him. “When I said bring your problems to me, I meant exactly that.”[6]

Be the Leader When Things Go Wrong

When the chips are down and times are difficult is when those who follow really watch to see what you do. Do you really take care of your people, or is it all for show? Taking care of your people is made more difficult in that it can conflict with other laws, directives, and orders. The leader must always use his judgment to determine the difference between compromising other requirements of his job, such as carrying out instructions from higher authority with taking care of his people. Harry G. Summers, former Army colonel and then a syndicated columnist, wrote that the overall leader has a responsibility “to shield his subordinate leaders from arbitrary and capricious attack.”[7] Summers once told of a combat action in Vietnam in which he was involved to illustrate his point. Brigadier General James F. Hollingsworth who was an assistant division commander flew over Summer’s battle position in a helicopter. He called Summer’s battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dick Prillaman on the radio and told him that one of his company commanders was all screwed up. “I want you to relieve him right now,” he demanded. “Relieve” is the military way of saying “fire.” That would have ended that company commander’s career, and if he was “screwed up” and endangering his men or the mission, he had to be relived. But this was not the case. Hollingsworth only knew what he saw from the air. He wasn’t on the ground and didn’t know the whole story. Prillaman responded instantly, “He’s doing exactly what I want him to do. If you relieve anyone, it should be me.” General Hollingsworth could have done exactly that. Instead, he said, “Now dammit Dick, don’t get your back up. It just looked screwed up from up here. Go down and check it out.” By the time he retired from the Army, Prillaman was a Lieutenant General.[8] Good leaders who take care of their people frequently get promoted. But, not always.

This Leader Risked Prison for his People

One June 2, 1967, two American F-105 pilots on a mission over Hanoi came under attack by guns protecting a ship unloading its military cargo in Haiphong Harbor. This was in an area in which Secretary of Defense McNamara had essentially declared a sanctuary for the enemy. The ship, and the area surrounding it could not be attacked by American policy called the “Rules of Engagement.” However, to save themselves, the two pilots instinctively fired back. They didn’t stop to identify the ship because there wasn’t time.  They simply opened fire to save themselves. The whole incident took less than five seconds. But the consequences couldn’t have been more severe. It turned out that the guns which fired on them were on  the Russian freighter which was unloading munitions for North Vietnam.

The commander responsible for these pilots was a colonel by the name of Jack Broughton. Broughton was on the fast track to make general. He was a graduate of one of the most prestigious senior service schools in the armed forces. He was smart, aggressive, and an outstanding leader. While many senior officers flew an occasional mission, but spent much of their time behind a desk, Broughton scheduled himself to fly every tough mission. If there was a difficult combat mission over North Vietnam, you could bet Broughton was on it taking the same risks as his men.

When the strike force returned from the mission, the flight leader asked to see Broughton in private and told him what had happened. As Broughton commented, “That made it my problem.” Complicating the matter was the fact that due to bad whether, the two pilots had landed first at another American base. Still somewhat punchy from combat and frightened by the potential consequences of the attack they had made which they knew was extremely serious, one of the pilots signed a statement that he had not fired his guns. Both Broughton and his pilots knew that signing this report constituted a false official statement. Under military law, it in itself could lead to a dishonorable discharge even if made under the pressures of the moment and without time to reflect.

As Broughton said later, “This was not an easy decision nor was it made lightly.”[9] The only evidence against the two pilots were their own gun camera film.  Broughton took the film and exposed it to a truck’s headlights. Then, he burned it. Broughton was not in favor of violating orders. However, he believed that while what these pilots did was wrong, it was understandable and forgivable. Moreover, he knew that combat or not, in this particular war, such accidental mistakes were not forgiven. Pilots violating the these rules in the past had been punished severely for far lesser mistakes. He was raised in an environment that said that you take care of your people. He made the personal decision that if anyone was going to be punished over this incident, it would be he, and not the two pilots.

As a result of Broughton’s actions, they could not prove which pilots were involved in this incident. Broughton was court-martialed. He freely admitted burning the film. He was found guilty and fined and admonished. He might even be sent to a military prison. On appeal, a board of high-ranking civilians from the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force set the punishment of being sent to prison aside. But, his career was ended and obviously he was never promoted to general. He did however write two best selling books Thud Ridge and Going Downtown and more recently an autobiography, Rupert Red Two.  On Broughton’s last combat mission over North Vietnam, one of the pilots he protected saved his life. As Jack Broughton told me in an interview some years ago, “That’s a type of poetic justice and in a real sense made it all worthwhile.”[10]

Were his actions in destroying the gun camera film right or wrong? I don’t know. You have to make your own call on this one. The point I want to make is just how far this leader went in being willing to take care of his people. He was willing to sacrifice his career, even go to jail, if necessary, to protect them from what he felt would be unduly harsh and unjust punishment for an accident while under fire against a ship which was actually supplying the enemy with ground to air missiles at the time.

How puny this makes the actions of some other leaders look! Is it any wonder that many of their followers are unenthusiastic about working for them? Some of these so-called leaders go as far as to try and avoid responsibility when things go wrong by blaming subordinates. Others think nothing about inconveniencing those they lead, or are untroubled by their workers’ working conditions or whether their work schedules are causing family hardships or in firing them to cut costs and bolster the bottom line a little. So far as they are concerned, their people are so much fodder for the system, and if a subordinate doesn’t like it, he or she can go elsewhere! Is it any wonder that these corporate executives are not considered leaders by those they lead?

An Air Force Captain Learns To Give Their Needs Priority

If you are the leader, you’ve got to learn to give the needs of those you lead greater weight than those of your own personal needs. Again, you must balance this with your mission. That’s got to come first. This again sometimes makes it a difficult judgment call. Is it the mission you are primarily concerned with in ignoring or disregarding your people’s needs, or is it your own? If it’s really your own needs, and taking care of your people it just makes your job a little tougher, or a little riskier, than maybe you better think again.

Captain Dave Whitmore was the navigator of a “select crew ” flying the giant nuclear B-52 bomber during the height of the cold war in Strategic Air Command or “SAC.” When the Vietnam War heated up, SAC crews did rotating duty flying combat missions with non-nuclear weapons from Guam. That heated things up for them even more. David Whitmore flew several rounds of these combat tours as well as training to go to a nuclear war. Even though Whitmore spent so much time on his job, his real interest was in engineering, not flying. When he had first volunteered for flying duties, he anticipated a couple years “in the cockpit” before being sent for an advanced degree in engineering and then applying this knowledge to aviation problems. However, shortly after Whitmore completed flying training, the Air Force more than doubled the amount of time a new flyer had to remain flying. Even so, he took tests and qualified for the Air Forces master’s degree program in astronautics.

Unfortunately, there was considerable pressure on unit commanders not to release trained navigators like Whitmore for other Air Force advanced degree programs. Every trained SAC crewman replaced by one less experienced meant increased difficulties and problems for their commanders. Since promotions for commanders were highly competitive and these crews were constantly being tested, there was no question that Whitmore’s loss represented a significant career risk to his commander and other commanders at higher organizational levels. Would Whitmore’s commander allow him to leave SAC to get his master’s degree in engineering?

Said Whitmore: “Despite the personal downside to my bosses, my commander supported me 100%. He told me, ‘Dave, if you wait around until the time is perfect for us you will never get your master’s degree. That’s important to the Air Force, too!’” So Whitmore left SAC and entered a master’s program. Later, Captain Whitmore discovered it hadn’t been so simple. A higher leader had tried to block his transfer for graduate training. However, his immediate commander had dug his heels in and stuck his neck out, literally guaranteeing no drop in crew performance despite Whitmore’s leaving. Whitmore realized that his commander had taken risks for his sake. He had placed Whitmore’s needs above his own, and Whitmore vowed, to do the same as a leader, himself.

Whitmore Gives His Peoples’ Needs Priority at IBM

With his Air Force service done, Whitmore joined IBM. Some years later he was promoted and became an IBM marketing manager for a new region in New York that serviced utilities and telephone companies. The two largest accounts in Dave’s area were serviced up by two of his most senior marketing team leaders. These accounts represented a considerable amount of money, and the pressure was incredible. It reminded Whitmore of SAC. If any of the computers went down, Whitmore could lose his job.

One day Dave became aware of a serious problem. Neither one of his senior team leaders had ever held a staff job. He was told that if they weren’t assigned staff positions outside of his organization within the next few months, the chances were they would never get them. If they never got a staff job, their future careers at IBM were limited. It was unlikely that they could ever get promoted to a more senior position. Yet, these were talented hard working people, their timing was just bad.

First Whitmore talked to over with his two team leaders. He explained the situation to them. What did they want to do? Both expressed a willingness to stay if they had to, but both understood the necessity for obtaining staff experience. Both wanted to go. Whitmore was inexperienced in his new job. He had no other experienced team leaders and none would be available if Whitmore let these two go to staff positions elsewhere in the company.  Yet it was Whitmore’s decision, and it was his responsibility to take care of his people. Whitmore’s boss, a branch manager, counseled him. “Who cares whether they become managers or not? It’s your fanny on the line. If you let them go, you’re taking a chance on losing everything you’ve worked for. Screw up, and I can’t guarantee whether you can ever become a branch manager. Your sending them to staff positions may help them, but it may limit your future in the company.” But Whitmore remembered his experiences in SAC. He knew what he had to do. He saw that both team leaders were offered staff positions in IBM immediately. They both accepted and left his organization.

What happened to Dave Whitmore? He made do without the two experienced team leaders. Later, due to his success at this job, he was offered what he called “my dream job”: international account manager in Brussels.[11]

This Rhino Leads Pro-Employee Charges

Ted Castle founded Rhino Foods in Burlington, Vermont. They make specialty foods, and gained some fame by coming up with the “cookie dough” in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream of the same name. Some called the company “A Workplace of the Future – Now.”[12] Castle was determined that the business wouldn’t run him and would leave time for outside activities. He wanted the same for Rhino’s employees. To show he meant what he said and that he really cared, he started a number of highly innovative programs to take care of his people. One called “Focus in Families” met every Thursday to oversee programs for employees and community groups. Company time was made available for the meetings. Another was the “Nurturing Program” running fifteen week periods to work with parents and kids to develop better parenting skills. Rhino funded it. Then there was a Rhino’s “Wants Program.” Employees chose a “wants coordinator” and met with him or her once every three months to work on the goals they wanted to achieve. The coordinator was especially trained in coaching. The goals were not necessarily work-related. We’re talking about anything from buying a house to learning to skydive and everything in between.

Several years ago when the need for his seasonal food products waned, President Castle came up with an innovative solution to show he cared and to avoid firing unneeded employees. Castle found two other non-competitive companies that also relied headily on seasonal employees. He leased his unneeded employees to them. Rhino continued to pay all of their employee benefits. In essence, he created an employee exchange program that benefited everyone. There were no unemployment costs, morale stayed high, and trained and experienced workers . . . ready, willing, and able . . . returned. Frequently they returned with ideas with further benefited Rhino Foods. [13]

Here are some other ideas that the company sponsors which fall under the heading of  “take care of your people:  The entire company shuts down for an hour once a month for a Rhino Company Meeting, which covers the big picture issues. All production workers are cross-trained in each other’s jobs making them completely “product literate”. Company results are posted each month. All Rhino employees know the status of sales, profitability and how the company is doing in reaching its company objectives. Rhino declares that it is a vehicle to help its employees to get what they want. Ted Castle put this on the company’s web site: “It doesn’t really matter what you make, what matters is how you do it, how you treat your people.” [14]

Take Personal Responsibility

Every combat leader I talked to spoke in some way about the importance of taking personal responsibility for his actions and for the actions of his organization. Whenever something went right, these leaders gave credit to their people. But when they didn’t go right, they took personal responsibility. Most of the time, this was simply like General Lee after Pickett’s Charge failed at the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee told everyone, “It’s all my fault.” He took personal responsibility for the defeat.  Sometimes, taking personal responsibility must be expressed in the physical sense. Other times, it’s in the moral sense. The practitioner of heroic leadership does either, or both, in taking care of his people.


If you are a Heroic Leader, you must take care of the people who report to you. If you take care of your people, they will perform to the maximum extent within their capabilities. If you fail to do this, you won’t be their leader for very long. If you want to be a Heroic Leader, you must:

  • Be the Leader When Things Go Wrong
  • Give Their Needs Priority
  • Really Care
  • Take Responsibility


[1] Lisa Burgess, “I Started Paching Them Up Real Quick,” Stars and Stripes, June 14, 2005, Accessed at July 4, 2009

[2] Bolte, Philip L., Letter to the author, September 4, 1993.

[3] Noel, Thomas E. III, Telephone interview with the author, January 6, 1998.

[4] Macartney, Jane, “China Contaminated Milk Formula Scandal Puts Babies at Risk in Other Countries,” Times Online, September 20, 2008, Accessed at , January 29, 2009

[5] Harris, Gardiner, “Salmonella was Found at Peanut Plant Before,” New York Times, January 28, 2009 Accessed at , January 29, 2009

[6] Hay, Peter, The Book of Business Anecdotes (New York: Facts on File, 1988) p. 168.

[7] Summers, Harry G., “Take Care of the Troops,” Washington Times, (August 7, 1997) p.14.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Broughton, Jack, Going Downtown, New York: Orion Books, 1988). P. 218.

[10] Broughton, Jack,  Telephone interviews with the author, December 4 and 8, 1997.

[11] Whitmore, David, Interview with the author, November 8, 1997.

[12] Gillian Flynn, “1996 Vision Optimas Award Profile:Rhino Foods Inc,” Workforce, July 1996, Vol. 75, No.7, pp. 36-43, Accessed at July 4, 2009

[13] No author listed, “Can You Imagine,” Rhino Foods Web Site, Accessed at , January 28, 2009.



For more information, contact me directly by e-mail at or telephone (626) 794-5998. Yes we do give international seminars — The U.S. country code is 01.



Only after the men are settled in their encampment does the general retire; only after

all the cooks have finished their cooking does he go in and eat . . .

                                       – T’ai Kung Chiang Shang, Ancient Chinese General