People do not like to be put in boxes, and just as important, people do not like to be in the dark, outside the door where company values and vision are shaped. People are less energized and tend to drift when they are unsure of how they should be operating within an organization. People need to see their leaders’ commitment to values, and they want a part in helping to shape their organization’s core values and vision.
So how do you show this? There are five steps to helping your company and your team stand for something greater and this week, we’re digging into step 5.
5. Recognize the cost
Standing for something greater often exacts a significant price. Senator John McCain, speaking at the 1988 Republican National Convention, told the story about a special soldier whom he met while a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
McCain spent over five years imprisoned by the North Vietnamese in what was called the “Hanoi Hilton.” In the first few years of his imprisonment, McCain and the other soldiers were kept in isolation. Then in 1971 the North Vietnamese put the prisoners in more open quarters with up to forty men in a room.
One of the men in Senator McCain’s cell was Mike Christian. Mike was from the rural south and had joined the navy when he was seventeen. Eventually he had become a pilot and, after being shot down in 1967, was captured and imprisoned.
As the prison rules eased, the men were allowed to receive packages from home. McCain stated, “In some of these packages were handkerchiefs, scarves and other items of clothing.” The prisoners’ uniforms were basic blue, and Mike Christian took some white and red cloth from the gifts and fashioned an American flag inside his shirt.
Mike’s shirt became a symbol for the imprisoned Americans. Every day, after lunch, they would put Mike’s shirt on the wall and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. You can imagine that, for these men, this was an emotional and significant daily event.
One day the Vietnamese found Mike Christian’s homemade flag. They destroyed it and later that evening, as an example to the other prisoners, beat Mike for over two hours.
McCain remembers, “I went to lie down to go to sleep. As I did, I happened to look in the corner of the room. Sitting there beneath that dim light bulb, with a piece of white cloth a piece of red cloth, and another shirt and bamboo needle was my friend, Mike Christian. Sitting there with his eyes almost shut from beating, making another American flag.”10
Lt. Commander Mike Christian is a real-life example of how leaders can shift their focus away from themselves, their power, and their potential to something (or someone) outside themselves, seeking the greater good for others as well as for the organization and the community at large.
Standing for something greater moves leaders past their own interests to something that benefits everyone. It takes controlled strength not to fall back to the shortsightedness of doing things only for selfish gain or selfish reasons.
In a POW camp Mike Christian was willing to stand for a symbol of the country he loved. His actions inspired others to stand strong as well and not to surrender hope. That’s the power of commitment to something greater.