Definition of a Leader

“I’ll tell you what war is all about.  You’ve got to kill people, and when you kill enough of them, they stop fighting.”

WHOA!~  Does that kind of make you squirm a bit?  Yeah…it makes me uncomfortable too.

So you ask, what does that quote have anything to do with leadership?  Well, that’s a quote from Curtis LeMay.  There’s a good chance that unless you’re a historian, you’ve never heard of Curtis LeMay.

Curtis LeMay is a American War hero that was most influential during WW2.  His command dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.  He torched 64 Japanese cities and 16 square miles of Tokyo.  LeMay’s presence in the United States Airforce was a driving factor in why the emperor of Japan ultimately surrendered.

So, again you ask- what does war, torching cities and destruction have anything to do with leadership.  Well check this out.  LeMay’s first mission was against the WW2 powerhouse, Germany.  He was tasked with leading 35 brand new pilots directly into enemy territory.  At a time when most planes flew in a zigzag pattern to avoid being hit by enemy fire, his orders where not to zigzag, but to beeline towards his target.  Literally, these 35 men were so young and new to flying they didn’t think they would be able to cross the Atlantic Ocean successfully, let alone fly directly into enemy territory.

So picture this, you’re 18 years old.  You’re in the midst of World War 2.  No one has ever flown directly towards their target and your leader tells you that you will be first to do so.  You’re in disbelief that your mission can be completed and so are your company-men. The aura in the room is death is imminent.

Now, mind you, LeMay is a Air Force Colonel.  He can command troups from the ground and minimize his risk in combat.  But LeMay chooses otherwise.  Curtis LeMay tells his men that he is going to fly the lead bomber- the first bomber the Germans would target.  

LeMay simply didn’t bark orders and sit from the ground and observe.  He led his folks into the hardest mission of their lives.  He risked being the first shot down in order to make others believe and follow.  He led by example and did not instruct others to take action that he would not.  Now that’s a definition of a leader.

By the way- I read this in the April 30th 2013 edition of Investors Business Daily under the Leaders and Success section.  The article is called “LeMay Won for America.”   Here’s the link to the article;





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