Simple but not easy
The American public respects and admires the sense of duty and self sacrifice to a good greater than themselves that they see in the military. Of course military leaders are not the only ones who have such a sense of duty, but the nature and degree of sacrifice they've had to make in recent years has been extraordinary. Military leaders take care of their stakeholders first, themselves last. The military leader doesn't eat until the troops have eaten. This sense of paternal focus on the well-being of those for whom one is responsible, one's stakeholders, wins confidence in those who are watching - and this, by and large, has been the hallmark of our military leaders.
There are of course great leaders in government, the media, the private sectors, but the reputation of these sectors has frequently been sullied by the highly publicized negative examples of a few. Also, unlike leaders in the media and government, military leaders do not (should not) get their hands dirty in public debates on highly divisive political issues, like immigration, health care reform, gay rights, pro-life/pro-choice, or other such controversial issues. Military leaders have the "luxury" of focusing on carrying out the will of the president and the Congress as "good soldiers."
In the last several years, these "good soldiers" have borne the brunt of the war on terror, and military leaders along with more junior men and women have made great sacrifices to personal and family lives to carry out what's been asked of them. This willingness to sacrifice is in the press every day, 24/7/365. They have done well at meeting their commitments, and the public has been impressed. I just watched the HBO movie "Taking Chance" last night, which brought home the degree to which simple commitment to duty resonates so much with the American public.
What can the rest of America learn from military leaders? Be trustworthy. Earn trust, and don't, under any circumstance violate it. And perceptions matter. I believe that leaders in other sectors who REALLY CARE about winning and retaining the confidence, trust, and loyalty of the American public know how to earn it. It is simple, but it isn't easy.
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