How can you know that unless you’ve taken counsel with yourself in solitude? I started by noting that solitude and leadership would seem to be contradictory things. But it seems to me that solitude is the very essence of leadership. The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.
These are truly formidable dilemmas, more so than most other people will ever have to face in their lives, let alone when they’re 23. The time to start preparing yourself for them is now. And the way to do it is by thinking through these issues for yourself—morality, mortality, honor—so you will have the strength to deal with them when they arise. Waiting until you have to confront them in practice would be like waiting for your first firefight to learn how to shoot your weapon. Once the situation is upon you, it’s too late. You have to be prepared in advance. You need to know, already, who you are and what you believe: not what the Army believes, not what your peers believe (that may be exactly the problem), but what you believe.
A good leader can take an organization to the next level. I believe any kind of organization needs a leader with the qualities you mentioned above. I have seen few companies going bankrupt because of bad leadership. And then there are few which became so big with a good leadership and management.
We need to begin by talking about what leadership really means. I just spent 10 years teaching at another institution that, like West Point, liked to talk a lot about leadership, Yale University. A school that some of you might have gone to had you not come here, that some of your friends might be going to. And if not Yale, then Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and so forth. These institutions, like West Point, also see their role as the training of leaders, constantly encourage their students, like West Point, to regard themselves as leaders among their peers and future leaders of society. Indeed, when we look around at the American elite, the people in charge of government, business, academia, and all our other major institutions—senators, judges, CEOs, college presidents, and so forth—we find that they come overwhelmingly either from the Ivy League and its peer institutions or from the service academies, especially West Point.
So I began to wonder, as I taught at Yale, what leadership really consists of. My students, like you, were energetic, accomplished, smart, and often ferociously ambitious, but was that enough to make them leaders? Most of them, as much as I liked and even admired them, certainly didn’t seem to me like leaders. Does being a leader, I wondered, just mean being accomplished, being successful? Does getting straight As make you a leader? I didn’t think so. Great heart surgeons or great novelists or great shortstops may be terrific at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re leaders. Leadership and aptitude, leadership and achievement, leadership and even excellence have to be different things, otherwise the concept of leadership has no meaning. And it seemed to me that that had to be especially true of the kind of excellence I saw in the students around me.
Anytime a leader is attempting to build a team it is essential to have a core group of people who understand each other. This action enables the establishment of stability before diversity and conflict come along. Be sure of one thing conflict will evolve in any team effort. Before Jesus recruited the other eight disciples, his first action was to create a stable core.
The act of Christ in recruiting the first disciples is a lesson in how important it is for any leader to begin with people who share common traits and values. These four men did not have to explain themselves to one another, neither did they have to learn each other’s backgrounds.
They accumulate wealth and spend it, often in excess, leading to a dependence on monetary policy and increase in the demand of wealth in the general population.
This is how a timocracy turns into an oligarchy, where riches are concentrated in the hands of a few.
Plato also highlights problems an oligarchy will face as a result of this divide.
▶ The rich men will consolidate power and wealth leaving the poor desperate for social emancipation, causing them to rebel against the oligarchs.
▶ Also, the threat from foreign aggressors may be greater, as the governing class, due to their far lesser numbers will be unable to amass a huge army, they will be reluctant to arm the oppressed working class too, fearing a revolt.
Like before, Plato says that the oligarch can be the son of a timocratic king, but without the love of honor and integrity that the latter possessed.
In the Gospel, according to Matthew (), the first two people that Jesus called were fishermen who also were brothers. Their names were Peter and Andrew. The next two recruits were friends of Peter and Andrew who were also fishermen. They were brothers whose names were James and John. Is this process of Jesus’ first recruits insignificant or is there a lesson to be learned?
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That is exactly what places like Yale mean when they talk about training leaders. Educating people who make a big name for themselves in the world, people with impressive titles, people the university can brag about. People who make it to the top. People who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to.
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