Leadership: Doing the right thing

The two Wall Street Journal articles for this week both provide examples of leadership, where the leader puts their people before their own possible personal gains because they know it is the right thing to do.

The article, “For Lt. Withers, Act of Mercy Has Unexpected Sequel,” tells the story of a black U.S. Army Lieutenant who chose to put the lives of two Jewish men, Peewee and Salomon, during WWII.  Although Lt. Withers had a lot to lose in going against unwritten orders to avoid contact with rescued Dachau prisoners, but he was able to put aside the threat of being discharged to save Peewee and Salomon from being returned to Dachau with other former prisoners. 

Being a black soldier during a time when segregation was still in full effect in America, Lt. Withers could have easily have been discharged had he been found out.  Being discharged dishonorably would have prevented him from receiving the GI BILL and thus returning to school to make a better life for himself once he got out tof the Army.  In addition, Lt. Withers knew that if he sent the two men back, his team would lose respect for him because they were willing to except Peewee and Salomon on board.  Thus, Lt. Withers let his conscience guide him to put his team, Peewee, and Salomon first even if it meant he would not receive what he wanted.

The second article, “How a Marine Lost His Command In Race to Baghdad,” is another war story, this time involving Colonel Dowdy and the most recent War in Iraq.  Col. Dowdy is another leader who puts his men before strategy, only in this case he did end up being stripped of his command and was reassigned. 

According to the Marines, the key to being successful at warfare is speed.  Col. Dowdy felt speed was not more important than the lives of his men, which unfortunately his higher ups did not agree with.  Even though Col. Dowdy completed his mission and was still on schedule to join the other forces in Baghdad, he didn’t do it in the manner or speed that the Generals wanted.  Not only did Col. Dowdy complte his mission, but only one marine out of 6,000 died under his command and yet he was still the only senior officer to be dismissed in Iraq.

Lt. Withers and Col. Dowdy are leaders because they don’t just do things right, they do the right thing.  They both put others before their own personal gain even though the ramifications if/when found out meant the end of their career.

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