Powerful Leadership Reflections from Arlington National Cemetery

Two weeks ago—as part of the International Union of Elevator Constructors laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—I was honored to lead a group of men and women on a walking tour of our nation’s most hallowed ground. Throughout the day, our group paid tribute to those who served and sacrificed—Audie Murphy, James Parks, a masonry vault containing the remains of 2,111 soldiers gathered from the fields of Bull Run (Manassas, VA) and the route to the Rappahannock River, Robert Todd Lincoln, John F. Kennedy…and so many more. As always, it was a chance for reflection and humility.

These leadership tours of Arlington National Cemetery have become cherished moments for me. I am always looking forward to the next one.

Arlington National Cemetery is a place where every American can find solace and reflect on the achievements, selflessness, and lives of those buried there. The purpose of these tours is to not only pay homage to their memories but also to link experiences from the past to current day behaviors and principles – ultimately, helping to shape and develop leaders adept at learning from the lives of others.

Veterans Services Bugler, Laying a Wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, I shared reflections from this special day that will hold true for years to come:

  1. Inspiring Others to Action. The character of our fallen inspires us – this includes their actions during their lives, as well as their personal presence both on and off the battlefield.
  1. Individual and Team Success. Leaders can’t (and shouldn’t) rest on their laurels. Should they do so, they are sure to find themselves disappointed by missed opportunities and delays.  
  1. Leading by Example. Real leaders earn the respect of their people by their personal presence and enduring pressure. Effective, trusted leaders never back down when things get difficult.  
  1. Relationships and Trust. We all want to work with people we admire, respect, and trust. Interpersonal relationships depend on trust. Therefore, a workplace culture built on trust is essential for success.
  1. Indirect Versus Direct Leadership. Leaders at all levels, either directly or indirectly, influence people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to improve the organization or accomplish the mission. 
  1. Decision-Making. The best leaders understand how and why they make a decision, their individual level of comfort with decision-making, and how they best receive, process, and seek information when making decisions. Never fear decision-making; instead, embrace this critical aspect of being a leader. 

The lessons we’ve learned from those who came before us are still alive today. These lessons are relevant to every individual who wants to improve his or her performance, both as a leader and as a follower. If you are interested in a customized Leadership Walking Tour of Arlington National Cemetery for your employees, organization, or family & friends contact Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services.