Ask Gleaves Leadership Seminars - Leading with Courage

Uploaded by gvsu on 31.01.2011


Welcome to this latest installment of Ask Gleaves,
and Ask Gleaves Seminar.
Today I'm scheduled to talk about courage.
And this is a topic that's just an amazing topic, because
you have the opportunity to tell such great stories, to
expose apprentice leaders to such great stories.
I want to start by going through some notes that I've
taken on my blog site, a little essay on courage.
So I'm going to walk you through that and then at the
end I'm going to give you a copy of the essay that I wrote
about this.
And you'll see the other essays that I've written on
Gleaves Whitney at BlogSpot, where I've developed certain
leadership themes.
And I hope you will go into that site and mine it anything
that you need as you learn more and more about the
virtues and the effectiveness of good leaders.
Our mission at the Hauenstein Center for Presidential
Studies is to foster ethical, effective leaders.
And courage is the essential virtue for both of those.
As Saint Paul famously expressed it, "if the trumpet
gave an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself to the
battle?" If the leader is not courageous, does not show
courage, no one probably underneath the leader will
feel like rushing into the breach.

Courage is essential to ethical readership because it
ensures that decisions will be made and that people will be
handled with integrity.
It's essential to effective leadership because it ensures
that the decisions will be implemented.
Without courage people don't get things done.
Courage is one of those cardinal virtues that go way
back in Western history.
If you go back to Plato and Saint Augustine and Saint
Thomas Aquinas, they regarded it as a cardinal virtual along
with prudence, temperance, and justice.
Cardinal comes from cardo, the Latin word for "hinge." And
the concept is very simple-- your moral life hinges on
these four virtues.
If you're courageous, the course of your life goes
better, it takes a better turn.
If you lack courage, the course of your life takes a
worse turn.
And the same goes for prudence, temperance, and
Very briefly, justice is given to each person that person's
Dealing with them honestly and forth rightly.
Temperance, of course, is the ability to control your
Prudence is the ability to make good decisions.
It has been said that prudence is the most important virtue
that a leader has.
Because it's the prudent person who knows what decision
should be made in the first place and whether courage then
should apply to the decision that has been made.

There's a there's a great line from High Noon, and-- does
anybody know that movie?
High Noon.
You know, it's Grace Kelly and no-- who is it?
Two stars.
Wrong crowd.
Yeah, wrong crowd.
I need Cathy here with me.
I know one with Tom Skerritt.
These are two great actors.
But anyway, the theme song in High Noon talks about a craven
coward, which is redundancy, but without courage we end up
being craven cowards and things can really get bad in a
The prevailing definition of courage, if you just look it
up in Merriam-Webster, is "the mental or moral strength to
venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or
difficulty." Aristotle famously defines courage as a
mean between two extremes.
Recklessness, total recklessness on the one hand,
and the paralyzing fear that overcomes us, on the other
hand, at times.
It's important to realize that courage is not disengaged from
the feeling of fear that we can have. If you don't feel
fear, then you don't have the opportunity to be courageous.
Think about it.
So it's not the absence of fear that causes people to
rush into a burning building and drag people out.
It's overcoming the fear, is the courage.
And that's an essential thing to understand.
If you lack fear in the face of real danger, then you're
You've got some disease, psychologically.
Or you're just dumb.
You don't understand, at that point in your life, that you
are facing a situation that requires you to exercise
So courage takes into account, always, the fears you have.
It's normal to feel that.

Leaders need courage or fortitude in two areas.
The less apparent area is in their inner life.
The inner life is the most important part of a person.
Because if your inner life is agitated, if it's not at
peace, if you don't have integrity, you're not going to
treat other people the way they need to be treated.
The inner life is essential for developing character.

That's what education does.
Education mostly takes place in our inner life.
No matter what the discussion is outwardly, no matter what
classes you take, what your transcript says, what's going
inside you counts a lot more.
I had a wonderful lunch yesterday with Marty Allen.
He said his mentor taught him the most important thing when
hiring somebody is judgment.
And you see it from the very first minutes of an interview.
Good judgment.
He said, I'll train them.
Whatever their lack is, I'll train them.
But, boy, if that person shows me they lack good judgment,
write them off right away.
He also added good taste.
People have good taste and good judgment, which is kind
of interesting.
That was Dick [? Gillette's ?]
advice to Marty Allen at the beginning this career.
So education, whether it's good judgment or courage, it
takes place in a struggle inside ourselves.
It's a lifelong process.
That's the most important place where courage happens.
Because it will help you overcome your deficiencies and
weaknesses-- that we all have-- face your inner demons.
Those are the things that require the most courage.
If you have a habit that needs breaking, if you consistently
show bad judgment and people are trying to give you the
signal, hey, you shouldn't be doing this, and you don't face
your inner demons and change, that's a lack of courage.
That's a lack of a cardinal virtue.
And your character suffers as a result, and you don't
develop and grow as a person.
So that's the tough part.
It takes courage to face down one's interior demons and do
the hard work to change for the better.
To do what's right.
To do what's effective.
And to do what's good for the team.
We think of courage, though, in leadership seminars, and
the other sense.
It's important, but I would argue not nearly as important
as what's going on inside you, but it's in fulfilling your
public duties and your work duties, no matter what sector
you're in.
Whether you're in the for-profit sector, the
government sector, the nonprofit sector.
We have duties as leaders.
Courage is that capacity to make the tough decision-- the
51-49 decision-- and then to implement it, regardless of
the backlash of angry colleagues, offending people
who say they have sensitivity in this particular area,
regardless of special interests, regardless of a
potential nose dive in public approval.
Leaders cannot become paralyzed for fear of
disappointing people.
Courage helps them stay focused on doing the ethical
and effective thing.
And besides having the courage to make the tough decision and
to implement the tough decision in fulfilling your
public duties, you need to have the courage to go back
and reevaluate the decision you've made as implemented.
It takes a lot of courage to say you're sorry.
And people who can't say they're sorry lack courage, in
addition to lacking prudence.
People who can't say, I made a mistake when I implemented
this decision and our policy suffers as a result, they'll
be voted out of office.
If they don't learn to train themselves and discipline
themselves, the world will discipline them.
It's just the way it works.
It's one of the things I think we parents tell our children.
We discipline you with love and patience.
Patience, some of the time.
If you don't learn the lesson at home, the world's going to
discipline you and you'll find out real fast what people will
and will not put up with.
So you have to have the ability after you've implement
something to say, oh, wow.
I blew it there.
Or, I shouldn't have done that.
And then go back to the people involved and say, we've got to
correct course, here.
And that offends people, too.
Because people buy in to whatever you decided in the
first place, you now you've got to go back to them and
say, uh-uh.
We're not going to do it that way.
They've got to accept the consequences, you've got to
accept the consequences.
Failing that, the team is not helped.

There a lot of great illustrations of courage.
As I say, it's one of my favorite topics because there
are so many things you could talk about.
And in fact, I want to make sure that we all have the
While I'm giving you four or five examples of courage, I
would like for you right now to start thinking about an
example of a courageous leader in your own experience or
reading that you could share with us.
I'll share with you a few of them that mean a lot to me.
One of them strictly local here.
President Gerald R.
He comes into office on the heels of a disgrace
presidency, President Richard Nixon, who violated the public
trust when he lied.

Lying is one of the most craven, cowardly things that
human beings do.
Nixon lied about his involvement in Watergate, what
he knew.
And it became constitutional issue once people started
being subpoenaed and he was called on to be truthful.
He resigned in disgrace, President Ford takes over.
This is on August 9, 1974.
Within a month, President Ford would see all of the problems
unfold that the country was facing, that he had to deal
with as President of the United States.
Economy was in a shambles, we'd had an energy crisis, we
were on our way to another energy crisis.
Long gas lines.
You guys have no idea what that's like, see lines of cars
going out blocks to fill up your tank.
Turn off the car each time.
It was a nightmare.
I was in high school.

We had fallout from the Vietnam era still.
America had lost its confidence.
We really did not know what we were doing in foreign policy
because we had, settled over us, the Vietnam Syndrome.
And so a lot of our leaders were paralyzed.
Domestic trouble on college campuses.
Unrest because students had been part of the draft.
If you want student activists, make them part of a draft and
then all of a sudden-- you're a generation of complacent
students-- all of a sudden they become very activist.
When you have to go to Afghanistan, all of a sudden
you start marching.

People don't do that unless it's their hide, usually.
In great numbers.
But it was in great numbers in the '70s, in my generation.
I had to get a draft card, for example.
So I was part of that cohort.

Ford had so many problems that every time he held a press
conference in his first days in office-- because he was
trying to reestablish trust and faith in the American
people in the office of the President, in himself.
Because he was still relatively unknown.
He was from a congressional district in Michigan-- he had
not been elected under the terms of the Constitution.
He became Vice President under the terms the 25th Amendment.
So he's the only president we've ever had who was not
elected to the office.
So he's trying to establish trust in the office and in
himself and he's trying to heal the nation that has been
wounded by so many divisions because of war, energy crises,
domestic confusion, chaos.
Truly a sense back then, if you lived through that era,
of, we could break into a civil war.
There was so much unhappiness, publicly.
So he gets to these press conferences in his first days
in office, and what do the journalists want to ask about?
Even though you have this galloping inflation and
everything else going on, what are you going to do with
You going to pardon Nixon?
There's a rumor that you're going to pardon Nixon.
And he said, again and again, it had becomes an urban
legend-- you know, they didn't use that term back then.
But everyone was convinced, erroneously, that he was going
to pardon Nixon.
That there had been a deal.
Now of course, that was the conventional wisdom of the
day, and we all know that that was false.
Subsequent history has never turned up any deal.
Even people like Ted Kennedy and Bella Abzug and another
Democrats who were not fond of Ford admitted that that was
just crazy talk at the time.
But crazy talk has a tendency to become it's own reality
Ford kept saying, you know, we've got to get beyond Nixon.
I can't continue to worry about Nixon and pardoning
Nixon and solve the problems in our foreign policy and
domestic challenges.
We've got to get over it, folks.
We've got to move on.
Ford estimated that 25% of his time was being taken up,
especially at these press conferences, by questions of
Nixon's pardon.
And he kept saying, will you all listen?
There was no deal for me becoming president in exchange
for pardoning him.
I don't care what you think.
There was no deal.
But people can be stupidly stubborn about such things.
So he had a real mess on his hands.
He finally decided one weekend about a month in the office,
after he consulted pastors here in West Michigan,
including Duncan Littlefair at Fountain--
and others, he finally decided that he needed to depart from
justice, the cardinal virtue of justice, which is to each
according to his due, and Nixon deserved to be punished,
but exercise mercy, which transcends justice.

So it was the quality of mercy, after talking with the
theologians, his pastors, and other very wise people, and
said, the humane thing to do is not strictly to render
justice here.
The humane thing to do to Nixon is to exercise mercy.
The man has already been punished.
At that point people thought he was dying because of the
disease he had.
He looked horrible.
He was going to be punished in his own conscience.
He was going to be punished because of his isolation now
from public policy.
And his body was being punished.
Almost as though the gods were conspiring to cooperate with
this sense of outrage at him.
Because he had done wrong.

Ford went to church on Sunday, the 8 of September.
He settled in his decision, he came back to the Oval Office,
and he signed the papers to pardon Richard M.
This meant that Nixon would not be prosecuted for any
crimes, specifically crimes associated with Watergate.
Well, that was one of the toughest decisions I think a
chief executive has ever made.
The poll numbers showed it.
Here he'd just been in office a month.
Within 24 hours his approval rating went from 71% to 50%.
It's the largest 24 hour drop in approval ratings in polling
history of a President of the United States.
Ford knew.
He had been advised that if he made this decision, he
probably would not be reelected two years later
during the campaign of 1976.
Excuse me, I shouldn't have said reelected.
He was never elected under the terms of our 25th Amendment.
He would never be elected on his own right two years later.
But Ford was willing to make that tough call and stand in
front of people and say, I know you think there was a
There wasn't.
I can live with my own conscience, I don't care what
you say.
And he lived with his own conscience to the end.
And history proved him right.
He was vindicated.
History proved that Nixon suffered because he did not
get a deal.
And Ford has been vindicated.
In fact, he got the Profile in Courage Award from the John F.
Kennedy Foundation back in 2001.
Where all these journalists like Richard Reeves and
Woodward and Bernstein and all these guys came forward and
said, we thought you were wrong.
We thought there was a deal.
We were convinced.
We had been echoing the same to ourselves so many times.
We thought we had the story.
And we know.
We've been humbled.
We were wrong, we apologize to you.
The tables totally turned.
So President Ford does deserve that Profile in Courage Award
for a remarkable act on behalf of his country.
It saved his administration from being preoccupied.
Because when he took Nixon off the table and said, we will
not pardon Nixon, we will not prosecute Nixon, he was
saying, I'm going to go about the people's real business
We've got to get this inflation under control.
We've got to get a sane energy policy.
We've got to get our foreign policy under control.
So that right here, locally, we have a great story about a
Profile in Courage.
And if you want to learn more about it, go over to the Ford
Museum across the street and go to the cabinet room.
And they have four decisions, tough decisions, that
President Ford had to make while he was president, and
the pardon of Richard Nixon was one of them.
And go through the little exercise there, and you'll
find it interesting.
Good leaders know how to make courageous decisions, the
tough decisions.
Even when it goes against the grain, it goes against what
everybody else is thinking.
Ford even had to deal with, by the way, the resignation of
one of his top aides.
He said, if you do this, I'm resigning.
It was a friend and an aide back here in West Michigan.
Ford said, I'm sorry.
I had to do the right thing.
So courageous leaders know how to go against the popular
You know, the seeming right thing, by conventional wisdom,
when they sense otherwise.
And they have to follow their informed conscience.
Another example that I like to talk about is Admiral James
He was an amazing man.
You might have heard from him in presidential history
because he was Ross Perot's presidential running mate in
Ross Perot ended up getting 19% in that election, the
Perot/Stockdale tickets.
It was one of the largest showings of a third party in
the 20th century.
A fine man, an incredible man.
Anybody here seen the movie, Hanoi Hilton?

Well, Hanoi Hilton came out probably, I think it was in
the late '80s.
And if you watch that movie you'll never quite be the
Because you realize what our vets went through who were
captured in North Vietnam and taken to Hanoi.
At the Hanoi Hilton they suffered excruciating pain and
torture and shock.

Stockdale was in one of the first sorties over North
Vietnam when he was shot down.
First of all, when he ejected the flak came up, his plane
was going down.
When he ejected there was something happened that
malfunctioned and he broke his back during the ejection.
And because his back was broken and he's coming toward
the ground, you know, it's coming closer and closer, he
just has to be the best he can for that landing.
He breaks a leg during the landing itself.
He's found, he's dragged, he's beaten.
Eventually transferred to Hanoi, the infamous hellhole
called the Hilton.
He's tortured numerous times because he will not break.
He will not give those sons of bitches what they want.
He will not.
He's loyal.
He will not betray his team.

That's courage.
Several of those guys were so tempted to betray the team,
and it would've been understandable because of the
Stockdale was the lead, the commander in the Hanoi Hilton.
Developed a communication system of taps
and they were able to communicate with each other
with a tin cup, whatever they had at hand.
Or just something like a little piece of grout from the
He was able to communicate and keep their morale up.
This was a man who would be shocked to the point of
electrocution by death.
And yet he would come back and communicate.
Because he knew the team-- it was essential.
That's courage to face that kind of personal danger to
your life, not knowing whether you would ever make it out
alive and see your wife, your children, your family, your
loved ones.
Die, perhaps anonymously.
And yet, to be able to face that kind of pain numerous
times, broken bones numerous times.
In fact, he was so loyal-- courage and loyalty go very
closely together, here-- he was so loyal that he tried to
commit suicide at one point because he was afraid he
couldn't withstand the pain anymore.
Another torture.
And the North Vietnamese revived him.
And you know what happened?
The Commandant at the Hanoi Hilton saw him shortly after
he had been revived and he said, I'm going to leave you
You have proven yourself a worthy enemy.
Your loyalty is amazing to your team.
And not everybody's been loyal in here, but you have been.
We're not going to torture you anymore.

He didn't want any favors from them, but that's the way it
turned out.
And he was able to return.
He was never the same man.
Physically, he limped.
The lines in his face were deeper.
His hair went from brown to white.

But morally, he was one of the tallest human beings in the
And you read his story-- and we have his story, he tells it
in 30 pages-- you read his story, this is a great man.
That's courage.

I'll be very brief, here.
A third example is Martin Luther at the beginning of the
16th century.
One of the famous lines-- and I'll say it in German-- one of
the famous lines of the beginning of the modern era,
where Martin Luther is taking on the entire Catholic Church,
the entire institution.
I'm Catholic, so I'm not bashing.
I'm taking a swipe at my own church, here.
The Catholic Church had done wrong.
The Catholic Church had not reformed where it should, and
it was doing some things that were very, very denigrating to
the faith.
And Martin Luther looked at the Catholic Church and even
though he was an Augustinian monk, and even though he was a
doctor who taught theology, he said, I will support this
pope, I will defend this faith, but it has to be
grounded in natural law and in the Bible.
He said, here's the standard.
But I'm not going to go along with these corruptions.
And there's point at his trial where he's not physically
tortured, but he is mentally tortured.
This man agonized so much-- he worried-- he had kind of a
high anxiety personality, anyway.
And at his trial he was so tempted to break.
Because everybody kept saying, if you just agree that you're
wrong, then you can go about living your peaceful life
And there was that temptation.
He kept going to it.
He'd go back to his cell and he would think.
And finally, one day he said, no.
And he said, in German, hier stehe ich.
Ich kann nichts andreres.
Here I still.
I cannot do anything else.
I will stand with the truth.
And I don't care what torture, what manner of death, what
manner of criticism you put in my face.
I'm standing with the truth.

He went up against the institution of the Western
And he survived it.
And he went on to translate the Bible and write a number
of very interesting tracts.
It doesn't matter whether you're Lutheran or even
Christian, it's a story that's incredibly powerful.
Whether it's a Ford standing up to the American people and
their conventional wisdom, or whether it's an Admiral
Stockdale standing in front of a brutal enemy, or a Martin
Luther standing in front of a whole institution, know and do
the right thing.
Do you see the theme in those first three?
It's what happened inside, the schooling of virtue, inside
that person's character that made it possible for these
individuals to prevail outwardly.

Because I'm a Texan, I've got to a use a Texas example.
Sam Houston.
He was governor in 1860, 1861.
He was the guy who had made himself famous.
He had been talked about as presidential candidate before
he ever moved to Texas.
He was from Tennessee, he had served there.

But when he goes to Texas, he becomes the first President of
the Lone Star Republic.
He later became a senator, and then when the Civil War broke
out in 1861-- 150 years ago-- he was Governor of Texas.
And the pressure on him by 90% of Texans, and certainly as
unanimous in the legislature, was Texas secede from the
Union and become part of the C.S.A., the Confederate States
of America.
And he said, no, I won't do it.
The Union must stand.
And so here a governor takes on his own people, who had
elected him.
Said, I don't care what you say.
I don't care what you think.
You're wrong.
We've got to keep the Union.
If the United States starts to break off, then we will not
have learned our lesson from the founders and from George
Washington, in particular, who, in that farewell address
said, we have to stay together.
Team loyalty.

Courage and loyalty, as I said, go together.

So Houston had to resign.
And in fact, the Union Army, President Lincoln offered him
an army to come down.
And if he raised an army he could have reinforcements and
he could even fight the Confederates that he was going
against. But he decided he didn't want bloodshed, but he
was going to do the right thing.
So he stayed in retirement.
And he died a broken man a few years later.
John F.
Kennedy, by the way, in the famous book Profiles in
Courage, mentions Sam Houston as one of the dozen examples.
The last example.
I would not want us ever to neglect literature.
Great literature offers lots of opportunities to study
courage, offers many profiles in courage.
Brilliant ones.
And I think the most dramatic, one of my favorites, is
Antigone by the playwright Sophocles in fifth century,
B.C., Athens.
Because Antigone is a teenage girl in a man's world.

In an adult world where adults make decisions.
She is a niece of the king, so she's the subject of a king.
And as a teenager she decides to oppose her uncle, who's the
head of the family and the King of Thebes.
In a man's world, an adult world, she has four things
going against her.
Who of you would expect a teenage girl to be able to
stand up to the head of the family clan, Creon, who also
happens to be the king.
I mean, just standing up to the king would be tough.
Just standing up to your uncle would be tough.
Just standing up in an adult world as a teenager would be
Just standing up as a woman in a man's world would be tough.
But Antigone does all four.
She has incredible courage, and it comes down to the
decision-- her loyalty is expressed not to a very flawed
man who makes a very flawed ruling not to bury her
brother, her loyalty is to the gods, and natural law as she
understands it.
Her brother dies.
And Creon says about his nephew, he shouldn't have a
proper burial.
He was treasonous.
And Antigone says, that outrages everything I've ever
Every human being deserves a burial, regardless.
And actually, my brother didn't do anything wrong, but
that beside the point, he deserves to be buried.
He's a human being.

The interesting thing about this play Antigone is that the
chorus comes in.
The chorus represents conventional wisdom.
theme I'm developing here is that no matter what
conventional wisdom says, no matter what you hear on the
street, it can be wrong.
And a courageous person says, I'm going to go against
conventional wisdom.
I'm not going to follow it, because there's a principal at
stake, there's truth at stake, or whatever.
The conventional wisdom was represented by the Theban
chorus that kept saying, Antigone, you have got to obey
the king.
And he's your uncle.
And he knows better because he's the man and you're just a
And he's an adult with all this experience and you're
just a teeny bopper.
Get over yourself.
Obey conventional wisdom, here.
So that's what the Theban chorus, which represents CW,
that's out there just keeps saying, we're the conventional
wisdom, here.
We know from the wisdom of the species, [UNINTELLIGIBLE]--
this is what you should do.
Just pipe down.
And Antigone says, no.
I won't back down.
And in Greek it means, unbending.
Her name means unbending.
I will not bend on this.
This is a matter of principle.
I will not let Polyneices, my brother, go unburied where the
worms and the animals are tearing his body part.

She does managed to bury Polyneices.
Her sister refuses to help her.
Her sister is terrified.
Her sister reflects conventional wisdom.
Ismene turns out to be not a bad person, she just goes with
the crowd.
And she's wrong.
Antigone holds her ground.
And Creon says to her, when they have a confrontation, I
told you don't bury Polyneices.
I regarded him as a traitor to our polis.
And she said, I'm sorry dear Uncle.
I'm sorry Your Highness.
I don't even know what to call you.
I'm sorry, but I had to do the right thing.
The gods decree that all human beings, upon their death,
deserve a burial.
It's part of the order of things.
And so Creon does something that's especially cruel.
It's the flip side.
You have the brother, who is not buried, put under ground
dead-- according to Creon.
He orders his niece Antigone to be buried alive.

So she's going to be-- Polyneices is dead above the
ground, she will be alive below the ground.
So he violates natural law a second time.
Conventional wisdom, when it hears the senates-- remember
we were talking about mercy versus justice?
Technically, if you read Sophocles, Creon has his
Sophocles pretty much makes it clear that you must obey the
He sets the rules.
But Sophocles also shows that Creon is wrong.
That conventional wisdom can be changed.
And in fact, the chorus, once they see what's going to
happen to Antigone, begins to have second thoughts.
It's right to obey the king.
It's right for a teenage girl to obey her uncle, the oldest
remaining male authority-- because her father had died.
But Creon, in this case, is wrong.
The chorus changes.
Conventional wisdom changes.
And note what happens.
It's because of her tiny voice, her tiny but mighty
voice, that conventional wisdom changes.
Now that's the amazing thing about this story.
Sophocles isn't writing in a women's world.
Or in a teenager's world.
Or as a minor relative or as-- I mean, he is a subject of a
Or of the law of Athens.
But he's able to show how one person can make a difference.
And I think that that play by Sophocles is instrumental.
It's used as an object lesson for the rest of Western
How you have the right and the duty to stand up for what is
right, but you have to cultivate the courage.
Antigone had obviously had incredible education prior to
her decision, whatever it came from.
We don't know from the information in Sophocles.
But her character was such that she could stand up in a
man's world to the males, to the adults, to her king, and
to the head of her family.
And all the individuals that I've mentioned had something
in that character of theirs that made it possible for them
to do likewise.
That's really where courage meets the road.
Of course, what makes the headlines is what happens on
the outside.
But again, I want to emphasize-- courage, like all
of the cardinal virtues, is an interior disposition that is
And the only way we develop it is by exercising it.
It's by examining ourselves in the face of danger and saying,
I'm going to do the right thing.
I'm going to be loyal to what is true and good.
I'm going to be loyal to what is right.
And I don't care what people think.
I can live with myself if I do that.
That's courage.