Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

We comment endlessly on the performance of our federal, state and local leaders in the time of COVID-19. It is perhaps time to discuss what successful wartime leadership at the top levels looks like without discussing individual personalities so that we have a common standards with which to measure them.  I offer the following:

The characteristics of success at the highest level leadership in times of crisis include:

  • Remain calm in the face of the enemy.
  • Possess training and experience at lower levels of command to understand the characteristics and implications of leadership success and failure or, less often, find oneself to be naturally gifted without such preparation.
  • Have a strong belief in oneself.
  • Be able to inspire or command the support of enough skilled people to achieve victory.
  • Be able to sort through strategic options offered by staff to choose the right ones in roughly the right order.
  • Be more concerned about strategic results than tactical ones.
  • Maintain the strategic picture in the face of sequential narrow advice by specialists/
  • Be a master of messaging and presence to inspire one’s own forces and create fear in adversaries.
  • Harness personal ambition to deal with an existential threat

All of that adds up to being a supremely skilled patriot. A great leader must not be a master of all of these, but certainly most. Badly implemented, these characteristics can existentially threaten. Appropriately harnessed, they produce greatness.

— James C. Sherlock

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20 responses to “Leadership in the Time of COVID-19”

  1. sherlockj Avatar

    To these I would add: delegate authority and its corollary, don’t suffer those who misuse it.

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Each point is the opposite if Trump

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      As Uncle Duke says “There’s profit in confusion.”

    2. Actually if we are impartial, Trump probably does have some of these traits, which may explain how he got elected, but he flunks big in some of the areas. Just because someone is charismatic and able to be a “leader” does not mean they are leading in the right, or should I say correct, strategic direction like Lincoln. I do not say Trump is a good leader, just he has some of the traits.

  3. sherlockj Avatar

    We will all look at them through our own lens. Among us we will come to different assessments of current leaders, which is why I offered none here.

  4. sbostian Avatar

    I would add a quote from Stonewall Jackson which should be heeded by those who want to be leaders and to the rest of us.

    “Never Take Counsel of Your Fears”

    Hysteria and Panic negate the calm, clear thinking and communication needed in a crisis.

    1. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

      Old Blue Light knew a few things about getting out of a tight situation.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Good questions and good subject to ponder.

    What is the goal of good leadership?

    Is it to convince folks to follow?

    Can someone that is really good at being a leader – lead people to disaster because people have faith in that leader even if they themselves are not sure what to do?

    There’s a whole lot more………

  6. sbostian Avatar

    For those inclined to undertake a long read describing the model being used to drive media coverage of COVID 19 and its significant inaccuracy and limitations I offer the following link and article without the graphs: I will refrain from comment exchanges with people who aren’t inclined to read the article.


    Inaccurate Virus Models Are Panicking Officials Into Ill-Advised Lockdowns
    How a handful of Democratic activists created alarming, but bogus data sets to scare local and state officials into making rash, economy-killing mandates.
    Madeline OsburnBy Madeline Osburn
    MARCH 25, 2020
    As U.S. state and local officials halt the economy and quarantine their communities over the Wuhan virus crisis, one would hope our leaders were making such major decisions based on well-sourced data and statistical analysis. That is not the case.

    A scan of statements made by media, state governors, local leaders, county judges, and more show many relying on the same source, an online mapping tool called COVID Act Now. The website says it is “built to enable political leaders to quickly make decisions in their Coronavirus response informed by best available data and modeling.”

    An interactive map provides users a catastrophic forecast for each state, should they wait to implement COVID Act Now’s suggested strict measures to “flatten the curve.” But a closer look at how many of COVID Act Now’s predictions have already fallen short, and how they became a ubiquitous resource across the country overnight, suggests something more sinister.

    When Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced a shelter-in-place order on Dallas County Sunday, he displayed COVID Act Now graphs with predictive outcomes after three months if certain drastic measures are taken. The NBC Dallas affiliate also embedded the COVID Act Now models in their story on the mandate.

    The headline of an NBC Oregon affiliate featured COVID Act Now data, and a headline blaring, “Coronavirus model sees Oregon hospitals overwhelmed by mid-April.” Both The Oregonian and The East Oregonian also published stories featuring the widely shared data predicting a “point of no return.”

    Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cited COVID Act Now when telling her state they would exceed 7 million cases in Michigan, with 1 million hospitalized and 460,000 deaths if the state did nothing.

    A local CBS report in Georgia featured an Emory University professor urging Gov. Brian Kemp with the same “point of no return” language and COVID Act Now models.

    Carlos del Rio
    We need ⁦@GovKemp⁩ to act now, the point of “no return” for GA is rapidly closing. To prevent a catastrophe in the healthcare system due to #COVID19 we need for him to shut down GA now. ⁦@drmt⁩ ⁦⁦@Armstrws⁩ ⁦@colleenkraftmd⁩ https://covidactnow.org/state/GA

    This model predicts the last day each state can act before the point of no return
    The only thing that matters right now is the speed of your response

    12:47 PM – Mar 21, 2020
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    584 people are talking about this

    The models are being shared across social media, news reports, and finding their way into officials’ daily decisions, which is concerning because COVID Act Now’s predictions have already been proven to be wildly wrong.

    COVID Act Now predicted that by March 19 the state of Tennessee could expect 190 hospitalizations of patients with confirmed Wuhan virus. By March 19, they only had 15 patients hospitalized.

    In New York, Covid Act Now claimed nearly 5,400 New Yorkers would’ve been hospitalized by March 19. The actual number of hospitalizations is around 750. The site also claimed nearly 13,000 New York hospitalizations by March 23. The actual number was around 2,500.

    In Georgia, COVID Act Now predicted 688 hospitalizations by March 23. By that date, they had around 800 confirmed cases in the whole state, and fewer than 300 hospitalized.

    In Florida, Covid Act Now predicted that by March 19, the state would face 400 hospitalizations. On March 19, Gov. Ron DeSantis said 90 people in Florida had been hospitalized.

    COVID Act Now’s models in other states, including Oklahoma and Virginia, were also far off in their predictions. Jordan Schachtel, a national security writer, said COVID Act Now’s modeling comes from one team based at Imperial College London that is not only highly scrutinized, but has a track record of bad predictions.

    Jordan Schachtel

    Replying to @JordanSchachtel
    4) Their models come 100% from Imperial College UK projection that is coming under *heavy* scrutiny from scientific community. IC UK produced the famed doomsday scenario that guaranteed 2MM dead Americans. The man behind the projections is refusing to make his code public.

    4:17 PM – Mar 24, 2020
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    130 people are talking about this
    Jessica Hamzelou at New Scientist notes the systematic errors researchers and scientists have found with the modeling COVID Act Now relies on:

    Chen Shen at the New England Complex Systems Institute, a research group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his colleagues argue that the Imperial team’s model is flawed, and contains ‘incorrect assumptions’. They point out that the Imperial team’s model doesn’t account for the availability of tests, or the possibility of ‘super-spreader events’ at gatherings, and has other issues.

    Among other issues, COVID Act Now lists the “Known Limitations” of their model. Here are a few that seem especially alarming, considering they generate a model for each individual state:

    Many of the inputs into this model (hospitalization rate, hospitalization rate) are based on early estimates that are likely to be wrong.

    Demographics, populations, and hospital bed counts are outdated. Demographics for the USA as a whole are used, rather than specific to each state.

    The model does not adjust for the population density, culturally-determined interaction frequency and closeness, humidity, temperature, etc in calculating R0.

    This is not a node-based analysis, and thus assumes everyone spreads the disease at the same rate. In practice, there are some folks who are ‘super-spreaders,’ and others who are almost isolated.

    So why is the organization or seemingly innocent online mapping tool using inaccurate algorithms to scaremonger leaders into tanking the economy? Politics, of course.

    Founders of the site include Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and three Silicon Valley tech workers and Democratic activists — Zachary Rosen, Max Henderson, and Igor Kofman — who are all also donors to various Democratic campaigns and political organizations since 2016. Henderson and Kofman donated to the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016, while Rosen donated to the Democratic National Committee, recently resigned Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, and other Democratic candidates. Prior to building the COVID Act Now website, Kofman created an online game designed to raise $1 million for the eventual 2020 Democratic candidate and defeat President Trump. The game’s website is now defunct.

    Perhaps the goal of COVID Act Now was never to provide accurate information, but to scare citizens and government officials into to implementing rash and draconian measures. The creators even admit as much with the caveat that “this model is designed to drive fast action, not predict the future.”

    They generated this model under the guise of protecting communities from overrun hospitals, a trend that is not on track to happen as they predicted. Not only is the data false, and looking more incorrect with each passing day, but the website is optimized for a disinformation campaign.

    A social media share button prompts users to share their models and alarming graphs on Facebook and Twitter with the auto-fill text, “This is the point of no return for intervention to prevent X’s hospital system from being overloaded by Coronavirus.”

    The daunting phrase, the “point of no return,” is the same talking point being repeated by government officials justifying their shelter-in-place orders and filling local news headlines.

    Democrats are not going to waste such a rich political opportunity as a global pandemic. Americans already witnessed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats attempt to take advantage of an economic recession with a pipe-dream relief bill this week. Projects like COVID Act Now are another attempt to play the same political games, but with help from unknown, behind-the-scenes Democratic activists instead.

    Our community leaders, the mayors and the city councils, deserve better than to be swindled by a handful Silicon Valley tech bros. Our governors and state officials deserve better data and analysis than a Democratic activists’ model that doesn’t adjust for important geographical factors like population density or temperature. Americans and their families deserve better than to be jobless, hopeless, and quarantined because of a single website’s inaccurate and hyperbolic hospitalization models.

    Madeline Osburn is a staff editor at the Federalist and the producer of The Federalist Radio Hour. Follow her on Twitter.
    Photo NBC Dallas

    1. generally_speaking Avatar

      “In New York, Covid Act Now claimed nearly 5,400 New Yorkers would’ve been hospitalized by March 19. The actual number of hospitalizations is around 750. The site also claimed nearly 13,000 New York hospitalizations by March 23. The actual number was around 2,500.”

      Read what I have selected above and really think about it. I’m going to bold this for emphasis:

      The number of actual hospitalizations increased 330% in 4 days.

  7. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    In contrast, consider Admiral Ernest King’s leadership in WWII.

    “FOOTNOTE 1(G) Central Pacific Amphibious Drivers – Ernest King USN, Raymond Spruance USN, Holland Smith USMC, and 1941 Flex 7 Manuevers.

    The senior on site commanders of this Central Pacific amphibious campaign were Admirals Spruance and Turner USN, and General Holland Smith USMC. The driver behind this triumvirate was Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief, US Navy and Chief of Naval Operations. King became the most powerful Admiral in US history soon after the debacle at Pearl Harbor when he assumed command of US Fleet operations worldwide along with the planning and logistics of those operations. His command of fleet operations was subject only to the President’s oversight as Commander-in-Chief of all US Forces under the US Constitution and, by early 1943, the US Marine Corps also reported directly to King. Although the joint operations of all US forces fell within the scope of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and joint Allied operations came within the ambit of the British American Combined Staff, King exercised a disproportionate influence there as well. King’s power rivaled that of George Marshall, and exceeded Marshall influence in Pacific Operations, from Pearl Harbor through the Marianna Operations.

    Thus, King’s prescient vision framed the US war in the Pacific, including its Central Pacific Campaign. And, as we shall see, his strategic and tactical influence powered that campaign’s execution through the Battle of Tinian and beyond, irrespective of all Orange Plans that had gone before. In so doing, King powerfully influenced and enhanced the roll of the US Marine Corps in WWII. His impact on amphibious operations began before America entered the War. In late 1940 he took command of the newly designated US Atlantic Fleet, and oversaw the February 1941 Flex 7 amphibious maneuvers in the Caribbean. Here three regiments of the newly formed 1st Marine Division and two from the US Army’s 7th Infantry Division took part in a series of landings on the island of Culebra under the command of the newly promoted Major General Holland Smith USMC.

    Like General Smith and the Marines, King’s vision and preparation for the war with Japan, however, had started long before Flex 7. In 1932 then Captain King at the Naval War College wrote: Japan will compel us to war. In so doing Japan will persist on a course contrary to our interests. It will defy us to change its course before it attacks the Philippines or even Hawaii. This will handicap our ability to respond effectively while it allows Japan to gain a strong defensive position which it will defend aggressively, forcing us to recapture Hawaii or the Philippines before we can bring pressure on Japan’s home islands.

    King believed that Japan’s aggression starting in the late 19th century and most recently manifest with its 1931 invasion of Manchuria was facilitated by the failings of the western democratic powers. That America’s “national altruism” had bent its national policy toward pacifism. That we didn’t appreciate “the interplay of cause and effect” in our foreign and domestic affairs. That we instead relied on our “child-like trust and faith in our destiny.” (Manifest, for example, by the failure of the US and League of Nations to impose sanctions on Japan’s aggression in China beginning with the “Mukden incident” in southern Manchuria on 18 Sept. 1931) King also believed that our style of democracy negatively colored our citizens’ character. We glorified our individual interests over our nation’s interest, and assumed we can “do well anything we want” when we want. It also encouraged our federal representatives to serve parochial interests at the expense of the nation’s interests, in their quest for power and re-election, hence selfishness reigned. “Everyone believes he knows it all. We glorify our victories in war yet remain ignorant of our defeats (and disgraces).” This self indulgent behavior that riddled our society had metastasized to the point that it limited our ability to enforce those national interests that were vital to our welfare.

    King’s views proved prophetic. The US Budget Bureau a decade later commenting on America in the years just before Pearl Harbor opined that: “The United States was probably in the most precarious position in its history. Yet to many of us the peril seemed remote … We continued with unabated zest our political feuds even though these internal cleavages affected our ability to react quickly to changes in international environment.”

    Thus King believed that US lack of readiness would complicate and delay victory and magnify the horror and irreparable damage of the coming war, wasting not only American lives and treasure, but its future. King strove mightily to dilute these consequences. He viewed this his duty to his Nation as a naval officer. And his view that America was headed into a war for which it would be grossly unprepared magnified his sense of urgency in carrying out the task that his duty required. King never failed to act on his convictions. He worked tirelessly to gain the skills and competencies necessary to insure that his share of the US Navy was prepared for war. So it was no accident that when war came, King came prepared for it. His vast array of skills – a sure grasp of Grand Strategy, his ability to deploy forces tailored to the mission using doctrines that compounded their capabilities, his keen focus on the practical needs of getting the right things done right in the proper sequence, plus King’s drive for best practice solutions and his success in deploying them through others – achieved epic results.

    Take Grand Strategy. In early 1933, King ‘commanded the US Fleet’ in the Naval War College’s annual game maneuvers. Here the Japanese had seized the Philippines. How to get them back, and defeat Japan militarily, bringing its quest for empire to heel? That was the central question. King the war gamer, seeing the key to the western Pacific, chose to sail his US fleet directly from Hawaii via Guam to wrest Saipan from Japan before attacking the Philippines. This, he reasoned, would force Japan’s fleet to sally forth and fight rather than abdicate its first inner ring of defenses, the Marshall Islands and Saipan and Tinian. When the Naval War College president altered the game’s rules, requiring King to fight his way back to the Philippines via the southwest Pacific, sailing up through its bottleneck of water between northwest New Guinea, Morotai, and Mindanao, King objected. He deemed the solution worthy of a “berth-deck cook.” This route hemmed in his blue water fleet, forcing it into congested waters that lay within easy range of enemy land based airpower, and compounded the risk by exposing his fleet to flanking attacks from Japan’s Mandates to the north, the Marshalls and Marianas. This paper exercise was no game to King. It was deadly serious business. Stubbornly he challenged the War College president’s plan that, in his view, forced his fleet to fight a ferocious enemy inefficiently and at disadvantage without good cause. And he did so again a decade later, going up against George Marshall and MacArthur.

    So this 1933 war game explains much about King. His self-confidence, his overbearing nature, his deep seriousness and foresight, his acute intelligence, his abiding concern for practical consequences. It also explains how King judged character, and his penetrating awareness of how character translated into mens’ actions before and during war. For King, an individual’s (or group’s) character was manifest in their acts of commission and omission. In war, such acts by reason of individual choice either offered the best chance or opportunity to save time, treasure, and lives on the way to victory, or those choices unnecessarily wasted time, treasure and lives on the way to defeat or victory. Thus he despised (yes despised) any operational plan driven by a lack of rigorous analysis grounded in hard earned competence. Such as, for example, plans derived from faulty consensus driven by group psychology, failure to face hard descisions squarely, or from a lack of strong convictions or failure of courage among members within the group, or by the simple bloodlust by those individuals in command. King also kept a sharp eye out for other failures of character. His ire ratcheted higher if he detected an improper motive or hidden agenda behind a plan. Plans or tactics driven by self-serving politics or aggrandizement, the vainglory of commanders, a grab for undeserved command, or to serve any other such unworthy ends, met King’s total distain. In all such cases, King was brutally honest with himself, and with others. He was extremely direct in expressing his displeasure. There was no room for excuse, prevarication, or compromise. A war commander whose plans, actions or failures to act wasted American opportunities, resources and lives met king’s vigorous opposition. And such conduct drove him to determined action, sometimes ill advised.

    On the flip side, if King saw an opportunity for action to gut or otherwise counter the enemy, his instincts typically drove him to fierce and relenting action, most always exercised in the mode of offense. There were, however, three powerful backstops to King’s instincts for the offensive. The first resided in King. At war, his shrewd sense of the capabilities and weaknesses of the American power under his command and how they matched up with the corresponding capabilities and weaknesses of the forces that opposed his, along with his quick grasp of the flux of both across the battlefield, typically kept King out of trouble. Similarly, his keen insights, sensitivities, and grasp of the forces at play on and off the battlefield drove him to achieve remarkable success, often gained at relatively little cost.

    King’s second backstop was his highly able staff and subordinate commanders and King’s astute management of them. To an unusual degree, his subordinates discerned and corrected (or wisely dealt with) flawed elements of King’s highly aggressive offense. This occurred despite King’s constant pressure on his subordinates for offensive action. Typically this pressure was driven by what he deemed to be his broader view of the battlefield and time sensitive politics that might otherwise defeat right decisions, his confidence in the effectiveness of his overall offensive strategy given the posture of his enemy, and his corresponding confidence that his subordinates “would push back” where his views were ill advised in a particular situation. Here King often ceded the benefit of the doubt to his commanders, reversing, adjusting, or holding his views in check, in deference to his subordinates closer view of the matter at issue. This deference he exercised far more often than realized. And he did so with great success. This productive interaction and collaboration between King and those under him, however unorthodox it might appear to outsiders at times, was another product of King’s genius for command. It arose in part by reason of the standards King imposed down the chain of his command when selecting officers to fill key commands like those held by Admiral Spruance and General Holland Smith.

    King’s third backstop was the American President. America was fortunate that FDR could see, appreciate and enable king’s remarkable competence. Indeed FDR’s management of King and Marshall was a marvel of presidential leadership. Many Presidents would not have had a clue as to King’s irreplaceable competence and might well have felt threatened by King. Indeed, many would have been at sea managing the likes of King and Marshall, Churchill and Stalin, and the US Congress, simultaneously. FDR, who was matched only by Lincoln as a war president, was likely the only American whose strategic grasp of the war, in all its aspects, exceeded that of Ernest King’s. In any case, King transformed the President’s confidence into power that profoundly influenced the decisions and actions of others – whether peers, subordinates, Allies or enemies – and so altered the course of events in WW11.

    Thus too King’s refusal to accept ‘false solutions’ or ineffective action or leadership without challenge would ripple down through his command, and strongly influence those who carried out his strategic vision. The reasons were many. King never forgot ‘the who, how, and why’ behind proposed false solutions. He dealt with or pocketed each one and built on it for future application. For example when he selected or otherwise dealt with subordinates. Whatever the issue, he constantly probed, looking for snakes in the woodpile. He also questioned whatever he valued, whatever its source, looking for insights, opportunity or advantage, or pitfalls. So he not only challenged others but listened intently then altered his earlier views or instructions should better advice be found. Always on guard for indirection, he’d never fail to redirect whatever he perceived to be a drift in his policies, bringing up short those behind the drift. Thus King built and maintained his plans and actions for war. Thus too he led by example. Those serving under him not only knew his expectations and the consequences of their failure to meet those expectations, they absorbed his ways of doing business. To serve under King was a full body experience that he pushed far down the chain of his command.

    “What will Admiral King think?”

    That question seeped deep into the structure of King’s command. This sharply focused subordinates on job performance. Importantly, King pushed individual responsibility all the way down the chain of command. He demanded that subordinates take effective and independent action within their job description and how doing that job related to the overall effort behind the mission. Subordinates, whether flag rank or berth-deck cook, were tasked to figure out “the how” to do their mission after superiors assigned it. Hence, to an unusual degree, those serving under King’s command avoided the paralysis, hesitancy or group think that so often infects subordinates under commanders who shut down independent action within their command and employ sycophants instead, as distinct from real leaders such as Admiral Spruance and General Holland Smith.

    With regard to how King never forgot ‘the who, how, and why’ behind false solutions, consider the benefits he reaped from the Naval War College President’s decision eleven years earlier to force ‘a berth-deck cook’s solution’ on King. As a result King knew to flip Japan’s flanking advantage to America’s benefit in 1943, forcing Marine and Army divisions through the Central Pacific to seize the Marshalls and Marianas, thus gutting the center of Japan’s ring of defenses while also hitting the eastern flanks of its empire from there as MacArthur moved up the southwest Pacific via New Guinea before invading the Philippines. It’s also why King flew the Pacific, charting tiny landfalls amid its watery wastes in the mid 1930’s, flying PBY scouting planes he’d done so much to develop. Here he scoured the ocean looking for geographic advantages and pitfalls that he could put to use when war came. This allowed King, sitting in Washington DC five years later, to see how Japan’s seizure of a tiny seaplane anchorage deep in the Florida Straights of the South Pacific posed a grave and novel threat to US strategic interests. It’s why he could forcefully and single-handedly drive the decision to counter that threat in 1942, launching a counter blow that halted Japan at its high water mark. It explains his fierce conviction and courage that drove that decision to its historic consequences. So, after war came and during its darkest hour, King could override MacArthur’s vociferous objections and ‘false strategies” and Marshall’s inability or unwillingness to grasp the threat at hand, much less its solution, absent King’s ultimatum. This was no accident. A lifetime of disciplined work, intense study, and hard experience drove king’s decision to confront Japan’s massive onslaught at the point where a few seaplanes flew into a remote and hardly known backwater at the land’s end of the South Pacific. His subtle understanding of what that tiny Tugali seaplane anchorage at its “no where place” meant to America’s defense of Australia and New Zealand and its later capacity to go on the offensive drastically changed America’s war in the Pacific.

    Many other ingredients comprised this grand endeavor. For one, King believed that anything left to chance or done at less than maximum effort opened the door to failure. This was inexcusable in war. So his naval career of unsurpassed diversity, obstinate independence and unrelenting study, and his determination to apply all this experience to practical problems, not only resulted in his initiating America’s success at Guadalcanal, but all that followed in its train: US forces battling up the Solomon Islands then through the Central Pacific to breach the Japan’s inner defenses at Saipan and Tinian. Another driver behind this strategic masterpiece was King’s acute awareness of how strategies and tactics derived from parochial politics, power grabs, vainglory ambitions, lack of imagination or deadly seriousness, can far too easily run and ruin a War, absent vigorous challenge. Another key ingredient was King’s corresponding belief that honestly held and deeply informed differences of opinion are sure to emerge from numerous sources and often fiercely clash amid the horrendous pressure cooker of war. King learned to ignite and thrive on such disagreements. He did so where other men often flared into anger or fell into abject submission, that triggered obstinate stupidity or caused them to fade into silence or wilt altogether. He also learned to exercise iron control over his turbulent emotions and acerbic tongue until changing circumstances opened the way for him to put both to best advantage. Based on results (instead of popular belief), King was a masterful politician.

    These personal qualities also helped King to master and draw great advantage from the creatively and perspective of others, and to weed out and overcome much of the fog, clutter, mendacity and folly of war that far too often engulfed others. This allowed him to remain hyper aware that major decisions involve trade-offs, irony, and paradox, and to see how such decisions, once made, often require adjustment and change given the flux of events and circumstances, creating emergent opportunities and risks. This also allowed King to negotiate solutions with his peers when the time was ripe, and reach accomodation with his subordinates as necessary, to get the ‘Job Well Done.’ And in all such cases this allowed him to know when he should shut up and get out of the way. Hence King, far better that most commanders, kept on top of “his war” and “got his way” with his peers and superiors (US and Allies alike), and also led his subordinates to effective action that achieved stupendous results. This was no accident. King’s methods bred highly able subordinates, independent thinkers like Admiral Spruance and General Holland Smith at Tinian.

    (With regard to King’s impact on Tinian, consider King’s 27 March 1944 Report to the Secretary of the Navy delivered nearly 4 months before Tinian, stating: “As to the purely military side of the war, there is one lesson which stands out above all others. This is that modern warfare can be effectively conducted only by the close and effective integration of the three military arms, which make their primary contribution to the military power of the nation on the ground, at sea, and from the air.” King acknowledged the Navy’s “full appreciation” for the “efficient, whole-hearted and gallant support of the Navy’s efforts by the ground, air and service forces of the Army, on which much of the Navy’s accomplishments would never have been written.” He goes on: “During the period of this report, the Navy, like the full military power of the Nation, has been a team of mutually supporting elements. The Fleet, the shore establishment, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, the WAVES, the Seabees, have all nobly done their parts. Each has earned an individual “well done”- but hereafter are (groups) all included in the term “The Navy.”)

    At base however was King’s determination to control his fleet and its Marines, and drive them along with the US Army and its air force, to victory in the most efficient and effective way he could devise. What he devised worked, and elegantly so. First, it stopped Imperial Japan in the South Pacific at Guadalcanal. Then, by driving US forces up the Solomon’s, it sucked Japan into a conflict that bleed off its offensive power. Then it launched a sea-borne thrust across the Central Pacific into the heart of Imperial Japan’s defenses, defeating Japan’s fleet in the Central Pacific, while it sliced off Japan’s means of resupply and built for the US the platform that ultimately brought Japan’s Empire to its knees with the B-29 bombers flying off of Tinian. But this wasn’t all of it. King’s strategy also simultaneously leveraged MacArthur’s strategy on the southwest flank, giving the latter an effective purpose of running the Japanese to exhaustion between two pincer movements of Amercian forces, at least until MacArthur’s divergence into the Philippines. The end result left Japan two options: unconditional surrender, or certain suicide.

    So King’s vision forged the path to victory over Japan. In so doing, his fiercest battles were fought against others within the upper reaches of the US military. In King’s view, the alternatives proposed by Marshall and/or MacArthur would unnecessarily risk and waste the world’s greatest fleet, its American Marines, and substantial US Army ground and air forces too, diverting US power to improper tasks while it magnified Japan’s power to resist. Nor would he allow the US Army to strip the US Navy of its rightful command of the seas and its US Marine Corps. King considered the Corps an arm of the US Navy that was uniquely qualified and absolutely essential to accomplish the US Navy’s mission in the Pacific war against Japan, because the Navy built it that way. In King’s view, these US Army proposals would grossly misallocate US forces across the Pacific battlefield and would misuse those vast armies and fleets under plans that enhanced the enemy’s power while it placed American Forces at unnecessary disadvantage. MacArthur, driven by vainglory, demanded that a maritime war be fought on land with troops under his command. Look at the map. His strategy was absurd on its face. Yet, MacArthur’s strategy, however ill-fitted to the geography of the battlefield, would have dominated the Pacific War, but for Ernest King. But for King, MacArthur would have substantially delayed and hobbled a US victory while it wasted American treasure and lives as it killed, injured and maimed thousands of US soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and civilians unnecessarily. King did not use these words. Likely it’s how he viewed the results of any war waged by false solutions.

    The US Navy had been seriously planning on a continuing basis for war against Japan since 1906. King had been more than a keen student of these plans (and their many iterations). He’d imagined and built his carreer around their implementation, so was ready when the war came. From the start he knew what he was doing and why he was doing it. Equally important he knew how, and possessed the means, to get it done amid world chaos, including the massive resistance of Generals MacArthur and Marshall. Thus his vision not only powered the Marine Corps’ explosive growth and cemented the Corps central role in Pacific island assault, it also defined the US Army and Army Air Forces’ role in the war against Japan. King’s vision and methods reverberated through all levels of the naval war effort in the Atlantic and Pacific: from strategy to tactics, to weapons development and deployment, to key officer selection, to command structure, to decision making, to operational performance. In the Pacific war he drove the pace and sequence of major events. King’s achievements are monumental, yet hardly recognized today. Their essence arose from:

    A) his stragetic vision and ability to impose it not only on his command, but on the whole US and Allied military effort.

    B) his persistent challenge to group think, false solutions, excuses, lack of aggression, and anything less than high-octane performance at all levels.

    C) his unrelenting quest to find best practices, and harness emerging technologies of war like naval air power, long range reconnaissance, naval air defense, massive seaborne logistics trains and amphibious capability, and Army airpower like long range bombers, for maximum advantage.

    D) his ability by the force of personality and example to resurrect a Navy badly shaken by Pearl Harbor and transform it into a Navy (including assets like the Marine Corps and Seabees) that became supremely fit and able to wage war against Japan and win.

    Fortunately too FDR knew what he was doing, rescuing King’s stalled career from oblivion. And fortunately too, once in command, King restrained his not insignificant faults and shortcomings to a surprising degree. He and Marshall also worked hard to find ways to work out mutually agreeable solutions, and FDR shrewly managed the rest. In King, FDR knew what he was getting from the start. King’s military record before the war spoke volumes.

    King’s first command was a 800 ton destroyer in 1914. A Lieutenant Commander, he’d work hard seventeen years for this moment. His superior, a master destroyer tactician, forced King to his limits, handling the destroyer, then cut him loose. King took off, driving his nimble and quick warship and its crew to the outer limits of their capabilities. Next, promoted to command a 1000 ton destroyer, King also served as aide to Admiral Sims. The Commander of the Atlantic Fleet Destroyer Flotilla, Sims was a legendary innovator, famous for his wide ranging discussions with his staff, and said to be the most influential man in the Navy. King, however, came to consider his boss overly opinioned, an admiral without sufficient nuance, a leader who only appeared to listen to the opinions of his staff, a man who conducted his free wheeling discussions with subordinates for show, without digesting the substance of their opinions. In short, King concluded that Sims was closed minded while appearing to be otherwise. So, after the Admiral had led yet another staff discussion on an important topic (the need for a new destroyer type), King said nothing until after the Admiral had finally weighed in, laying out his own judgement as if to conclude the meeting after considering all views. Only then did King challenge the Admiral’s conclusions. Sims harshly replied that King’s knowledge of the subject was insufficient to form a worthy opinion. The next morning King handed the Admiral a list of candidates to replace King as the Admiral’s aide, saying that Sim’s characterization of King’s views in front of Sim’s staff was an improper response to another naval officer’s opinion, and King’s relief was therefore in order. Sims granted King’s request then issued a fitness report calling King one of the ablest officers in the navy for his grade before promoting King to command of a four destroyer division.

    King’s “insolence” wasn’t an isolated event. He confronted power with principle time and again. Thus he demanded relief as Deputy Director of the Bureau of Aeronautics after a clash with its legendary director over what King deemed special treatment afforded aviators. He did this despite earning own “wings” at age 49, only to be later appointed Director of the Bureau of Aeronautics whereupon he took on powerful Navy contractors before Congress to outlaw what King considered undue “profiteering” at Navy expense. Considered a highly risky maneuver at the time by Navy brass, King nevertheless forged ahead and won. Not surprisingly King’s independent nature and potent personality over the years ruffled feathers and bred resentment throughout the Navy. He rose through the ranks nevertheless, until finally only a war could save his career. But war brought King little popularity or affection. Although capable of great charm, he preferred direct straight unvarnished talk when carrying out his duties as a naval officer. This frequently shook up established convention, and challenged the “comfortable” baliwicks of others. As a result he was respected and feared, and often disliked, despite (or often because of) the beneficial change wrought from his aggressive mode of command.

    For example, 18 months after challenging Admiral Sims, King challenged the ‘overly detailed’ operational plans handed down by Admiral Mayo’s staff for each scouting force destroyer within the US Navy’s Atlantic Fleet. In King’s view each “captain” should determine how his destroyer was to accomplish its assigned task, including its course and speed to accomplish the mission, and only then submit his plans to the Admiral in command for comment. King’s rationale was simple. How else could a “ship captain” develop his competence for command, and the Admiral judge his competence? King, whose job was fleet engineer, thus directly challenged the authority of the Admirals’ staff over the fleet’s subordinate commanders. This ruffled the feathers of his peers on the Admiral’s staff. The Admiral (then Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet) summoned a special in camera meeting to resolve the issue with his Chief of Staff and Lieutenant Commander King. Therein Mayo ordered that King’s recommendations be adopted, and soon thereafter sent King on another feather ruffling mission, this time to shake up the Navy’s somnolent bureaucracy so that Mayo’s Atlantic Fleet could more quickly sail into World War I. Going full bore, King forced solutions on others’ turf, demanding more efficient ways to convert naval ship power plants from coal to oil, train the flood of raw recruits, and locate then convert commercial vessels into warship auxiliaries. King cut out the bureaucrats, slashing red tape, to get the job well done, leaving yet more ruffled navy feathers in his wake.

    While shaking things up, finding quicker ways to get naval tasks done better so as to better fight WWI, King concluded that far too few officers of all ranks were prepared for the war they now had to fight. A long peace had ruined their readiness. Many officers didn’t know what their job was, much less how to perform it with excellence, and properly train those under their command. This included admirals. Too many relied on show and bravado, without the competence and character that their job demanded. So at war’s end the newly minted Captain King, likely as a result of Mayo’s strong support, assumed command of the Naval Post Graduate School at the Naval academy. By 1920 Captain King had proposed, led, and written a committee report that ultimately redesigned the post graduate education of all naval officers, and also sharpened the objectives of Naval Academy degrees.

    King’s revamped post graduate education worked in steps. First a General Line school, next a Junior War college, then Senior War College. Junior grades learned a technical specialty critical to the Navy’s winning wars. Mid-grades learned how to command a ship so as to sink enemy ships. Captains learned matters critical to an admiral’s rank: how to command many ships and win sea battles, and how national policy should inform war strategy. All were trained for their assigned job, tested for competence in it, and trained for their next step up should they earn it by demonstrated competence and character. Many jobs that had been outsourced to civilians before were now performed by naval officers. King considered this common sense. Those who fire or command weapons in battle should know how to fix, and make those weapons work better, on the job so as to win the fight they’re in. Similarly so those in command of men should know how to fix and improve the performance of those sailors under their command before any war and during it. What could be more fundamental to winning wars than this? King argued. Translated: easy free ride naval careerism was over. Hard challenging work “well done”, including innovation, was the order of the day, no matter the rank, or past reputation, or obstacles in the way.

    King next went about setting a sterling personal example, finding for himself cutting edge commands in the Navy. He wanted to command emerging weapons, jobs that demanded innovation, whether in the weapon’s development, or in the building of doctrines, tactics and training that best deployed such new weapons in war. King’s major commands between 1920 and 1940 included;

    1/ a submarine division, 2/ New London Submarine Base and school, 3/ two deep water submarine salvage operations,

    4/ the aircraft squadrons of Scouting Fleet, 5/ the Norfolk Naval Air Station, 6/ the aircraft carrier Lexington,

    7/Bureau of Aeronautics, 8/ Aircraft Base and Aircraft Scouting Force, and 9/ US Navy Aircraft Battle Force.

    In the fields where King labored lay the future of the US Navy and its combat effectiveness in World War 11.

    In each case of command responsibility, King pushed these emerging technologies, their uses, and operators, hard. He constantly probed, seeking new capabilities for these weapons and ways to expand their known capabilities. He built new doctrines. He worked to expose flaws in the existing doctrine while he tested the strengths and weaknesses of weapon systems, and best practices in their operation, maintenance, readiness and deployment. In doing this often highly technical and creative work, he got in deep. Often he’d micro-manage solutions and fixes, and push people hard, and threaten the need for older weapons commanded by others, ruffling more feathers. Thus he transformed US Submarine doctrine and operation into the offensive mode. The Bureau of Aeronautics under his command developed naval aircraft that set world speed and distance records. It not only recognized the great value of innovative Marine Corps dive bombing tactics, it incorporated those new capabilities into naval aircraft doctrine and design. The payoff came at Midway when a few dive bombers dramatically shifted the balance of power in the Pacific over to America’s side.

    In 1936 King headed into “the Field” to put an emergent naval technology and its theoretical doctrine to the severe test of its limits under near wartime conditions. There in the Pacific he set about training his PBY aviators to fly extreme distances over water doing air reconnaissance as well as patrol bombing and gunnery, search and rescue, anti-submarine and convoy escort missions as they tested their long range aircraft, developed its doctrine, tactics and maintenance protocols, and built remote seaplane anchorages thoughout the northern and central Pacific. It was all quite remarkable. Most importantly it was highly pertinent to the ocean war with Japan that loomed while most of America slept. For nearly two years King’s command roamed the Pacific, flying through all kinds of weather, often to exhaustion, landing on and taking off from remote coastal locations and tiny open water landfalls, working on shoals, shallows, and reefs amid surf while sinking anchors, stringing cables, constructing a complex of inter-operative seaplane anchorages that brought vast distances of the Pacific’s open water within the reach and control of US military power. Doing this demanding and dangerous work, many men working alongside the 57 year old admiral quit, unable to sustain the pace and strain. When his tour was done, King had written the book on the PBY – what the machine could and couldn’t do in the Pacific – and built an infrastructure that dramatically expanded its reach, capabilities, and power, transforming his seaplane and tender command from static aircraft coastal bases to a multi-dimensional trans-ocean naval base and scouting command. Along the way he mapped and parsed vast swaths of Pacific Ocean, searing its perils, pitfalls and opportunities into his psych, ready for instant recall. So only a few years later he could run a navy, its ships and planes, around a Pacific ocean war from Washington DC. And build the fleet he needed to fight it.

    These dramatic results also came about because King incorporated all that he’d learned in the Navy (commanding destroyers, submarines, the carrier Lexington, the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics, and seaplanes) into his next post, that of Commander, US Navy Aircraft Battle Force. In early 1938 when he pushed his aircraft carrier fleet to its limits, searching for new doctrine and capabilities, he directly challenged the Navy’s powerful Gun Club and its hallowed doctrine that enshrined battleships as the Navy’s dominant weapon. In a single stroke out of the blue, King unilaterally threatened to gut the US Fleet’s center of gravity, its battle line of battleships and heavy cruisers, upsetting a hundred of years of naval doctrine, when he proposed to transfer his carriers Saratoga, Lexington, and Ranger (soon to include Yorktown and Enterprise) to the Fleet’s Scouting Forces (its light cruisers, destroyers, and scouting planes) and put the consolidated Fleet under his command. Cut free from the 21 knot Battleships, King could then run his fully integrated and independent task force great distances at up to 33 knots, moving at will and in any direction, before he launched airborne strike forces from sea-borne platforms aimed at targets far over the horizon using fleets of naval aircraft flying at high speeds to deliver bombs, bullets and torpedoes that hit enemy fleets and bases with devastating surprise then exit the scene at high speed to escape enemy counter-attack, leaving only vast stretches of empty blue water in his task force’s wake. Thus he’d create his own innovative naval task force and the doctrine to deploy it with a flexibility, speed, reach and punch that far exceeded the sum of its parts or any other battle fleet in history. Typical King, now all fit to win the upcoming war, and culminate his career.

    There was a hitch, however. The Bureau of Navigation Chief rejected Kings request. Only battleships could protect “fragile” aircraft carriers from enemy surface fleet attack, Rear Admiral Adolphus Andrews insisted. But battleships had far more important things to do than follow aircraft carriers on their narrowly focused missions, given that only battleships screened by cruisers and destroyers could do the US Navy’s primary work: sink the enemy fleet while protecting their own. Hence carriers must be tethered close to battleships not only to survive but to support and allow the rest of the fleet to accomplish its mission. This logic was inescapable. Fleets must be built and operate around their supreme offensive and defensive naval war machine, the irreplaceable battleship. This was Holy Grail, an immutable war fighting doctrine since Mahan, and long before Mahan. Andrews ordered King to keep his nose in his own business, his “specialty,” namely aircraft carriers that support and work under the command of the Battle Fleet. To nail shut the lid on King’s foolishness, the Gun Club promoted Rear Admiral Andrews to Vice Admiral with orders to take command of the US Navy’s Scouting Fleet, blocking all predatory schemes and maneuvers by fly boy admirals.

    But King was not to be denied. At the start of Fleet Problem XIX, Vice Admiral Kalbfus rejected King’s advice to operate Sagatoga and Lexington as a independent carrier task force. Disaster ensued. Planes off the carrier Ranger, operating in its own task force hit Lexington before PBYs disabled her altogether and Battleships sunk Saratoga. Kalbus changed his tune. After accepting King’s advice in the rest of FP XIX, Kalbus’s forces achieved not only victory but deployed radically new tactics that waged naval war with far more speed, force, and surprise. With King in command (and with future CNO Admiral Starke aboard) the Lexington and Saratoga broke away from the Pacific Scouting Fleet and, although the Lexington had to retire due to an epidemic onboard, the Saratoga ran southeast for a 1000 miles under the cover of squalls then launched an air attack on Hawaii with total surprise and success. Next King sailed his independent task force of carriers and cruisers east to strike the American continent. Coming within range he launched air attacks to catch the Mare Island Navy Yard near San Francisco by surprise. 1a/ These startling results gained by placing aircraft carriers at the center of the fleet to vastly expand its power, reach and effectiveness, threatened the Gun Club. To protect their careers and power, the club placed King on the road to retirement without considering him for NCO. The Gun Club reigned anew, so America slept. King called Washington’s political admirals “fixers.” Ultimately he’d have to fix the mess they left behind. 2a/

    So, almost four years after Admiral Andrews rejected King’s 1938 request to mass carriers task forces for independent action, a Japanese six carrier task force 3a/ attacking from the northwest (following King’s route) caught Pearl Harbor by total surprise. America’s long range Navy PBY patrol force, whose mission should have been to prevent such surprise attack, was destroyed on the ground. US Commanders charged with defending Pearl Harbor had left it blind to long range enemy carrier attack instead. King, on taking command of the entire US Navy after the debacle at Pearl Harbor, would be left with three carriers 4a/, no battleships and twelve cruisers to counter an onslaught led by ten Japanese carriers, ten battleships, and eighteen cruisers. He’d also be left with a disfunctional US Navy, shocked into a disoriented, all thumbs defensive crouch. On Admiral Kimmel’s relief, nobody could get their act together. Task forces felt unable to relieve Wake for “lack of oil.” An enemy carrier threat off the Marshals posed by a derelict half submerged barge adrift in mid-ocean scattered another task force. A US Navy back in Washington decided itself hobbled by a war plan named Dog that had swallowed its own poison pill – Defend. That single word would soon threaten to force an American fleet back behind the Oahu, Alaska, Panama Canal defensive line. A green and shaken US Navy up against a battle hardened fleet almost three times its size, suddenly lost the will to fight. Taking command 30 December 1941, King tossed out this toxic recipe for defeat. 5a/ Within fourteen months King’s offensive had flipped and forced Japan’s military into the beginning of a death spiral.

    The Marine Corps played a central roll in achieving these startling results within the first fourteen months of King’s first Pacific war offensive. So we’ll drop back in time to consider the Marine Corps’ development of amphibious landing capability, a doctrine built in the 1930s, one as revolutionary as the development of naval air power during the same period. Then we’ll consider how Ernest King and General Holland Smith USMC played critical rolls that helped put together the puzzle that created the awesome power, reach, and flexibility of a radically new Navy-Marine Corps team. An air/sea/land task force centered around naval air power and amphibious landing capability supported by naval gunfire ships offshore and a new Alligator Navy that linked land and sea, this generated its strike force. New and massive sea-borne logistics trains fueled that force. The result was awesome: light infantry and armor that delivered a punch from the sea broke down the doors at enemy beaches then surged inland as naval task forces thousands of miles from home launched aircraft that not only reinforced the Amphibious assault but also struck from over the horizon, devastating enemy fleets and aircraft trying to come to the rescue. It’s a remarkable story, with stupendous consequences.”

    See http://2ndarmoredamphibianbattalion.com

    1. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

      King was right about a great many things. Having those wings made him a very able commander.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    Tar Baby here – following …….

  9. sherlockj Avatar

    Much of the commentary here so far honors the seriousness of the subject. Thank you.

  10. djrippert Avatar

    The problem with military corollaries is that the people of Virginia and America are not, by and large, soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. They have no common training and they are not obligated to follow any orders beyond those legally issued by government. Our leaders are not bound by a strict chain of command as can be seen by governors publicly disagreeing with federal authorities about the timing of the end of the lockdown. Or by Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress trying to add virtue signaling requirements about employees electing members of corporate boards to the coronavirus bailout bill.

    This is not a war and the vast majority of the citizens of Virginia are not sworn members of the US military. Believing otherwise would be a monumental mistake. Even the flag of Virginia portrays a tyrant presumably felled for his attempt to exercise undue control over the people. It is both a symbol of the past and a warning to future leaders.

    The standards of leadership in this crisis are competence, the ability to engender trust and being able to inspire citizens to do the right thing primarily of their own accord.

    Northam’s competence has been legitimately called into question by his delay in declaring a state of emergency and his procrastination in closing Virginia’s schools. More recently his actions seem to be in accord with other states so he may have found the experts required to help him make competent decisions.

    Northam’s ability to inspire has been seriously compromised by the dishonesty and arrogance of his past actions – particularly the yearbook blackface / klan robes / Coonman revelation and his unwillingness to “walk back” the rhetorical incontinence over his apparent references to infanticide.

    Northam is making no attempt to inspire Virginians to do what’s right during this emergency. He is playing the nameless faceless aristocrat all too common among Virginia politicians. Where other governors take to the airwaves to explain the situation and the basis for their actions Northam issues edicts by press release from Richmond – a place Virginia’s elite equate with Mount Olympus.

    The people of Virginia will obey the governor’s orders only so long as as they believe those orders are necessary and, on balance, worth the sacrifice being requested. And make no mistake – the governor’s “orders” are actually requests. Anybody who thinks that a weak character like Ralph Northam can use some combination of the police and national guard to force Virginians into actions that are not in alignment with what those citizens see as being in the best interests of Virginia sorely misunderstands Virginia history.

    Take a long look at our flag Gov Northam. Then take a deep breath, walk up to the podium, turn on the cameras and explain your vision for the future to the people you need to convince to do your bidding.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Northam has been doing more than issuing press releases. He has been having daily televised press conference at 2:00 p.m.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        no matter. He needs to be strung up anyhow… 😉

      2. djrippert Avatar

        Great. Where can his analysis of testing in Virginia be found? Given this is the single most important aspect of understanding the impact of COVID-19 in Virginia I assume Northam has a clear and concise analysis of testing in Virginia at state labs and by local authorities. The kind of data presented daily by Gov Cuomo in New York.

        If that testing data exists it is being ignored on this blog for some reason. We continue to whipsaw between “Virginia is only seeing arithmetic growth” and “if the testing were widespread we’d all realize what a pickle we’re all in”.

        If comprehensive testing data is available in Virginia please either publish that data or point me to it and I’ll publish it.

        If comprehensive testing data is not available then I guess we’re all in the dark.

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    The thing about the military – back in Medieval times is that they were the primary vectors for pandemics.

    Most of the pandemics of that period were associated one country’s army invading another country to do battle and one side or the other was initially infected then it spread further.

    Cities under siege sometimes were the recipients of diseased bodies catapulted over their walls:

  12. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I recently finished reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s study of Lincoln’s leadership, Team of Rivals. One of his many leadership qualities was his ability not to hold grudges. He would overlook, minimize, or forgive those who criticized him or tried to undermine him, even those in his own cabinet. By taking that approach, he was able to win their loyalty and utilize their talents.

    Other qualities of good leadership:
    1. Be able and willing to recognize and acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them.
    2. Acknowledge the contributions of those who work for you and give them credit.
    3. Confidence in yourself, but modesty about your self in public. If you are a good leader, people will know it without your having to tell them you are.
    4. Honesty.

    Then there is the general description of a leader: The ability to get people to do what they should do but would not otherwise do.

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