The Simple Eloquence of Example

“Ductus Exemplo” is a Latin phrase for which the meaning is: “You are the example.” It is the motto of the US Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico Virginia which imparts the phrase to aspiring Marine Officers as “Leadership by example.” or “Lead by example.” For a Marine Officer Candidate who is able to survive the many harsh tests of OCS and be commissioned a Second Lieutenant, it is the north star of the rest of her or his leadership career. As an officer closest to the brutal savagery of ground combat, it is only by doing that a young officer can persuade subordinates to prevail against the steepest odds and in the face of certain injury and death. For the subordinates, the power of their leaders’ examples is greater than the most primal urges to preserve their own lives.

This simple motto is the synthesis of nearly all we need to guide our behavior as leaders. The motto tells us many things beyond its literal meaning. It tells us that deeds (behavior), not words, are the true exemplars of character, loyalty, trust, honesty, truthfulness, wisdom, and all the highest attributes that inspire employees and even colleagues.

It tells us to do the right things, in the right ways, for the right reasons. To follow the Golden Rule. To always do our best. To never give up. To value the mission and team above the individual and self. To listen, be grateful to followers, help subordinates, tolerate mistakes, support the employees, be selfless, and much more.

It is the single most influential determinate of employee willingness to be led at all, perform at maximum efficiency and effectiveness, and empower the full potential of the organization. It applies to the leaders of every organization in exactly the same fashion as it does to military leaders.

“What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Keith Stalder, #36

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