Are you the first one out of the foxhole?

During World War I in France, General Douglas MacArthur told a unit commander before a dangerous charge, “Major, when the signal comes to go over the top, I want you to go first, before your men. If you do, they’ll follow.” MacArthur then removed his own Distinguished Service Cross and pinned it on the commander. The general was essentially recognizing the major’s heroism before asking him to act on it. After following their major over the top, the unit successfully accomplished the objective.

Leading is not only about giving commands, it’s also about taking on the risks and challenges others hope to avoid. MacArthur knew that this young leader needed to initiate the charge in order to motivate his unit. It was the major’s willingness to be the first one out of the foxhole that inspired his men to bravely follow his commands throughout the duration of the mission.


Work for the company not the office

David Packard, cofounder of Hewlett-Packard, was known for putting employees and ethics over profits. He believed that the executives had as much responsibility to the staff as to the shareholders. As a result, he declined a well-appointed corner office and instead chose to sit in an open cubicle with everybody else. He believed in management by walking around and was one of the first to share profits and equity with employees. He never dressed extravagantly, lived in the same small house he always had, and did not want his name on any buildings while he was alive. The result of building this loyalty was a company that had 40 consecutive years of profitable growth.

Do you want to lead or serve? (trick question)

A recent study in the Academy of Management Proceedings reveals that a leader who displays a servant-leadership mentality inspires those same traits in her subordinates. As the entire team develops “pro-social motivation,” they perform at a higher level. In short, leaders that give more to their team, receive more from them as well.

Would you prefer to follow the commands of a major who led the way into battle, or the one who radioed instructions from his command tent? Would you follow the man who sits in the cubicle and gets to know you every day or the mystery man closeted behind a heavy wooden door?

Many leaders wrongly believe that it’s the responsibility of their subordinates to respect and connect with their superiors. In reality, it’s the leader’s responsibility to give her employees a reason to respect and follow her. When a person believes that their leader has their best interests in mind, they will follow that leader with zeal and commitment. That’s what executive presence is all about.

How would your employees describe you? Are you a fearless commander who leads the way into risky territory, or are you the kind who stays in the foxhole and waits to see how it turns out? Do you encourage your team to pander to you or to work side-by-side with you to achieve your company’s vision?  When challenges arise, a committed team is the only way to survive. To gain the commitment of your team, they must know that you are equally committed to their success.


Liden, R. C. (2013, January). Leading by Modeling: From Leader Prosocial Motivation to Team Effectiveness. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2013, No. 1, p. 10444). Academy of Management.

Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap–and others don’t. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.