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Vol. 5, No. 10
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102 

The Stuff of Heroes: The Eight Universal Laws of Leadership

Extraordinary achievements demand extraordinary leaders.

© 2007 William A. Cohen, PhD

It’s been almost fifteen years since I began the research for what eventually resulted in The Stuff of Heroes: The Eight Universal Laws of Leadership and a book by the same name. The book has been out-of-print for several years. However, I’ve given the basic speech and seminar on the topic to hundreds of audiences around the world. Many have written me asking when they could attend one of these. Unfortunately, these presentations are almost always sponsored by an organization — a corporation, a trade association, or a military group, which does not open the presentation to the general public. However, the technology now exists whereby I can bring the entire seminar to any individual at his or her own time and place in a self-taught course downloaded over the Internet and this course is under preparation and should be ready in another month or so.

In preparing this seminar-course, I was reminded of the power of “The Stuff of Heroes” and the impact following these laws can have on both the individual leader and the entire organization which he leads. So I thought I would give you the whole story of the Eight Universal Laws of Leadership and why and how you should put them into use in your daily lives.

More than thirty years ago my professor, friend, and mentor, Peter F. Drucker wrote that the first systematic book on leadership, written by Xenophon two thousand years earlier, was still the best on the subject.1 Xenophon’s described leadership during a five month campaign during which he and other leaders led 10,000 men in a retreat from Babylon to the Black Sea, though surrounded by a hostile and numerically superior foe. Conventional wisdom is that military leadership is bad, not good. However, as Drucker sai, “What everybody knows is frequently (sometimes he said ‘usually’) wrong.”

Battle leadership probably represents the greatest leadership challenge for any leader. In combat, conditions are severe. There are terrible hazards. There are poor “working conditions.” There is probably greater uncertainty than in any other type of human activity. 

As Drucker pointed out to me at a lunch we shared in 1997, “In no other type of leadership must the leader make decisions based on less or less reliable information.”2“Workers” may need to perform their duties with little food and irregular sleep. All must take great risks. Most followers and leaders alike would prefer to be somewhere else and doing something else.

While there are true military geniuses in battle, the vast majority, as in most organizations, are ordinary men and women. In most battles, many are not professionals. Not all are suited to their jobs. Professional or amateur, all are stressed far more than in any civilian situation or occupation. Moreover, leaders must not only carry out the mission, but do their best to protect the lives of those they lead at the same time. So, battle probably represents a “worst case” condition. No wonder traditional motivators such as high pay, good benefits, and job security aren’t much good. There is no “business as usual” on the battlefield.

To some, military leadership is not something to emulate. It is running around shouting orders as in a Hollywood movie. It is obeying stupid orders simply because someone else is in authority. Those who have been there know better. Sure, as in any organization, there are some combat leaders that do a poor job of leading. They operate as martinets and provide the models for those who seek to ridicule anything military. However, the vast majority of combat leaders are not of that mold. Instead, these leader-heroes enable ordinary people to routinely accomplish the extraordinary. In battle leadershipleaders help their followers to reach very difficult goals and complete very arduous tasks. Since conditions of leadership in battle represent the worst that any leader might encounter,  people in combat cannot be managed. They must be led. They are. And in leading under terrible conditions, successful combat leaders build and lead amazing organizations which get things done ethically, honestly, and for the most part humanely.

Although I appreciated the value of what I personally learned about leadership in battle, which formed the basis of most of my recommendations in my first book on leadership, I wondered whether there were underlying principles or lessons from warfare which were at the root of all leadership success.

Without question, such lessons are desperately needed now. This is a time of great change which threatens the very fabric of society. We are engaged in a worldwide struggle against fanatical religious terrorism. Women and minorities struggle for equality and increased power while organizational leaders weigh their responsibilities for social issues with their responsibilities for mission accomplishment. After years of relative calm, management and labor jockey anew for position and power, with management claiming the need for tight purse strings to remain competitive, and labor demanding better conditions and compensation for its members. It is a time when the industrial power of the United States is far beyond mere questioning, and has already been successfully challenged by other rising industrial and political institutions throughout the world. Indeed, as America strives for international competitiveness the rising colossus of China is no longer just on the horizon. It is here. This new great power dwarfs the former commercial threats from the juggernauts of Japan or Korea. In business, leaders worldwide are about to enter a fight for their and our lives and futures.

 If general principles of leadership from the worst case scenario of warfare could be uncovered, this could have an extremely important impact. Leaders from all organizations could use these principles to dramatically increase productivity and the likelihood of success in any project in which they were engaged.

The foundation of my research was a survey sent to more than 200 former combat leaders and conversations with hundreds more. I especially sought those who had become successful in the corporate world or in other non-military organizations after leaving the armed forces. Among the responses I received in the initial phase, 62 were from generals and admirals. I asked these extraordinary leaders what they had learned from leadership in battle. I asked about the tactics they used, about the importance of their style and the most important actions a leader must take. I asked about adapting these lessons in their civilian careers.

I found that while there were successful leaders practicing many different styles, there were universal principles that successful leaders followed to dramatically boost productivity and achieve extraordinary success in all types of organizations. With so many respondents listing three or more principles, I expected a huge list. The Emperor Napoleon, one of histories preeminent military leaders, developed and published 115 maxims on the conduct of war. How many hundreds of leadership principles would I uncover after analyzing and tabulating the input from such a large number of respondents?

Surprisingly, I discovered that ninety-five percent of the responses I received boiled down to only eight principles. However, each of these leaders had seen one or more of these eight principles help them to achieve extraordinary results in their careers. More than a few wrote special notes or letters to express their support for my project. It was if they had seen payment in blood for what they had learned. They knew its value, and they didn’t want to see it wasted.

In a latter phase of my research, I interviewed other successful senior business leaders and reviewed dozens of corporate situations and the actions taken by these corporations’ senior leaders. Some had combat backgrounds. Some did not. Some allowed me to use their real names and companies. Some preferred to remain anonymous. Some had developed their own lists of principles of leadership over the years. While their lists differed from each other, they invariably included the eight responses that I had previous developed from my surveys. I also looked at 7000 years of recorded history to confirm these concepts. There was an abundance of evidence to support these principles.

I decided that these were far more than principles . . . they were actually universal laws of leadership. There are hundreds of excellent techniques and rules that people may follow in leading others. But these eight universal laws are essential. I believe they are the very essence of all leadership. These eight laws are simple, but even one of these laws can make the difference between success or failure in any project in any organization. This is because you can make a lot of mistakes and still succeed as a leader. But if you violate these universal laws, you will probably fail, even if you are at first successful. No one can guarantee success, because their are other factors which might override anything a leader may be able to do. But, there is no question that if you follow the universal laws, your chances of success are much increased. I believe that these laws are that powerful and that the consequences of following them or not can be the determining factor for success for most leaders in most situations. These are the eight laws

1. Maintain Absolute Integrity

What exactly is this quality which is so universally prized among leaders who lead others under the most demanding of circumstances? In simple terms, integrity means adherence to a set of values which incorporates honesty and freedom from deception. But it is more than honesty. It means doing the right thing regardless of circumstances or benefits or disadvantages to the leader or even for the organization.

The United States Air Force Core Values says, “It is the willingness to do what is right even when no one is looking.” Combat leaders sometimes refer to integrity as “honor.” In fact, an examination of the definition of these words in The Merriam-Webster Dictionary indicates the two words are very close. Both words are closely tied up with telling the truth and of following moral principles and practice, of being of ethical, of conforming to accepted professional standards of conduct, of doing the right thing – what you believe to be right, regardless of consequences.

Back in 1989, then Major Clay McCutchan was an air commando and pilot of an AC-130 gunship in the Air Force Reserve. The C-130 was a transport aircraft. Extensively modified with side firing guns and the latest acquisition electronics, the AC-130 became a formidable flying gunship. It could loiter for long periods of time until needed. When called upon, it could provide unparalleled firepower to destroy most targets in areas where the ground defenses were not too heavy.

In late December, Clay McCutchan and his crew were one of two Air Force Reserve crews who volunteered to relieve an active duty AC-130 crew assigned to Panama during the Christmas holidays. This was not new. They had relieved active duty crews in Panama three times before. There had been an on-going problem with Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian dictator. But few realized how rapidly the U.S. was approaching war at this time . . . certainly not Clay McCutchan and his crew.

What McCutchan and others didn’t know is that the decision to invade Panama and capture Noriega had already been made a few days earlier. The invasion, called “Operation Just Cause,” was set for the night of 19-20th December 1989. As luck would have it, this was only two days after McCutchan’s arrival.

The objectives of Operation Just Cause were to oust and capture Noriega, return him to the U.S. to stand trial on drug charges, and install a new, more democratic government in Panama. The Air Commandos, or Air Force Special Operations, as it was now called, were to spearhead the invasion. Active duty gunship crews had practiced for months in firing at and destroying mock-ups of certain pre-designated targets. Since McCutchan’s crew hadn’t prepared in this way, they were given a different mission at first. His crew was put on standby alert to guard Howard Air Force Base, the American air base in the Canal Zone and the Panama Canal itself, in case it came under attack. It didn’t.  Afterwards, they were ordered into the air to respond, if called upon, to help friendly troops fighting on the ground.

However, there was considerable confusion in communications with the ground. For some time they flew around over Howard without an assignment. Then they were sent to aid a group of civilians at another airfield immobilized by a sniper. A few rounds from their 40mm guns took care of that problem. Then they flew around again waiting for a new assignment. Hours went by. No one seemed to need them.

With only about an hour’s fuel remaining, they were sent to a fortified area known as Fort Amador where there was a large fight in progress on the ground. When they got there, they couldn’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. They couldn’t even establish radio contact. Without radio contact, they couldn’t get instructions or permission to fire. Communications were made more difficult because they were given three different call signs to use depending on who they were talking to. Even worse, McCutchan, flying at only 4500 feet was the lowest of a number of AC-130s orbiting at different altitudes and only under marginal control of someone on the ground. When another unseen AC-130 at a higher altitude opened fire through their flight orbit and almost hit them, McCutchan decided it was time to depart. He altered course to take his AC-130 out of the area.

As they flew away from the ground fighting, McCutchan’s crew was ordered to attack enemy three armored cars on the Fort Amador Causeway. The vehicles were not of a type used by our forces. They tried calling a controller on the ground on a pre-briefed radio frequency. This time they made radio contact with the Forward Air Controller (FAC) on the ground right away. The FAC’s job is to control all friendly air strikes in his assigned area.

“They’re not friendly, you can open fire on them,” advised the voice of the FAC on the ground.

 McCutchan planned to start with 40mm armor piercing ammunition, and then use high explosive ammunition to finish the armored cars off. As McCutchan prepared to fire, his sensor operator and fire-control officer (FCO) spotted thirty to forty troops coming out of the jungle.

McCutchan’s FCO called the controller on the ground and told him about the arrival of these new forces. “Take them out, they’re not ours,” said the controller. In the AC-130A which McCutchan flew, the pilot fired the guns using a thumb trigger. As his thumb began to itch in readiness, his crew studied the situation closely using inflared and television sensors.3 The more they looked, the more convinced they became that these new troops were Americans. McCutchan had just rolled his airplane in to attack, when one of his crew stopped him with a sudden warning: “Don’t fire, they may be friendly!”

McCutchan took his thumb off the trigger. After talking it over with his crew, the spoke to the FAC on the ground again and told him that they had identified the troops with the vehicles as possibly American.

“Negative, negative, they are not friendlies. They are enemy, and you are cleared to fire,” the controller responded, his frustration clear in his voice. By now the FAC was excited. “Shoot, shoot, shoot,” he intoned.

McCutchan called his command post back at Howard Air Force Base and briefed them on the situation. He asked for positive confirmation before firing. After several minutes the command post duty officer came back with a decision. “These are confirmed enemy. You are ordered to fire.”

Now, McCutchan’s actions were no longer discretionary. He had been given a direct order. He had also been given the supreme test of integrity. He and his crew believed that these were friendly troops with the enemy vehicles. Usually the FAC on the ground had a much better picture of what was going on. But with their sophisticated equipment, they might be in a better position to judge whether the troops were friendly or enemy in this instance. “Our forces were not being fired on by these vehicles or these troops, and they were not an immediate threat to anyone,” reasoned McCutchan. “If they were enemy and they lived, it would make little difference to the war. But if they were friendly and he killed them, we could never bring them back to life.”

Clay McCutchan told the controller he was leaving the area to return to base. He was not going to fire. “I was convinced I was going to get court-martialed because three times I disobeyed a direct order to fire,” he told me.

Their commander met them as they landed at dawn. “You’re either a hero or in a lot of trouble,” he told McCutchan.

McCutchan spent a sleepless morning despite his fatigue. He had been up all night and in the air almost six hours. By noon the whole story came down from higher headquarters. Contact had been made with the troops surrounding the vehicles. McCutchan and his crew had been right. The troops were American Special Operations troops who had captured the enemy armored vehicles. They had been unsuccessful in contacting anyone by radio to identify themselves. McCutchan and the others on his crew were awarded medals for having the moral courage . . . the integrity . . . not to fire, even when ordered to do so.

Typical of an outstanding leader of integrity, McCutchan gave full credit to those he led. “My crew was very experienced. I was only an average pilot, but my co-pilot had 1500 hours of combat in Vietnam. All of my officers and non-commissioned officers were very experienced and absolutely top notch. It was my sole responsibility to make this decision, but I could not have made the decision I did if I did not trust them completely.”4,5

McCutchan may or may not have been an average pilot. But for certain, the Air Force recognized that he was a far above average leader . . . a leader of integrity. Several years ago when I spoke at the Air War War College in Montgomery, Alabama, Colonel Clay McCutchan was my escort officer. He was awaiting to hear whether he had been promoted to brigadier general. He was. Today, Clay McCutchan is a major general in the Air Force Reserve.

2. Know Your Stuff

You’d think that knowing your stuff would be obvious in either military or civilian life. Yet, it is unfortunately true that some leaders don’t “know their stuff” to the extent that they should. This is because their emphasis is less on becoming an expert and “learning one’s trade,” than on getting ahead. This leads to a focus on office politics rather than office expertise. Moreover, a number of management books fall into this same trap in advising their readers. They fail to emphasize that a leader becomes the real leader of his organization when those that follow recognize that the leader knows what to do when he or she gets ahead, not because the leader knows what to do to get ahead.

Followers don’t follow others because leaders are good at office politics. They follow leaders because they are good at what they do. There is no substitute for a leader investing his or her time into becoming an expert. As a recent article in Fortune proclaimed: “Forget about fighting over titles and turf – it’s what you know (and how you use it) that really counts.”6

When Gordon M. Bethune took over as CEO of an ailing Continental Airlines that had twice filed for bankruptcy. In a little over a year, he built a $650 million cash reserve and took Continental’s last place on-time takeoff performance to number two of all airlines. Not bad for a leader that spent twenty years as an enlisted man in the Navy, and had to go to night school to graduate from high school. However, Bethune knows his stuff and how to use it. He attended five colleges and finally got his bachelor’s degree from Abilene Christian University. He was not a Navy pilot, but he learned aircraft mechanics in the service. Today, he is both a licensed pilot and mechanic. In fact he is licensed to fly the Boeing 757 and 767 and when CEO of Continental sometimes took delivery of the company’s jet aircraft from Seattle and flew them to Houston. No wonder they say that Bethune has brought a new flavor to employee relations.7 He really knows his stuff, and as Fortune proclaimed, “it does count.”

3. Declare Your Expectations

The story of how Smith grew Fed Ex with a marketing plan that earned a “C” grade from his professor in college has become a part of business folklore. Less well known is Smith’s considerable leadership talent. It’s not surprising. Frederick Smith served not one, but two, combat tours in Vietnam as a Marine Corps officer. Early on, a battle-hardened Marine sergeant took him aside and told him: “Lieutenant, there’s only three things you gotta remember: shoot, move, and communicate.”8 Smith carried the communication advice into business. He declares his expectations to his employees very clearly. Declaring his expectations and communicating them helped Smith to father a new industry.

When they meet his expectations, Smith follows through with a dramatic form of declaring his pleasure. New employees are taught that the highest compliment that can be given is “Bravo Zulu!” That’s Marine Corpsese for “Job well done, your performance rose above the call of duty.”

During the a major strike against competitor UPS , Fed Ex was swamped with almost a million extra packages every day. Thousands of employees came forward at midnight, weekends, and other odd times after their regular jobs to put in extra time to help sort packages. After it was all over, Smith ordered bonuses and took out full-page newspaper ads congratulating his employees. All ended with the phrase “Bravo Zulu!” Some say it meant more than the bonuses to Fed Ex workers. Smith knows how both to declare his expectations, and reward his followers when these expectations are attained.

4. Show Uncommon Commitment

Pat Patterson, a retired Air Force general, and one of my ordnance instructors when I was a West Point cadet became president of Ohio Precision Castings in Ohio. The company contracted to supply a new type of fuel pump for the then new B-1 bomber. Several million dollars and many jobs were on the line.

As Pat explained, “Molding these new pumps was no easy task. It had never been done before. No matter how carefully the molders worked, many of the pumps did not meet the specifications. There were so many rejects that we got behind schedule and were losing money. I was pretty worried.”

Pat could have renegotiated the contract. He could have asked for a delay. He could have scaled back the number of units he was required to supply. All of these alternatives would have meant profitability, but would have hurt the company’s reputation. It would have delayed production of the B-1. It would also have meant laying off some of his workers.

Others, faced with similar problems, did these things. Pat didn’t. Instead, he put everyone to work as they had never worked before. “I met repeatedly with the production crews and engineers. Everyone got into the spirit of solving the problem. I knew there had to be a solution and we tried all sorts of crazy things.”

Pat’s employees took note of his commitment. They saw he wasn’t going to quit. So they didn’t either. As his followers had done years earlier in the clouded skies over North Korea, they stuck with their leader. Finally, Pat’s experts found something interesting. Since they were dealing with a single molding material, normally the formula and molding temperature for each part was the same for all. Only the shape of the part varied. This time this wasn’t working. But what if they changed the formula and temperature to optimize it for each separate part?

Through experimentation, they found they could meet the specification by varying the temperature and formula for each individual part this way. But there was still a problem. Since each part required a different temperature and a different formula, it was not clear that developing and using so many different casting formulas simultaneously was possible. It had never been done before. Some of Pat’s people thought that this meant they could not succeed. One said, “Well boss, I guess this means we’ve got to re-negotiate the contract?”

Pat thought otherwise. Because of his uncommon commitment, they kept at it. Everyone was obsessed with finding a solution. They not only worked overtime, they worked night and day. Eventually, they discovered the correct formula for each separate casting. “We posted it near the molding production machine for each part,” Pat said. We molded each part differently. The number of rejects began to decline.

Then, they ran into yet another problem. Pat’s engineers found that air contacting the exterior of the aluminum molds caused the molding temperature to vary. Varying temperature caused minor differences in the parts. Minor, but out of tolerance again. Consultants said that nothing could be done. They said that air always leaked around the exterior of the mold to some degree. “The specifications required,” they maintained, “are just too tough.”

Pat wouldn’t give up. Because he wouldn’t give up, his workers wouldn’t give up. Because he was totally committed, so were his employees. “Finally, somebody came up with the idea of using ordinary plastic Saran Wrap to stop the air from escaping,” Pat says. “We tried it, and believe it or not it worked.”

Pat’s company got back on schedule and delivered the pumps on time. The company not only made a good profit and kept its reputation, but Pat’s employees kept their jobs. 9

5. Expect Positive Results

David Donlon was the new director of a product development department for a small company. For almost thirty years this company had been trying to win a government contract to produce the U.S. Army’s gas masks. This was a lucrative product to manufacture, because these masks were produced in very high quantities. And the company had the expertise. They produced oxygen breathing masks of various types, including for the airlines, and these were used worldwide. Much of the technology was similar, if not identical.

However, this small company faced a major problem. A large company produced virtually all the U.S. Army’s gas masks. Not only had this company been the sole source of these masks since World War, but it had won every single government research and development contract for the development of improved features for the product.

One day, this young manager learned that the Army intended to develop an entirely new gas mask. Visiting with army engineers and studying some of the specifications desired in a new mask, he realized that the development of the mask alone would involve a contract of several million dollars. The largest government development contract his small company had ever won up until then was for $250,000.

Convinced that his group had some special advantages to offer, he committed to bid and win this contract. He carefully planned how to do this. One of the challenges he had was to gain the acceptance and commitment of engineers and others who had been in the company for many years. They had been unsuccessful in competing against this larger company in the past. They had never been successful in winning so large a developmental contract. No one thought they had a chance.

Once he had his plans and answers ready, he gathered everyone. Like Xenophon, he spoke confidently to this group. He clearly expected positive results. “Together we are going to bid and win this contract,” he told them. Then, he told them why and he explained his plans. At first, they didn’t take him seriously. Then they realized that he meant it. They realized that he expected positive results.

Senior officers of the company considered the cost to bid the contract. They didn’t like the figures. It was more than they had ever invested previously. They presented arguments against bidding. It was too much money. They would waste time that could better be allocated to other “real” projects. They would look foolish to the government. They didn’t know enough about the product. But, David Donlon expected positive results and his self-confidence showed it. Because of his positive attitude, everyone he interacted with felt the same way. The effort they invested in putting together a proposal for this bid was considerable. It was much more than other contracts they bid for in the past.

It would be nice to be able to say that this great effort, based on their leader’s positive expectations, had an immediate payoff . . . that, they won the contract. Unfortunately, they didn’t. However, their bid and proposal was so good, that it caused the U.S. Army evaluators to re-think what they wanted. They didn’t award the contract to the smaller company. But, they didn’t award the contract to the larger one either. Instead, they delayed a year and then invited both companies to bid again, this time against slightly different specifications. Now, everyone in the little company realized that they could pull this off and win. Not only did their leader, David Donlon, expect positive results. They all did. This time, the government awarded the contract. And it was Donlon’s company that won it. The contract awarded was for $3,000,000, and it changed the little company forever.

6. Take Care of Your People

Mark Peters went to a small college in the mid-west and got a degree in engineering. He held a number of positions in different companies in industry. One day he was hired as director of operations by a company in Florida which sold fire alarm systems to large corporations. As director of operations, Mark was responsible for manufacturing and installing the company’s five product lines. A manager who reported to Mark headed every product line, and each manager supervised a group of workers. Four of his managers held degrees from universities. One engineer had come up from the ranks. His name was Irv. Mark found Irv to be extremely competent. If Mark wanted a difficult job done, he gave it to Irv. Mark considered Irv one of the best, if not the best, of his managers.

One day Mark sat down and reviewed the salaries of all of his employees. Mark was amazed to discover that even though Irv had the same responsibilities as his other managers, he was paid considerably less.

Mark spoke with the vice president of finance. “Irv came up from the ranks of the workers,” the vice president told him. “He has a couple years of college, but no degree. Our salaries are based on a formula which weights a degree heavily.”

“Irv is one of my best managers,” said Mark. “He deserves a comparable salary to the others because he earns it. We need to change the formula or make some kind of exception.”

“Irv has never complained,” answered the vice president. “I don’t see any reason for doing this. However, if you insist, it can’t be done all at once. Otherwise, the percentage increase would be too great. That’s against company policy, too and I won’t budge on it.”

Mark agreed that he would increase Irv’s salary by giving him periodic raises until his salary was compatible with the others.

A few months later, it was the Christmas season. Mark received a memorandum from the president. In it the president asked for recommendations for the coming Christmas bonuses. Mark called the president. “I don’t know how this is done,” he told the president.  “I assume you assign each department a certain amount of money and then divide this pot up according to my input.”

“That’s correct, Mark,” responded the president. “The vice president of finance and I get together and may make minor adjustments, but basically we will use the percentages you recommend.”

Mark worked out percentages based on the contributions of each member of his department and sent them to the president. On the last day before the Christmas vacation, Mark received a large pile of sealed envelopes from the finance department with a note: “These are the bonuses for your department. Please distribute them.”

Mark called the president right away. “These envelopes are sealed,” he said. “Each recipient will assume that the bonus I hand them is what I intend. If anyone made an error, I won’t know about it. I would like permission to open these envelopes to ensure they are correct before I give them out.” The president told Mark to go ahead.

Mark called in his managers and told them to check the bonuses for their workers. He checked the bonus of each of his managers. All were as he intended. That is, all except for one. Irv, who Mark wanted to get a larger bonus because of his greater contributions, got far less than any other manager.

Mark immediately called the president again and explained the problem. A few minutes later, the president called back. “We can’t give Irv a larger percentage because the bonus percentages are limited by base salary. Until Irv’s base salary is higher, the size of the bonus we  can give him is limited.”

“That is wrong,” said Mark. “I am in the process of raising his salary to make it equitable with the others. But by company policy I can’t do this all at once. However, to give him a bonus based on his salary, which is itself too low, and not based on performance is wrong. This is unfair. Moreover it sends the wrong message regarding this individual’s performance.”

“I’m sorry,” answered the president. “These questions are up to the vice president of finance. It’s his responsibility.”

“Boss,” said Mark, “if the company cannot give Irv more, I respect that, but I intend to give him an additional bonus out of my own pocket to make up the difference.”

Mark knew he was taking a big chance. The vice president of finance had been with the company for many years. Mark was a new manager. The president could fire him. Mark’s predecessor had been fired. However, Mark believed that taking care of his people was more important. It was what he saw on the battlefield, and Mark knew it was the right thing to do. There were several seconds of silence. Mark waited and said nothing. Then the president spoke. “Bring Irv’s bonus check to my office. It will be as you say.”

And so it was. No wonder Irv, Mark’s other managers and workers, and other employees and managers in the company respect and support Mark. When he asks his department to do “the impossible” in performance, time, or budget, they never fail him. They don’t fail him because he never fails them. Mark always takes care of his people. His future as a leader is assured.

7. Put Duty Before Self 

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, he drove himself unmercifully. He worked seven days a week, every week. Hap Arnold never served in combat. Still, during World War II, he secretly risked his life in disregard of his own welfare, placing the importance of the mission first.

In the middle of the war, Arnold had a heart attack. Some doctors told him that he must retire and give up the job 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. 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 backbreaking schedule throughout the war. All told, he had four heart attacks before the war ended.10

Arnold finally succumbed to a fatal attack. However, it was not until 1950, four and a half years after the war was over. Hap Arnold disregarded his personal well being. 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.

8. Get Out in Front

As president of Inland Laboratories in Austin, Texas, Dr. Mark Chandler headed up a $100 million company with a different kind of product. Inland sells toxins, viruses, and other biochemical products to medical researchers.

Some years ago, Inland needed two rare plants to refine into a cancer medicine. Unfortunately, these plants grew only in a Brazilian rainforest hundreds of miles from civilization. Chandler couldn’t buy them anywhere. Someone had to go into the jungle and harvest the plants right from the jungle. Perhaps he could have sent employees to find this rare foliage. However, their job descriptions did not include facing piranhas, deadly snakes, and headhunters. He knew this was one trip that no one else could lead.  So, Dr. Chandler got out in front.

Mark Chandler personally organized and led an eight-day expedition up the Amazon. And this wasn’t easy. Several days into the journey, he thought he was going to die. Burning up with fever and wracked by diarrhea, he plunged into the river to cool off, forgetting about piranhas and poisonous snakes. He was so sick, he just didn’t care. Two days later, the fever broke. A little after that, with the help of native guides, he got his plants. David Nance, president of Intron Therapeutics and a customer for more than ten years says, “Mark is equally comfortable in a loincloth, lab coat, or a three-piece suit.” Do you think employees want to work for a leader like Dr. Chandler? Do you think customers want to do business with him? They know that Chandler can be counted on to be out in front where the action is. No wonder Forbes gave Inland Laboratories a price/earning multiple of 40.11

We can all apply the eight universal laws of leadership. I found that many successful leaders in businesses and organizations of all types applied the universal laws even though they had never been in battle. For example, a girls’ high school soccer team in New York had five straight undefeated seasons. That was more than forty victories without a loss. Yet, during the same period, other athletic teams of both males and females did only mediocre. The difference? A leader by the name of Arthur Resnick.

When there was no money for uniforms and equipment, Resnick used his own, or got out in front and helped his students raise money. That’s universal law number eight: get out in front.

Other coaches thought it a good season if they won more than they lost. Resnick expected to win every time. That’s universal law number five: expect positive results.

Other coaches believed that rank had its privileges. No matter the situation,  Resnick saw to his players’ welfare before his own. That’s universal law number seven: take care of your people.

Other coaches took the credit for their victories and implied that one or more of their players had a bad day when they were defeated. Resnick gave the credit for victory where it belonged: to his players. If things didn’t go quite right on the soccer field, Resnick took the blame. That’s universal law number one: maintain absolute integrity.

Is it any surprise that Resnick’s players rewarded his efforts by winning year after year? That Resnick’s players would do almost anything rather than lose? Coach Resnick practiced The Stuff of Heroes. He did what other coaches did not do. As a result, Coach Resnick led his girls soccer teams to victory after victory, no matter who their competitor or what odds they faced.

So, I believe if you put the eight universal laws into practice this book is the basis of what you need to do to lead any organization under a wide variety of conditions. It doesn’t make any difference whether you are a CEO of a major corporation, or trying to coach a girl’s soccer team.

The Stuff of Heroes is simple, but not easy. Apply these eight laws and you’ll be the leader that others like me write about.

1 Drucker, Peter F. The Practice of Management (Harper and Row: New York, 1955) p. 194.

2 Drucker, Peter F. Meeting with the author, November 7, 1997.

3 Kelly, Orr, From a Dark Sky,  (New York: Pocket Books, 1996) p. 280.

4 McCutchan, Clay, telephone conversation with the author October 1, 1997.

5 McCutchan, Clay, letter to the author March 10, 1998.

6 Fisher, Anne, “Six Ways to Supercharge Your Career,” Fortune (January 13, 1997) p.46.

7 Zellner, Wendy, “The Right Time, The Right Place,” Business Week (May 27, 1996) pp. 74-75.

8 Grant, Linda, “Why FedEx is Flying High,” Fortune (November 10, 1997) p 158, 160.

9 Patterson, George K., telephone conversations with the author April 4, 11, 1996.

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

11 Mack, Toni, “Indiana Jones, Meet Mark Chandler, Forbes, (May 23, 1994) pp. 100-104.



William A. Cohen, PhD, Major General, USAFR, Ret.




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No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and hearts of his men.  Anonymous – The Infantry Journal


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