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Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)
Scholar/Administrator

Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Todd Henshaw, a professor at Columbia University, is Academic Director of Wharton Executive Education. Previously, he directed the leadership program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The heroes of Omaha Beach

I'm sitting on Omaha Beach conducting a "recon" of the sites my colleague (and fellow On Leadership panelist) Ed Ruggero and I will use as a classroom for the next few days with a group from Wharton MBA for Executives.

As I walked around today I thought to myself how impossible or improbable this mission must have seemed before the assault began, and how many times the entire campaign must have been in doubt when the outcome was in question. I marveled at how wide the beach is at low tide. I walked the cliff's edge at Pointe du Hoc and thought about the men scaling the 100 feet under machine gun fire. I saw the remains of the artificial port envisioned and built at Arromanches, an innovation that enabled the entire invasion.

Just now, I sat down to ponder the day, to prepare my notes for the group that will visit Normandy over the next three days, and I saw your question.

"Corporate heroes?" It's difficult for me to put those two words together. As I traveled around Normandy, I saw the names of heroes inscribed in stone on monuments, but in most cases these men who have changed the world are nameless, anonymous benefactors who gave Europe another shot at freedom. These are heroes.

How did these men prepare themselves for the almost impossible mission? How did they overcome the fear of death? How did their leaders help them understand what was being asked and required of them? How did they have the confidence to overcome the wide beaches, high cliffs, enemy fire, the inevitable doubt that emerges when men are thrown into chaos?

I have no idea why we would ever use the term "hero" to refer to a corporate executive, or what would cause us to put them on a pedestal. We have plenty of heroes to praise for their unselfish, courageous actions from our many wars. I would suggest that the next time anyone feels like worshiping a corporate executive, they instead find a war veteran on their block, and thank them for their service, and their freedom.

By Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

 |  July 26, 2010; 4:32 PM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Needed: SuperHUMANS not superheroes | Next: Out with the hero label, in with a lunch bucket attitude

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Oh puhlease... Don't kid yourself into thinking that you and your ilk are somehow more important or more heroic than the rest.

A hero is someone who can be admired for his/her outstanding personal qualities. I just don't think war-veterans have exclusive rights to the word hero.


Corporates, govt, military, press etc are part of the society each of which must function properly for general well-being of a society. We all know what happens when anyone crosses over into the domain of the other.

So again, please don't give us this tired BS of go look at a veteran to see a "real" hero.

Posted by: qquidd | July 29, 2010 6:56 AM
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My Mega-Church Pastor tells the flock that Jesus didn't REALLY want you to care for the poor as you would for him; he applauds the accumulation of wealth at the expense of others. The lost book had him kicking a homeless man and quoting "lazy bastard wants to be out of work, get a job hippie".

Book of Robertson 9:11

Posted by: theobserver4 | July 28, 2010 2:16 PM
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Col Henshaw

Thanks much for your comments. Hero is a work much too easily slung around nowadays. People are identified as heros who have not done anything and have no risk to themselves. The media is doing this with the term as applied to our modern military also. Col L Millet recently died. A true hero. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Millett

Posted by: vanwahlgren | July 27, 2010 4:08 PM
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I wonder how many members of today's army could display the same courage? The first wave at Omaha Beach faced a better armed enemy than themselves, even with air cover, the odds were that they would be killed or wounded. Today's soldier has overwhelming force at his disposal. There is some risk, but it just doesn't compare. How many of them would fail to show that leadership?

You see if you raise the standard so high, no one will meet it. Let's change that to Pickett's charge at Gettysburg, if you are offended.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | July 27, 2010 3:19 PM
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Colonel Henshaw,

Your observations are extremely valuable. If business executives faced the same challenges of an Army lieutenant colonel and the same risks, they would never make the foolish decisions that they often do, and they would always value their employees more than they do now. Business is a fake world based on wealth accumulation, which does little to improve the human condition. My own military experiences serve me well in my work and my work with others. The lessons I learned in the Army are of much greater value than all the leadership and management training in the civilan sector. Like most things, I suppose, leadership and management are valued by degree, and business executives who simply don't put their lives on the line don't know the worth of a thing. Soldiers do.

Warmest regards

Posted by: kellerhalsmd | July 27, 2010 3:13 PM
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To LTC Henshaw:

Hand salute.

Posted by: ihave4ducks | July 27, 2010 2:21 PM
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Lt. Col. Henshaw:

My guess, having two tours under my belt in Iraq, is that Americans since the 1980s have become obsessed with material wealth and their appearance. Gone are the Kennedy days of asking what one can do for one's country.

The naysayers (some here who have posted comments aimed at the previous administration), neglect that the regimes that were fought in Iraq and are being fought now in Afghanistan leave brutal track records (like the Axis Powers).

The new standard in this country, it seems, is how "beautiful" you can look on the outside and what kind of car you drive and what zipcode you live in. How else do you explain it with the size of America's consumer debt?

It is time for America to get back to the basics: work, family, spiritually, and the common interest that we want to leave the world better than we found it for our children. Those values are enshrined in the American Constitution and rarely found in verse or in spirit elsewhere around the world. A world led by the Hussein-types, the Taliban, or the next threat down the road is an answer we shouldn't want to comprehend.

Posted by: PLU482 | July 27, 2010 1:22 PM
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Hurrah for JohnQCitizen and also Col. Henshaw, whom I'd advise that there are true heroes also in more humanitarian efforts than warfare as it usually stands (WW2 to some great extent an exception).

Posted by: brombonz | July 27, 2010 12:21 PM
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I have to apologize to you Colonel Henshaw for my misguided anger this morning.I really did not expect you to post the angry dribble this morning but you seemed a convenient target for my anger and for that i do apologize.

It was a good article and i thank you for writing it.

Hooah!

Posted by: PennyWisetheClown | July 27, 2010 12:11 PM
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Is this why men died on Omaha Beach? So that America can glorify the neocon strategy of "Maximize corporate profits in disregard of legal and traditional safeguards by all means necessary"?

Now that Paul Wolfowitz has written that the Iraq War was about oil, not WMD, a decade of obfuscation has been discarded. We are still fighting there.

And in Afghanistan. where we are now told the Taliban has been advised and assisted for years by the Pakistan Secret Service. We give $8 billion a year in aid to Pakistan. In some sense, we are subsidizing our enemies, and why? Because profits are good and must be defended by any means possible, including endless war, against those who question corporate methods and outcomes.

Posted by: shadowmagician | July 27, 2010 9:33 AM
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Thank you for this article, it is a wonderful reminder how our chase for wealth has caused us to discard the values that we should really be cherishing.

Thank you for your service.

Posted by: GWay | July 27, 2010 9:32 AM
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Col. Henshaw:

VERY WELL DONE!

Posted by: rmlwj1 | July 27, 2010 7:19 AM
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Thank you. Similarly, I don't think there is anything heroic about being able to dunk a basketball or hit a ball with a stick in front of a crowd. These skills may make make one rich, but they do not make one heroic. As for our loathsome CEO class, much of the reason why they are so deeply reviled is that our tax and corporate laws combine to make them undeservedly wealthy at the expense of their employees. And for that, much of America, be it liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat or black or white has come to despise the Federal government. All of it.

Posted by: JohnQCitizen | July 27, 2010 6:07 AM
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