Leadership: The MacArthur Maxim

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Despite the moniker “Dugout Doug,” Douglas MacArthur was an exceedingly brave man who was often heedless of danger. In his book, American Caesar, William Manchester tells about the time MacArthur was asked about why he remained in dangerous circumstances instead of seeking cover.

The General replied: “If I do it, the colonels will do it. If the colonels do it, the captains will do it, and so on.” That’s the MacArthur Maxim, what you do sets the example for the people who work for you.

The people who work for you will watch you carefully. They will pay attention to the things you pay attention to. They will be as ethical or not as you are. They will work as hard as you do. What you notice and reward, they will value.

You must make sure that your actions and your words deliver the same message. Which brings us to the Lazarus Corollary to the MacArthur Maxim.

Shelly Lazarus is the Chairman Emeritus of Ogilvy and Mather and former Worldwide Chairman and CEO. Many people consider her a role model. She’s not entirely comfortable with that, but she takes her role as a role model seriously indeed and she works consciously to make sure her actions and her words match up. The following quote is from her pre-Emeritus days.

“I know that work-family balance is important … I choose always to go to the school play, and field day and all that [because] it gives other women in the company, or clients, the confidence to be able to say, ‘I’m going, too.'”

Your example is the most powerful tool you have to influence the behavior of the people who work for you. Make sure you set the example you want and that the example you set and the one you talk about match up.

Reading Resource

American Caesar is William Manchester’s excellent biography of Douglas MacArthur. Manchester’s experience as a Marine who fought in the Pacific side of World War II gives him some special insight and he manages to capture both the genius and absurd posturing of Douglas MacArthur.

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Michael McKinney   |   15 Dec 2017   |   Reply

Good post Wally. Our example is the most powerful way to influence others. American Caesar has always been one of my favorite biographies. Manchester does a great job.

Wally Bock   |   16 Dec 2017   |   Reply

I agree, Michael. And most bosses have some version of what I call the “wandering through the plant” story. The new manager makes an offhand comment or does something distinctive and the people who work for him/her act on it. A friend of mine was so excited on his first day in a new position that he forgot to pick up his usual cup of coffee. He said to himself “God, I wish I had a cup of coffee.” A moment later, someone brought him a cup.