Are You On Mission? Have a Leadership Creed

Duty, honor, country… Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
General Douglas MacArthur

When we lead, what is our duty? How do we find honor in the legwork of leadership? What value does it provide to our organizations, families, communities, or the world we all share?

These questions illustrate the importance of what it means to have, live, and operate by a creed – a system of your fundamental beliefs, values, or guiding principles that keeps us on course. Particularly in our mission as leaders, employees, parents, and all the other roles we have in our lives. If we are true to it, can others see our creed in action?

I tend to glean some of my leadership concepts from my service in the Army, a steadied model of what it means to be in charge, particularly on the battlefield. With clarity of the ultimate mission to support and defend this country for freedom, all who serve or have served commit to this effort.

To further cement the Army’s mission and values, creeds are integrated into training programs and trickled down to the subcultures based on mission expertise. So for example, Rangers have a creed that keeps them bonded and focused. They acknowledge the dangers and, with their elite mental and physical abilities, pledge to go into hazardous areas. They also agree to look out for each other and will give all in support of the mission, going before and beyond.

So how does this army model with all its traditions and procedures play out in the workplaces of today? Particularly in tough economic and organizational times, leaders have to stay on what may seem to be a battlefield. There are similar concepts of motivation, sacrifice, communication, training, and a purpose larger than oneself for all organizational leaders.

All leaders, then, should have a creed, an operating philosophy. How can these attributes be applied to today’s leadership challenges? They, too, should be prepared, cemented, visualized, committed, and acted upon. Individually, we should have a creed, borne out of our values, culture, family background, and experiences.

I asked the question earlier if others should be able to see our creed in action. The other way in which I speak about leadership is through observations in the family. My late and favorite uncle Harris L. Parker  also served in the army, a Vietnam Veteran, Airborne Ranger and in the community as a Chief Magistrate and  Honorable Chair of the Sussex County Virginia Board of Supervisors. He had rules he lived by that were constant in each environment.  His voice and value commanded attention. The following is just part of the creed by which Harris lived his life:

  • When times are tough, you still have to keep moving, putting them down and picking them back up.
  • Always be organized and have a plan.
  • Be firm in your character.
  • Check in with young people and see how they’re thinking.
  • Take the time to do things right.

A creed can provide clarity and consistency to ourselves and others. I’ve adapted some of my uncle’s operating guidelines to fit my life too. His creed also established boundaries as a way to draw the lines of operation in crisis or calm. In the family, we knew what to expect if we needed something from him, whether it was an opinion or support. There was no need to guess his reaction, his mission to family was unfailing and hardcore, the same for service and duty.

Bearing all this in mind, what is your creed?


Excerpted from my book, Hardcore Leadership: 11 Master Lessons from My Airborne Ranger Uncle’s “Final Jump”

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