Some Encouraging Leadership from a Marine You’ve Never Heard Of

Posted 11.13.2012

As the scandal around former CIA director General David Petraeus unfolds, it’s hard to find anyone who has covered themselves in glory. It’s all pretty discouraging.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post on how leaders need to have a strategy to deal with the temptations they’ll undoubtedly encounter. It says everything I would have to say about the Petraeus story.  A retired general once told me that there’s an old Army maxim that the further up the flag pole you go, the more your rear end shows. It’s sad and frustrating to see that play out in the news this week.

In case you can’t tell, I’m kind of bummed out by all of this. As I was thinking about it last night, I recalled a conversation I had last weekend on a cross country flight. My seatmate turned out to be a 16 year U.S. Marine named Hector. He was a great guy and we talked off and on as we travelled from DC to LA. In the interest of offering an encouraging story from a quiet leader who’s making a difference, here’s his story.

Hector grew up in Queens and joined the Marines when he was 17. That would make him around 33 years old now. He was on his way home to Arizona from his sixth tour in Afghanistan. He was in in his 32nd hour of travel when we talked having started in Kabul on a C-130 to Bahrain. He went from there to Germany to Dulles Airport in DC. When we landed he was going to have a brief layover in LAX and arrive at home in Arizona around the middle of the afternoon. Hector’s family knew he was coming home in November but he was going to surprise them by getting there a few days earlier than they expected.

Hector loves the Marines but he and his family are tired of the time away from each other so he plans to retire when he reaches the 20 year mark. It sounds like he’ll be ready for it because he’s just about to finish his MBA. Earlier in his career, the Marines put him through college. They also helped his wife with her education and she’s now an assistant principal at a school in Arizona. They have a boy who’s 13 and an 11 year old daughter. Hector has been able to stay in close touch with them by email and Skype during his deployments.

There was so much that struck me in my conversation with Hector – how much he’s accomplished, the life he’s built with his wife, his gratitude to the Marines, the impact he’s had on others,  how quietly proud he is of his service. I felt great just talking to him and really grateful that there are people like him.

Instead of getting bummed by the failures of leaders who knock themselves off their pedestals, I’m going to focus on leaders like Hector who never get put on a pedestal in the first place. I said it to you when we said good bye, Hector, but I’ll say it again. Thanks for your service and for the example you set.