First Out The Door
Jim Gavin, a combat commander of America's elite World War II paratroopers, used to welcome his junior leaders with a concise bit of advice. Leading, the soft-spoken Gavin said, meant being "last in the chow line and first one out of the aircraft door."
If there wasn't enough chow--often the case in combat zones--the highest ranks missed eating. But Gavin was also talking more generally about perks: those with power should make sure those with no power get first dibs, whether it's food, a hot shower or, as was the case with one paratrooper I interviewed, the safest spot in a foxhole when enemy shells were coming in.
The leader's place is also "first one out of the aircraft door." Among World War II paratroopers, the leader jumped first, into enemy fire, at night, behind enemy lines. But Gavin's admonition was also a metaphor. He was saying that some situations call for decisiveness and for a leader bold enough to say, "This is where we're going," or "This far and no farther." When things get tough, the leader should be out front, standing in the door.
In the weeks before his inauguration, with the economy in shambles, Barack Obama has moved to the door of the airplane. Whatever one wants to say about the river of ideas coming out of his office, and whatever history finally reveals about their efficacy, the guy has stepped up to the challenge. Obama, soon to be president, has been eminently presidential, putting forth specific proposals, striving for transparency, seeking good counsel, and communicating both with those in government whose support he'll need, and with the rest of us waiting to see where he'll lead us.
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