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Leadership Q&A: Honor

Last week I spent several days with my father at a reunion of the men and women who served in the 19th Bomb Group of the US Air Force. My father served on a B-29 crew in the Pacific theater during World War II.  Almost one hundred people met in Dayton, Ohio at the National Museum of the United States Air Force which is located at Wright Patterson Airbase.  They came together for their annual reunion to dedicate a memorial monument to the men and women who serve the nation as members of this 19th.19thBG group picture 3

A gathering like this automatically makes one think of scenes from films like Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan and Memphis Belle. I went with video camera in hand hoping to get some epic stories of heroic feats of courage and daring-do. Instead I heard simple stories of friendship and the challenges of war.

Those of us who did not serve in the military may think of these men and women as heroes for their courage and sacrifice in the face of violent death. They don’t see it that way. Instead, they view their service as a duty to their country. And at the heart of their dedication is a life-long principle of living with honor.  They live to remember those with whom they served who lost their lives in battle or those through whom their own lives were saved through the heroism of others.

One man told me that his dedication to the 19th association is partly do to his childhood friend with whom he enlisted. His friend became a pilot and he an engineer. His friend lost his life in a Japanese POW camp as he was beheaded in the aftermath of the dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Another man, well into his 90’s, did not serve in the US military, but was a Dutchman working in Java, Indonesia at the outbreak of the war. He and his family were evacuated to Australia by 19th, thus saving them for spending the war as prisoners. He joined the 19th association to honor those who saved his life and the life of his family.

Also present  was a legendary figure in the 19th is Ed Whitcomb, former governor of Indiana, who three times escaped Japanese capture. Once as a POW on Corregidor, he escaped by swimming ten miles across shake infested waters to the island of Bataan.

They have been called The Greatest Generation for their service and sacrifice in World War II. While true, after spending several days with them, I came to my own understanding. I believe they are the greatest generation because they understand the principle of honor.

Honor is an ancient virtue that has two aspects.The first and most important is that of being a person of honor. Wikipedia describes honor as

the evaluation of a person’s trustworthiness and social status based on that individual’s espousals and actions. Honor is deemed exactly what determines a person’s character: whether or not the person reflects honesty, respect, integrity, or fairness.

The second kind of honor is one of dedication to a person or an ideal that has meant something to us. To honor someone as we live is an act of gratitude. It is the recognition and appreciation of another person’s influence and impact upon us. It is this kind of honor that I saw in the people I met.

Now, imagine with me for a moment what it would be like if honor of both kinds were present in your organization. What would be the work ethic, the decision-processes, and the leadership be like? What would happened if people were honored for their service to the company? Not honored at retirement, but honored randomly so that it had meaning and impact?

If this topic seems far off and unfamiliar to you, find someone who served in the military during the Second World War, and talk with them about the importance of their friendships. If that is not an option, rent the Band of Brothers series and watch the last segment which is the documentary on the actual unit the story is about. What you’ll discover is that the bond of friendship is the foundation for a life of honor.

Does friendship have a place in the world of business and organizations? Of course it does. Then honor has a place too.

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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