Great Leaders Unite, not Divide

On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden delivered a powerful message of unity in his inaugural address.

Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together. Uniting our people. And uniting our nation. I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence. Disease, joblessness, hopelessness. With unity we can do great things.

Everyone who heard that speech, including those who voted against him, was hopeful that this new leader could unite the country.

Unfortunately, Biden didn’t deliver on his promises.

He failed to follow the simple motto, “Acta non Verba” – actions, not words.

His actions over the past ten months have not united Americans but only served to further divide the country.

Consider the battles going on inside our nation right now.

  • Masked versus unmasked
  • Vaccinated versus unvaccinated
  • Woke versus traditional values
  • Immigrant rights versus citizen rights
  • School boards versus parents
  • Defund police versus support the police
  • Massive government spending versus fiscal responsibility
  • Cancel culture versus free speech
  • Climate action versus status quo

Regardless of your position on these topics, it is clear we are more divided than ever.

America is more divided than ever. Click To Tweet

In all these debates, Biden hasn’t worked to bring about peace and unity. He hasn’t brought both sides together for a beer or a fireside chat. Instead, he has added fuel to the fire by bringing the full weight of the government to one side of the argument.

Instead of bringing America together, his actions have pulled us further apart.

Abraham Lincoln reminded us that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

The founding fathers of this nation embraced a similar motto, “United we stand, divided we fall.” These leaders knew that, only through unity, could the United States become and remain a great country.

In the face of ever-increasing competition with China, America seems to be crumbling from within.

I say these things not to be political but to put them in the context of your own leadership story.

As I talked about in my new book, it’s the leader’s job to build a stable, smooth-running business focused on achieving its mission and goals.

It’s the leader’s job to build a stable, smooth-running business focused on achieving its mission and goals. Click To Tweet

When there is chaos, infighting, figure-pointing, and blame culture, progress comes to a halt.

Everyone thinks the enemy is inside the four walls.

Employees are actively engaged in internal battles while the real adversary, your competition, moves further ahead.

If you are the leader of an organization like this, you will fail to achieve your goals if you don’t get a hold of it quickly.

You need to bring peace amongst the factions and direct the energy of your employees toward defeating your real enemy – the competition.

Will Joe Biden deliver on his powerful promise of unity? Probably not.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Take a hard look at your organization. Is it stable and smooth? Or is there internal conflict?

It’s your job to figure it out. Great leaders unite, not divide.

[Photo by The News & Observer]

Disasters Happen when Leadership Fails

When leaders fail to lead, the results are often devastating.

On July 12, 2020, an arsonist set a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base in San Diego. The fire burned for four days, injured 63 people, and resulted in a complete loss of the ship.

This past week, the military released a 400-page report stating that 36 individuals, including the ship’s captain and five admirals, were responsible for the 3.5 billion dollar loss. The report concluded that “Although the fire was started by an act of arson, the ship was lost due to an inability to extinguish the fire.”

As a former naval submarine officer, I was shocked to learn that crew and shipyard personal did not know how to fight this fire. According to the report, “the response effort was placed in the hands of inadequately trained and drilled personnel.”

When an organization fails, it’s always a failure of leadership. Click To Tweet

In my experience, the only way a ship’s crew could be inadequately trained to fight a fire is that the captain failed to make it a priority.

I should know because I’m a trained navy firefighter. 

Every member of my crew was when I served. We were all trained to fight fires. It was part of our basic submarine training and something we drilled on constantly.

A fire on a navy vessel is one of the most dangerous things that could happen on board. Smoke can quickly fill compartments and asphyxiate sailors. The heat and flames can spread to weapons, volatile materials, and critical systems, creating catastrophic damage. Small fires become big fires. A massive fire can quickly incapacitate the crew and disable the ship as it did with the Bonhomme Richard.

That’s why we learned to rapidly attack the fire when it was still small and why we trained so hard in firefighting.

When I served on the USS Tennessee, I must have put more than five hundred simulated fires. Fighting fires was second nature to us. Our crew was exceptionally proficient at firefighting because our captain made it a priority, and he trained us hard.

Our captain knew that he was responsible for both the mission and the crew. He knew that a fire on board put both of those priorities in jeopardy.

Leaders are responsible for both the mission and the crew. Click To Tweet

In contrast, the crew of Bonhomme Richard took two hours to get water onto the fire and had failed 14 consecutive fire drills before the blaze. They were ill-trained and ineffective due to a failure of leadership.

The captain and senior officers failed their crew and the Navy.

They didn’t place a priority on the mission and the crew. They were distracted by other activities.

Think about this story as it relates to your leadership situation.

What are the things that can quickly disable your organization and adversely affect your mission and people?

Do your employees know what to do when that happens?

Have they been adequately trained?

When an organization fails, it’s always a failure of leadership, and the results can be devastating. The fire on the Bonhomme Richard is just another cautionary tale of what happens when leaders fail to lead.

In my new leadership book, All in the Same Boat, there is a chapter called “Run to the Fire.” I talk about the essential leadership lessons I learned as a navy firefighter and how I applied those lessons to business. Check it out here.

[U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christina Ross/Released]

What Happens When Leaders throw People Under the Bus?

The American public witnessed two colossal leadership failures in the past month – a botched withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan and an uncontrolled migration of more than 12,000 immigrants into Del Rio, Texas.

Regardless of your political beliefs, these events were a failure of the government to provide the essential function of protecting its citizens.

In both situations, however, the senior leaders who failed to do their jobs were not punished. The only people who faced any consequences were low-level people.

In the case of Afghanistan, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller was relieved of command shortly after he posted a video criticizing senior U.S. officials for the failures in Afghanistan. He was punished because he asked for accountability of senior leaders due to the “clear, obvious mistakes that were made.”

For the crime of asking for accountability, he lost his job

The senior military leaders who botched the withdrawal, which led to the deaths of 13 service members and the stranding of hundreds of Americans, have not faced any punishment.

In Del Rio, Texas, several Border Patrol agents were placed on administrative duties after videos emerged showing them “aggressively” trying to stop illegal immigrants while on horseback.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, the man responsible for securing the border, said the images of the agents “horrified” him. He is pushing for “swift and strong” punishment for the agents. Even President Biden said, “I promise you those people will pay. There will be consequences.”

For the crime of trying to do their job to enforce the law, these agents will likely be fired, publicly shamed, and even prosecuted.

The senior leaders whose decisions caused this wave of migrants to come and cross our border have not faced any punishment.

In both cases, senior leaders sidestepped accountability while their junior people were thrown under the bus.

Sadly, this practice is far too common in business leadership today. When problems occur, corporate bosses almost always look for the closest scapegoat to blame.

The bosses remain unharmed while the junior employees suffer the wrath.

What’s often missed, however, is the overall effect on the organization. When people know they can’t trust their bosses, they begin to operate differently. Employees don’t want to be the next victim, so they change their actions to protect their careers.

When people know they can’t trust their bosses, they begin to operate differently. Click To Tweet

Military officers stop questioning the poor planning of superior officers.

Border agents stop enforcing the law.

When employees are controlled by fear, the entire organization becomes less effective in carrying out its mission.

When employees are controlled by fear, the entire organization becomes less effective in carrying out its mission. Click To Tweet

Leaders who throw people under the bus to duck their responsibility ultimately destroy the overall culture of an organization and replace it with fear.

Contrast this with President Harry S. Truman, who famously kept a sign on his desk in the Oval Office that said, “the buck stops here.” Truman understood that senior leaders are ultimately responsible for the decisions they make. He knew that he could never delegate responsibility.

So, how do these stories relate to your leadership journey?

It’s simple. It’s important to remember the difference between authority and responsibility.

Authority can and should be delegated. We need to push decision-making down to the lowest levels of our organizations and empowered our teams to be decisive.

But, we also need to embrace the fact that the leader is ultimately responsible for the outcome of the business – good or bad.

Leaders can never delegate responsibility – They must always own it.

Leaders can never delegate responsibility – They must always own it. Click To Tweet

Delegating authority but never responsibility is the cornerstone of creating and maintaining a high-performing organization.

In my first book, I talk about a boss who had my back when I made a major mistake as a young design engineer. Instead of throwing me under the bus, he stood up for me and coached me through a difficult time in my career. My trust and loyalty to him grew because I knew I had a great boss.

This is what leadership looks like.


[Photo Daily Press/James Quigg]