What People Teach Us: James Mattis – Considering Everything Our Leaders Are, Not Just What Impacts Us

Leadership Lesson: We should consider everything that makes up our leaders — and which will probably contribute to our own legacy — so we’re not just loyal to our leaders’ loyalty to our own priorities.

So General James Mattis, our country’s latest Secretary of Defense, has had enough.

He has tendered his letter of resignation, effective a few months from now, stating the President would be best served by a Secretary whose military and diplomatic vision are “better aligned” with his own.

And, based on the actions the president wants to take without consulting his Secretary — drawing down troops in both Syria and Afghanistan — it makes sense. Soldiers — those both serving our military currently and those now veterans — do not take the cost of life lightly. They take strategy, approach, and tact seriously, not merely for the desire to come out victorious but so as to avoid the dire ripple effect that exists in the consequences of a poor – or, even worse, careless – decision.

But has Mattis really had enough, or does he only care about his end of the administration (or organization).

To have had enough signifies there has been a collection of the presidential administration’s actions which has inflamed Mattis’ frustration to date. So he saw things which were concerning to him, but it was what affected him personally that broke the proverbial camel’s back, leading to his resignation. He might’ve realized and been concerned about what was going on but didn’t demonstrate it until it came for his baby, through the President’s decision to begin the drawdowns.

The other possibility is he was aware of, but wasn’t concerned with, the deterioration in the other parts of the administration – the high turnover, the infighting, the leaks, the indictments, etc. He wasn’t concerned with what was happening in the other areas of the mission, just his corner of the world.

Regardless of what his decision factors looked like, it’s hard to imagine he was unaware of the controversies slowing stripping the administration’s rank and file.

Related: What People Teach Us: Jeff Flake – Environment vs. Principles. How Much Is ENOUGH?

In addition, consider the very public contempt the president holds for appointees who don’t carry out the wishes he wants executed.

It’s no secret Trump believes he knows more than the top officials in his administration. Whether he’s taking the Federal Reserve to task over the setting of interest rates, blindsiding the head of national intelligence in planning a meeting with Putin, or casting doubt on a declaration from the leaders of the national intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections, he’s challenged those in the highest of appointed posts. And he’s also openly done it to Mattis himself, when it comes to NATO.

Yet, at this point in the game, when it comes to defense strategy, no one can say Trump never claimed to know what’s better for U.S. military policy than the country’s generals.

And although Mattis’ disagreement hasn’t reached the level of animosity found in the separations of Rex and Omarosa from the administration, and he held on longer than most officials who joined Trump at the beginning of his administration, he can’t say he is surprised it came to this.

None of this should really come as a surprise, that the president would make such a unilateral move without the recommendation of his defense secretary. Should it?

So whether Mattis was aware of the chaos to date or he was reticent to it until it hit his wheelhouse, either case is unfortunate.

But, admittedly, this post really does oversimplify the situation. There are so many factors at play we’ll never have a first-hand account of, such as Mattis’ real thoughts on all the events to date and the true pride he must feel serving his country in such a capacity, which might’ve pushed him to hold on as long as possible. We can’t know at this point if it was an ongoing, festering discomfort or an out-of-the-blue feeling which led him to step aside. Who knows?

But bringing this example down to our mission and considering the lesson for our leaders, our missions and organizations, and the players in them, how much responsibility should we each take for what – or who – we sign up for?

Looking forward, should the measurement of our own legacy and success take into account those we support and/or work for?

Related: The Leader’s Legacy: How Do You Determine How History Will Remember Your Name?

In this case, the lesson is: How important might it be to us what a leader does throughout his or her tenure and the expanse of their purview — not just with our work directly?

When we work for someone, do we consider everything they are, or only what they are to, with, and around us?

If our relationship is good, and he respects what I’m doing, but the other relationships are frayed by that leader’s abrasiveness or disrespect – or whatever the issue may be — what do I do about that?

How do I interject?

Do I say anything?

Or do I just keep my head down until the pendulum swings back the other way – toward me?

This post isn’t a plea to you to do something every time you find yourself in this type of situation, but it does ask you to stop and think about how things are working out for you, truly working out for you.

We may coast on the work at hand, handling what needs to get done, not thinking about the overall message to others or the impression they take away from the leader — but should we? Do we need to?

It is a reflection of us. There is some guilt by association, especially in cases such as Trump’s, where it’s so public, so virulent, and so common.

We may have different ideas and reactions when it comes to this consideration. Some may not care; they’re there to do their job and that’s it. Others may feel a deeper connection to the work and the stakeholders it works to serve.

Even if someone does disagree with an approach the leader takes, which is not directly tied to their own work, they may not be able to afford speaking up or walking away, for any number of reasons. Not everyone will have that luxury. But we all have to be cognizant of those situations, for they will reflect on us in the present and into the future.

And believe it or not, this isn’t a political post. Again, I’m just gleaning lessons from real-life situations. I’m more curious than anything.

Neither you nor I can make assumptions or judgments based on what we see from our standpoint now. We’ll have to wait for yet another Mattis memoir to be published, which would likely detail his thought process, opinions, and concerns during his time with the administration. And you know that book is bound to come out!

(Note: Shortly after I published this post, and two days after Mattis submitted his letter of resignation, Trump, not to be outdone, seemingly got the last word in on the matter. The action is not at all surprising, based on what we’ve seen play out from inauguration to date.)



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