Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Team Spirit, Leadership and Success

"You can accomplish much if you don't care who gets the credit."
-- Ronald Reagan
In a series of rants over the past few weeks, I have tried to fire up my fellow conservatives, to give them "faith for the fight." In the words of one of my heroes, Gen. George S. Patton, an army fights as a team, and team spirit -- esprit de corps -- is essential to success in any group endeavor.

Whether it is war or politics, business or sports, accomplishing great things requires teamwork, which begins with the committed belief that victory for the team is more important than who carries the ball into the end zone. Once the victory is gained, even the second-string left tackle will be able to boast that he was part of the championship team.

Many years ago when I worked in Georgia, it was my privilege to interview World War II veterans who had served under Patton, and though those men had led successful civilian lives for half a century, there was a special pride when they said, "I was with Patton." You'll see the same sort of pride if you ever have the pleasure of meeting someone who worked with Reagan (and I've interviewed a few of those, too).

Nothing is more necessary to leadership than the leader's concern for the morale of his followers, yet morale often suffers because many people who lack leadership capacity are also deficient in followership capacity. They're always griping and grumbling about something, spouting negative criticism that tends to demoralize their comrades. The duty of the leader in such a situation is to rebuke the complainer and to tell him, if he doesn't mend his ways, he'll be kicked off the team. If a man is hurting the team, he needs to be told so bluntly.

The Coach and Joe Willie

Bear Bryant was arguably the greatest coach in college football history. (I say "arguably," just to avoid bitter flame wars with deluded fans of other teams that are inferior to the Crimson Tide. Certainly, I would never question that Bryant was the greatest coach ever.) Coach Bryant called Joe Willie Namath the finest athlete he ever coached, but when Namath violated curfew, Bear benched him.

Despite protests in Tuscaloosa, where some Tide fans burnt Coach Bryant in effigy, he stuck by his decision, because a fundamental principle was involved: No one player was more important than the team, not even Joe Namath. And if you ever meet one of Bear's former players, you'll see that special gleam of pride in his eye when he tells you, "I played for Coach Bryant." (Joe Namath himself has been known to get choked up a little when he talks about the coach.)

There has never been a great leader who was not the subject of complaints. Failure is easy, but success is hard. The leader must make hard decisions that provoke disagreement, that favor one team member over another, and that require some poor anonymous bastard to work his ass off, without credit, to help the team win. C'est la guerre.

Patton's troops griped that their general's nickname -- "Old Blood 'n' Guts" -- was the product of their blood and his guts, and they had a point. Yet somebody has to be the commanding general, and any victorious general owes his success to the sacrifices of his troops. And they are his troops. The reciprocal loyalty and common identification between a great general and his troops is like the relationship between Christ and the Christian. The loyal soldier takes pride in his service, he praises the name of his beloved commander, and when the commander says "go," he goes.

Lessons From Nineteen
You ought to meet Pastor Sam Childers, "The Machine Gun Preacher," if you want to know what I mean by real leadership. Like General Patton or President Reagan or Coach Bryant, Sam inspires intense loyalty. You're either going to love him or hate him, and he doesn't care either way, because Sam is serving God.

Let me tell you a little story: When I got over to Uganda in February 2008, I was about half-crazy from a bad reaction to the anti-malarial drugs that every traveler to Africa has to take.

OK, wait a minute, I take that back. Because I'm half-crazy all the time anyway, I was at least 75 percent crazy when I got off the British Airways jet at Entebbe International Airport south of Kampala. Plus, I'd had a bad experience during a long layover at Heathrow Airport in London (the Labour totalitarians had recently banned smoking in the airport), I was about to die from nicotine deprivation, and the airline lost my luggage, including a container of missionary supplies that Sam needed for his orphanage in Sudan.

Off on the wrong foot, and things just got worse from there, but that's a whole 'nother story. Uganda is beautiful and fascinating, the weather in February is lovely, and since this was my first trip outside of the United States, I wanted to see and learn as much as I could. My escort for these excursions was one of Sam's soldiers, a guy called Nineteen.

Whatever his African name is, it sounds like the English word "Nineteen," and so that's what he's called. He is a devout Christian who served in the Sudanese People's Liberation Army during South Sudan's long war against Khartoum, and he is utterly loyal to Pastor Sam. To see these two together when they're relaxed and cheerful is like watching an older brother with his younger brother. Sam's always doing little jokes with Nineteen, who knows the Pastor's ways and puts up with the kidding because he knows Sam to be a mighty warrior for God.

Book-Shopping in Kampala
So, anyway, Sam had been telling me all about Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is to modern Uganda what DeGaulle was to post-WWII France or what Adenauer was to postwar West Germany. Museveni has often been criticized, but he took Uganda out from under the backward socialist anarchy of its post-colonial phase and turned it into one of the more prosperous, free and stable nations on a continent where prosperity, freedom and stability can never be taken for granted. Uganda easily could have gone the way or Rwanda or Somalia or Zimbabwe, if not for Museveni's wise and determined leadership, and he will deserve honor in his nation's history.

Having heard Sam's praise for Museveni, I was very curious to learn more, so one day, I told Nineteen I wanted to get some books about the president and Ugandan history. Off we went into downtown Kampala. My thought was that we were going to bookstore, but for some reason that was never made clear, Nineteen took me to the street market in a section of Kampala known as Coaltown, where mine was the only white face on the crowded street.

Nineteen took me to a place where a sidewalk vendor had secondhand books spread out on a tarp and spoke to the vendor, who produced an old paperback. Not what I expected, but I paid the man, took the book and we left. Only later did I discover that for a few cents, I'd gotten a rarity: A volume of the writings of Museveni's National Resistance Movement, published in the NRM's underground newspaper during the war to overthrow the socialists, and collected into one volume published shortly after the NRM's victory that put Museveni in power. (I can't recall the title of the topof my head; I've searched through my bookshelves, and it seems my wife has packed the book away.)

Of course, at the time, our trip into Kampala was tremendously frustrating to me. In America, if you want a book, you go to a nice air-conditioned Borders, take your time browsing the bookshelves, maybe have a cup of coffee, chat with the clerks -- a leisurely and enjoyable experience. Yet here I was hustled through the crowded streets, led to a rundown sort of flea-market operation, and given exactly one choice, take it or leave it, not knowing when I'd again have the chance to come to town. Frustrating, like I said, but Nineteen was a man under authority.

The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
-- Matthew 8:8-10 (KJV)

Nineteen was not authorized to discuss with me whatever instructions he'd been given by Pastor Sam, and a crazy mzungu ("white man") like me had no authority with Nineteen. Rather, Nineteen was under orders to make sure I returned safely from this expedition. There had been riots in Kampala the first three days I was in Uganda, and the streets were patrolled by police and soldiers with AK-47s, and being an American journalist in that kind of situation . . . Well, an American press credential is not carte blanche over there.

Whatever Nineteen did, he did so as a dutiful soldier, in accordance with his instructions from his commander, Pastor Sam, and if I didn't get exactly the book I wanted, this was far less important than the fact that Ninenteen got me back from Kampala in one piece. (And speaking of books, you really ought to buy Sam's book, Another Man's War: The True Story of One Man's Battle to Save Children in the Sudan. I promise you'll get a blessing from it.)

Nineteen is a team player, and my discontent with our book-buying expedition was a trivial annoyance to him, compared to the seriousness of his mission, and his desire to do to his utmost what Pastor Sam had instructed him to do. Nineteen is a humble and taciturn person, not given to bragging or trying to tell you what he knows. He does his job and is content to let his work speak for itself. His trust in Pastor Sam is as unshakeable as his faith in God, and when Sam put me under Nineteen's care, my safety became like a religious obligation to him. I was his cross to bear, so to speak.

Now, when I began writing this, my heart was troubled at learning of staff troubles surrounding Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. When I learned that her scheduled June speaking engagement at a Republican congressional campaign event had been canceled, I instinctively recognized that there was a problem of divided authority among her staff, a gut hunch immediately confirmed by research. (Rule 3!)

This divided authority among her staff is a harmful blemish on the Governor's reputation as a leader, and she ought to take immediate action to end the division. She must either have a loyal, faithful, efficient and united team of staffers to do her business, or else her own leadership capabilities will be for naught.

Reagan and Team Victory
The saying "personnel is policy" became a byword in the Reagan administration, and if you've got the wrong personnel on your team, you're doomed. More than once, Ronald Reagan had to act decisively to try to unify his team and sometimes he didn't get it right. Sometimes the wrong man got promoted and the wrong man got fired, and Reagan would have to go back and fix the personnel mistake he'd made. But he trusted his old friends -- his wife Nancy, Ed Meese, Judge Bill Clark and a few other close associates who'd stuck with him through thick and thin -- and despite his own jokes about being lazy, he was both diligent and shrewd in evaluating his staff.

Few men in history will be recognized as Reagan's equals, and fewer still his superiors, but the fact is that he gets credit for what was really a team victory. Reagan's achievements were actually accomplished by a vast army of fellow conservatives, most of whose names are scarcely even mentioned in the footnotes of the history books about Reagan.

For instance, just think about the men whose contributions not only funded Reagan's campaigns but also funded the many non-profit groups that have helped advance the cause that Reagan led. Ron Robinson's recent book, Funding Fathers: The Unsung Heroes of the Conservative Movement is an excellent account of what was accomplished, and how it was accomplished, by these philanthropists whose names you've never even heard of before. (Also, don't miss A Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater's Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement, written by J. William Middendorf, who was Goldwater's campaign treasurer.)

Now, I know what you regular readers are saying to yourselves. This is the part where I tell you, "Hit the tip jar, you ungrateful bastards." Very smart readers around here and, based on personal observativion, the tip-jar hitters among you are not only smart but extraordinarily good-looking. (What praise can I withhold from you, The Few, The Proud, The Grateful Bastards?) Yet you remain nameless, and some of you have not yet even gotten an e-mail thank-you, an oversight entirely due to my habitual disorganization. Be sure, however, that I view your contributions as the answers to the prayers of a blogger whose wife is just now beginning to believe that maybe this blogging-as-a-career thing isn't as crazy as it looks.

However, it is not (merely) to solicit your contributions that I make mention of the little-known conservative benefactors who funded, and who still fund, the cause Reagan believed in. Rather, I wish to call to your attention the spirit of cheerful teamwork that motivated their philanthropy.

These men were givers, not takers. They were generous because they were grateful. Their success they understood to be a blessing and, wishing others to benefit from their own blessings, they were generous in helping fund efforts to defend and strengthen the American way of life that had allowed them to enjoy their success.

Gratitude and generosity -- this is the spirit of teamwork. Anybody who's ever played football could tell you how grateful they were the first time they learned that they would be "first team," in the starting lineup. It's like your first Instalanche or your first front-page byline or your first . . . . Well, they say "you never forget the first time," but it does tend to slip your mind after a while.

You take it for granted. You cease to be grateful for the blessing that once you cherished as the answer to earnest prayer. My wife is one of those blessings, a Proverbs 31 woman so wonderful that no man could truly be said to deserve her. To what shall my neglectfulness be likened? Well, think about all those Republicans who griped and grumbled their way through Reagan era, not realizing at the time that they were blessed for a few short years to be led by a man who -- as we now look back -- was one of the greatest leaders in human history.

Or how about this: A friend of mine had a great job, one that many people would love to have, but after a while, he and his boss didn't get along so well. The boss was demanding and sometimes seemed capricious. My friend felt like he was being treated unfairly and he wasn't doing the job he'd signed on to do. So after much soul-searching and prayer, he got another job that a lot of people would love to have. Guess what? His new boss was 10 times as demanding and capricious as the old boss. (I can't tell you the names of my friend's bosses, but trust me, you'd recognize them.)

Or how about this: When I worked at The Washington Times for Wes Pruden, there were people in the newsroom who hated the Old Man's guts. There was a term, "Prudenizing," which was used to describe what happened when Mr. Pruden personally edited a story. Well, then Mr. Pruden retired (which was when I decided to leave the paper) and I'm sometimes surprised to hear rumors of how many people in the newsroom nowadays find themselves pining for the Good Old Days when Wes was in charge.

That S.O.B. in the Mirror
"You never know what you got 'til it's gone," they say, and a basic cause of failure in human endeavor is this ungrateful, selfish spirit that causes us to complain about what we don't have, when we should instead be grateful for all we do have.

We look around for someone to blame for what they've done wrong, or what they haven't done right, and we want to pin the blame for our unhappiness and our lack of success on that other son of a bitch. We love to blame that other son of bitch, when it's really that son of bitch in the mirror who is to blame.

What have I done wrong? What have I failed to do? Am I really so perfect that I am blameless even for my own failure?

If you are really honest about yourself, if you have the courage to face your shortcomings and admit your failures, you will never blame others for your own lack of success or happiness. And the ironic thing is, you'll be a much happier and more successful person that way. Ingratitude and selfishness are not attitudes conducive to success, and still less conducive to happiness.

Nobody likes a selfish ingrate. You probably know people who are like that. "Kharmic black holes," I call them, who at first glance seem favored by fortune. They go through life taking, taking, taking, seldom saying "thank you," never doing anything from motives of sincere generosity.

If you're looking at them superficially, people like that seem justified in their apparent belief that they are entitled to succeed by pushing other people around. And if you don't have any firm moral commitments, you might succumb to the temptation to emulate their ways. Yet let's heed the wise words of Frequent Commenter Solomon:

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
-- Proverbs 14:12 (KJV)
How those words ring true as we ponder the sad fate of the conservative movement in this dark hour. Personnel is policy, and somehow the Human Resources Department of the movement failed to screen out the unprincipled people who joined up for the wrong reasons or who turned down the wrong road, people who were selfish and whose ingratitude for their opportunities led them to abuse the positions of trust they'd been given. We need not name names.

Yet who is really to blame? Jack Abramoff? Newt Gingrich? Tom DeLay? George Bush? Karl Rove? John McCain? Or is it that son of bitch in the mirror?

On Election Night, I filed an American Spectator column from the headquarters of the National Taxpayer Union with the title, "You Did Not Lose," in which I tried to remind conservatives that John McCain had never been their champion, that in fact he'd only gotten 47 percent of the Republican primary vote. Crazy Cousin John's defeat was not, and ought not to be, a cause for conservatives to become demoralized and lose faith in their cause.

Yet, in some sense, you did lose. Whatever you did for the conservative cause, you didn't do enough, or otherwise, the movement would have been strong enough (and smart enough) to stop Crazy Cousin John from getting the GOP nomination. And even with that untrustworthy RINO at the top of the ticket, Obama might have been stopped had the conservative movement been strong enough to persuade Maverick against his disastrous blunder in jumping onto the Bush bailout bandwagon.

You failed. I failed. We failed. However much we did, we did not do enough. We weren't smart enough or hard-working enough or well-organized enough. We failed to unite and work as a team, because we allowed ourselves to become divided, listening to "leaders" who did not deserve to be followed. So what can we do now? Let me call your attention to the words of Frequent Commenter Ben Franklin:

Experience is a hard school, but a fool will learn in no other.
Fools though we may be, we at least have the hard-won wisdom of our disastrous experience. Learn the lesson, and resolve to move forward as a team. Don't complain and grumble, just work as hard as you can.

Today is April 1 -- April Fool's Day, appropriately enough -- and we are now just two weeks away from the nationwide Tax Day Tea Party. If every friend of liberty will unite now, and resolve to do all they can do to make that event a success, it might just be a turning point on the road to a great victory. Like Patton's veterans, you may one day proudly tell your children or grandchildren that you served in the Tea Party Army that fought and won this great battle for freedom.



  1. Great post. But i think you stacked the deck a little by discussion followership only in the context of great leaders.

    How does it work when the leader is a clueless, self-absorbed buffoon? (Say the allied armies and their chateau generals in WWI?)

  2. Arghhh!!!!

    No, no, no... a thousand times NO.

    Bear Bryant? REALLY?

    And so I must depart. You had me fooled for a while though.


  3. I really want to work on my leadership skills and this might really help. Thank you for posting this.