‘Man Up’ Is a Leadership Myth That Will Wipe You Out
Veterans understand what business leaders must realize: Being an authoritarian leader is the sure path to ruin
I smelled the stale cigarette smoke as soon as I walked into the meeting room, a small conference room in an American Legion post located in a strip mall. My hosts, a VA-sponsored center for veterans working with the consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder, had read my book and asked if I might come to speak to the vets. I was surprised by the request — it hadn’t occurred to me that my work, my message about leadership being the means by which we might grow up, would find resonance and be helpful to folks who fought our wars, let alone those who, in their weary hearts, continued to fight those battles. But when the request was made, I didn’t hesitate.
Instead, I thought of my father, a veteran of World War II who spent years of my childhood visiting his local VA hospital, sitting with older vets. I had to say yes.
Walking into the American Legion post, I was struck by how familiar it felt. There was, of course, the familiar smell of stale cigarettes, but there was also the black-and-white 8x10 photos of past post “commanders” in various poses: sitting for official portraits, marching in parades, standing at attention as the colors were raised. I had been in this room before—in other strip malls, in other cities. As a boy, some of my sharpest memories include walking with my dad at the posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars or Catholic War Veterans.
At my hosts’ invitation, I read from my book. Thirty folks, all combat veterans, sat in rapt silence. Some were members of staff now. Most, though, were older — perhaps in their mid-seventies. Most were men.
For the reading, I chose a passage about my journey coming to see myself as a good man, a good adult, the person I was born to be. When the questions began, they quickly centered on one of my singular questions: What kind of leader am I?
As we talked through the intricacies of the twin journeys — into adulthood and into the process of learning to lead well — we began to share our own views of effective adulthood and…