took a turn at the podium, I clicked away at my mobile telephone to look
up the book text from my Kindle app, apologizing to the audience that I
was not checking my email. I finally found the section I wanted to
reference the text, I will preface that there is an ongoing debate about
the Liberal Arts & Sciences as an educational framework versus trade
schools. Each has advantages, of course, and no choice would be
correct for all circumstances. But I defer, in deepest respect, to
Admiral Stockdale, who impliedly, if not expressly, addresses this
start by saying that when I first identified the book to the audience,
there were some soft giggles. The reason? Some persons may
have thought the book name was supposed to be a causal speaker's joke,
which it certainly was not, as you now know. But, deeper yet, why
the giggles? Because, quite simply, the name of the book is
somewhat of an oxymoron: a fighter pilot is the epitome of a human war
mechanism, a highly detailed human machine trained to make decisions
regarding some of the most complex and sophisticated weaponry.
Fighter pilots are smart, decisive, and intellectually mechanized.
Philosophers, on the other hand, are perceived to be theoretical and
impractical. Thus, the superficial contradiction.
philosophy is not impractical; it is simply overlooked: it being as
subtle and ubiquitous as the ground we fail to
contemplate, although we walk on it each day.
Stockdale returned from 8 years of captivity, of which 4 years he
endured torture (at one point having a body weight of 50lbs), he was
often asked to speak about his experiences to aid in the training of
others regarding life events. This is a phenomenal work.
Pushing buttons on a fighter weapon is one thing, but existing within a
context of psychological challenges is quite another thing. As we
all have challenges thrust upon us, Admiral Stockdale outlines the framework of leadership.
an excerpt that I referenced for the freshmen, slightly abridged,
would like to share my views with you.
let me make one point first. I think these criteria are
important because our changing times demand the kind of person who
can lead in troubled times. Down the road, locating these
individuals will be crucial to the welfare of all sectors of our
society. I'm not talking about our "nominal" leaders who may
look the part, who say the right things, who indeed may be the right
people in calm waters. I'm talking about the leaders who, to
use Melville's phrase, "in time of peril" come out of nowhere to
control the flow of events: the businessman who rises to the top to
keep a company afloat during a depression; the warrior who takes
command of a decimated battalion, rallies its spirit, and makes it
whole again; the mayor who gets the bankrupt city back on its feet.
Frequently, these are not the people the public was acclaiming
before the fire started. These are the natural leaders to whom
others instinctively turn in times of crisis, who become the leaders
through trial by fire.
are the true qualities we're looking for?
me examine just five.
1. Must Be a Moralist. First, in order to lead under
duress, one must be a moralist. By that, I don't mean being a
poseur, one who sententiously exhorts his comrades to be good.
I mean he must be a thinker. He must have the wisdom, the
courage, indeed the audacity to make clear just what, under the
circumstances, the good is. This requires a clear perception
of right and wrong and the integrity to stand behind one's
assessment. The surest way for a leader to wind up in the ash
can of history is to have a reputation for indirectness or deceit.
A disciplined life will encourage commitment to a personal code of
2. Must Be a Writer of Law. Second, there are times when
leaders must be jurists, when their decisions must be based solely
on their own ideas of fairness. In effect, they will be
writing "law." When they're on the hot seat, they'll need the
courage to withstand the inclination to duck a problem. Many
of their laws will necessarily be unpopular, but they must never be
unjust. Cool, glib, cerebral, detached guys can get by in
positions of authority until the pressure is on. Then people
ease away from them and cling to those they know they can
trust-those who can mete out just punishment and look their charges
in the eye as they do it. When the chips are down, the man
with the heart, not the soft heart, not the bleeding heart, but the
Old Testament heart of wisdom, the hard heart, comes into his own.
3. Must Be a Teacher. Third, every good leader is a good
teacher. He is able to give those around him a sense of
perspective and to set the moral, social, and particularly the
motivational climate among his followers. This is not an easy
task. It takes wisdom and self-discipline; it requires the
sensitivity to perceive philosophic disarray in one's charges and
the knowledge of how to put things in order. I believe that a
good starting point is that old injunction "know thyself." A
leader must aspire to strength, compassion, and conviction several
orders greater than required by society in general.
4. Must Be A Steward. Fourth, a leader must remember that
he is responsible for his charges. He must tend the flock, not
only cracking the whip but "washing their feet" when they are in
need of help. Leadership takes compassion. It requires
knowledge and character and heart to boost others up and show them
the way. The Civil War historian Douglas Southall Freeman
described his formula for stewardship when he said you have to know
your stuff, to be a man, and to take care of your men.
5. Must Be a Philosopher. A fifth requirement of a good
leader is a philosophical outlook. At least he should
understand and be able to compassionately explain, when necessary,
that there is no evidence that the way of the world assures the
punishment of evil or the reward of virtue. The leader gives
forethought to coping with undeserved reverses.
he is expected to handle fear with courage, so also is he expected
to handle calamity with emotional stability or—as Plato might
say—with endurance of the soul. Humans seem to have an inborn
need to believe that virtue will be rewarded and evil punished.
Often, when they come face to face with the fact that this is not
always so, they are crushed.
only way I know to handle failure is to gain historical perspective,
to think about people who have successfully lived with failure.
A verse from the Book of Ecclesiastes perfectly describes the world
to which I returned from prison: "I returned and saw that the race
is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, neither yet
bread to the wise nor riches to men of understanding, nor favors to
men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all."
Stockdale makes it clear that the required characteristics are not hard
skills per se, nor are they trade skills, but the characteristics
are the framework of thought.
skills are like the train cars running on the rails of a traditional liberal
arts and sciences education.
The derailment of
individual human character with the resultant society occurs when
we have the train cars moving forward without the proper placement of
the rails. Once the rails are properly laid down, the train cars can
carry anything. But, even the best of cars, carrying the best
of commodities, cannot achieve a rightful delivery without the proper
underlying framework. Wisdom, virtue and character are separate
and distinct from intelligence.
Please read Admiral Stockdale's list again.
You will find that those referenced qualities and skill sets are derived from a
traditional liberal arts education, and the quickness of earning a trade income is not any
part of his assessment of leadership or excellence of human character.