24 February 2009

The one mode or other...

"The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to inspire strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them respect for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect towards others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself." - Major General John M. Schofield, Graduation Address, West Point, 1879

Every cadet here has memorized that quote. I can rattle it off in about thirty seconds. But some upperclassmen seem to have forgotten it.

The way one of them trains us flies in the face of Schofield's message. His manner and tone of voice inspire strong resentment and a desire to disobey. He always screams, never encourages or compliments. And my classmates have no respect for him.

Today, I watched as he yelled at one of my classmates to get his knees higher while doing high knees. The upperclassman held his hands at waist level, and expected my classmate to hit his hands. Meanwhile, as the upperclassman did "high knees", his feet barely left the ground. You cannot expect someone to meet a standard you do not meet while you stand six inches from their face.

The other upperclassmen I trained with had a purpose: they had us carry each other, drag each other, help each other. They were preparing us for combat, imparting wisdom, doing the workout with us. They never lifted their voices, except in encouragement. In short, they respected us.

They made an army today. The other upperclassman destroyed one.

I talked to one of the "makers", and he said he'd talk to the "destroyer". But at the same time, we had to realize that we'd have crappy bosses in the Air Force, or anywhere. And sometimes you just have to deal with it. But we can learn how not to lead: don't yell unless you need to. Hold yourself to the same standard as you hold your troops. And respect people, especially your subordinates.

Will you destroy or make an army?

Disclaimer: I have to say that the majority of the people here are great leaders and are becoming greater. But there are always bad examples. We can learn from them and make ourselves, this Academy, and this world a better place.


  1. When I was in the Navy there were two kinds of leaders. Those who commanded and earned respect and then those who demanded respect.

    As an enlisted man I knew I had to respect my superiors, but I certainly worked just a little harder for those who earned and commanded respect.

    You are learning great lessons - from both examples.

    Remember everyone can make you smile: Some by entering your room and others by leaving your room.

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  3. Jim: thanks for the perspective.

    Dad: I agree. I had higher in there originally; not sure why I changed it.