The Day my Classmates in an Army Leadership Class Laughed at Me

Bottom Line Up Front:  Love. Sacrificial, disciplined, gritty, 4-in-the-morning Love can drive a man to die for his friend or to kill.   

 

A Combat Kind of Love.

Ferocity resides in every man. And violence. And Love. Men are so complicated that we can Love with ferocity and put ferocious violence at the service of Love. When we get this wrong, we get the world we see around us. But when we get this right, all Good things are possible for more people. So you and I—and all men-- had better get this right, because many men are getting this wrong. For a vivid example of ferocity and the emotional complexity of violence at the service of a Good Man, look no further than Marine Corps General James Mattis, who said to Iraqi tribal leaders in 2003:

“I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you (attack) me, I’ll kill you all.”

Pleading with tears in my eyes—don’t make me kill you. That is a fierce kind of Love. It’s ferocity based on acute self-knowledge in service to a higher Good, a love of clarity, capability and confidence. It’s a love that hopes fervently reason will prevail but does not lack determination, courage and conviction to do what is necessary.  And it will carry the day.

 

Six Kinds of Love

It’s no coincidence that IQs (if you believe in such things) correspond to vocabulary. Whereas speakers of modern English have one word for Love—that most complex indicator of what makes us human-- in Ancient Greek there are six basic words for what we call Love. Here they are in an order I think will keep your attention best:

Eros (AIR-ohs), or sexual passion. Men like this one. Fascinating and The Most Powerful Narcotic Known to Man, but in this post we aren’t talking about this kind of love except as a precaution. Eros— left unchecked-- can possess, crush and destroy men because it can lead to a complete loss of control.  Eros can add spice to a healthy life to intensify it. It can also lead to a cancerous self-cannibalism in which our appetites consume us. It can seduce us into a narcissistic fantasy world of pornography, but that’s a fight for another day.

Philia (FEEL-ee-uh), or deep, comradely friendship.  The intense friendship between brothers in arms in combat. Characterized by strong loyalty, sacrifice for others, and the sharing of intense emotions.

Agape (ah-GAH-pay), or love for everyone. This is radical, selfless Love.  This is the Love that conquered the Roman Empire and, indeed, much of the world. This is radical Love we extend to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. It seems irrational in light of temporal matters.  

Latin scholars later translated agape as caritas, which we now call charity, but charity as we understand it today is a weak, pale, emaciated thing compared to agape or caritas.  Agape is in dangerous decline. Empathy levels in the U.S. are down sharply over the past 40 years. The steepest has been since 2003. A lack of agape has led to the objectification of human beings—treating people like things.

Philautia (fil-OW-tee-uh), or love of self. The wise ol’ Greeks recognized two kinds of philautia; an unhealthy love of self-focused on personal gain, but also a healthier version that enhanced the capacity to love more widely. The Greeks knew how we see ourselves is how we see the world.  

Aristotle wrote, "All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man's feelings for himself."

Pragma (PRAHG-muh), or longstanding, mature love. Pragma is the deep understanding that develops between a long-married husband and wife. It’s patient, tolerant and compromises to help the relationship over time.

Ludus (LOO-dus), or playful love.  Affection between children or young lovers. Doesn’t concern us here.

I’m combining philia (soldierly Love between comrades in arms who have survived combat together), agape (radical Love of all) and philautia (healthy Love of self) into one word in English, Love. This combination of radical Love, soldierly Love, virile Love, and reflective healthy Love of self is the Masculine Love we must practice in business. Indeed, it’s the best way for a man of serious integrity to succeed in any significant undertaking.

 

Masculine Love at its finest; Love as decision.

Strong Masculine Love is tough. It tells the truth, but gently. It chooses the (even very) difficult right over the easy wrong. When a strong man loves well he puts the welfare of those he loves first. He serves those he loves and does so with dignity. He doesn’t lie to those he loves to avoid a difficult discussion.

[Well… maybe… sometimes…]

But here’s a key concept—Love is not a feeling. Not an emotion. Masculine Love is a discipline.  A decision.  An act of the will. Masculine Love is devoted. It’s dynamic.  It’s fierce. It’s loyal. In business, Masculine Love plays a vital—perhaps the most vital-- role. Working that proper role out with your business team, deciding how and when to put the client’s needs before your own—when, indeed, to put your team’s needs before your own—is something you must figure out early in the game. If not, one day you’ll sell out. You will. And you won’t even know it until you’re flex-cuffed, hog-tied and surrounded by jeering enemies. Or worse.

When my Army Leadership classmates laughed at me.

Young men are idealistic. I was. In 1982 my idea of being an Army Officer was very romantic.  I wanted to kill Communists but didn’t know what it takes to kill a man. Once I got a taste of the Army of the 80s, I wanted more and more of it. The hunger to be both a soldier and a better man. The desire to do difficult things and prepare to fight. In 1986 I was a 25 year old Captain at Fort Knox in the Armor Officer Advanced Course with about 45 other Captains in their mid-20s. Our Leadership instructor asked us,

“What is the most important quality of a combat commander?”

I raised my hand. When called upon, I rose and said,

“Kindness.”

The entire class erupted in jeers of derision. My thinking? We can assume tactical and technical proficiency. It’s the U.S. Army, for crying out loud. We can assume boldness. In combat, leaders get killed faster than everyone else, yet we win. We can assume average intelligence.  Individual leaders are not brilliant, or our warfighting forces would never win battles. The system must outlive the brilliant performers. This is why I am distrustful of lionizing military leaders for being brilliant, so called. They start to think they are exceptional when, if we are honest, they are average men, well-intended, we hope, who survive a bureaucratic system and learn to play it, sometimes, and survive. How are the great ones exceptional?  They are exceptional in their character, tenacity and ability to love.

 

“You gotta love your soldiers.”

The greatest combat leader I knew had a heart like a lion and loved courageously.

That phrase sounds funny, doesn’t it? Lionheart. A heart that is fierce, strong, proud and brave. A heart that powers a ferocity that can kill you. That’s the kind of man he was. He teared up when he heard the United States’ National Anthem and The Army Song. He was a dangerous man of conviction and honor. And Love played a crucial role in his leadership. He loved his country, he loved the Army, he loved soldiers.

The rest of that admonition, “You gotta love your soldiers,” went like this:

“…and some soldiers need a hell of a lot more love than others.”

And here he would smile.

“You are cowards and traitors”

He was larger than life, magnanimous, and ferocious. He once interrupted an Officer Professional Development class to tell to all the officers in his Command; “You are cowards and traitors to your oath to the Constitution if you don’t tell me when I am wrong.”

He took conscientious objection seriously. He taught us we had a moral obligation to be strong enough to correct him. Or defy him if we believed he was doing something immoral. Or illegal. Or harming the Army, our unit, or our soldiers. He nurtured and encouraged subordinates to be stronger than he was. He was as effective as he was a Good Man. And we tried to emulate him as leaders. But it was his character that inspired trust, confidence, and the will to win. Not his brilliance. He was very strong, and he loved us all. It was a face-to-face combat culture. Like business.

“You gotta love your…”

Who is it difficult for you to love in a way that is gritty, sacrificial, disciplined, and painful? Whoever they are, the harder they are to love, the more likely it is that you are there to serve them. Who needs you at 4:00 in the morning when they have nobody else to turn to? I have asked this question of clients, customers, managers, subordinates. You must love them. And some of us need more love than others.

In fact, it is when we are at our ugliest, when times are worst, that we need the loyalty and truthfulness of strong men. The only time loyalty really counts is when there are 10,000 reasons to be disloyal. But you remain steadfast. And love like a man.

Call to Action: Finish this sentence: “Today, I choose to serve…” Who? What? Spend some time deciding who you choose to serve. Then, decide to put their welfare first. By serving and putting their welfare first, you are in fact deciding to love them. Use this approach with your most difficult clients, employees, bosses, suppliers and vendors. We often find the most difficult people to choose to love are in our own family. Make that decision—choose to love and do it with boldness and fixity of purpose.