This week I am in the process of finishing my graduate course entitled Leadership in Criminal Justice. Going into this course I looked forward to it with much the same enthusiasm as one might feel while waiting for a colonoscopy, lobotomy, or root canal. Of what possible use can this be to me, I thought. As it turns out, and write this date down because it doesn't happen often, I was wrong. There are plenty of connections between this theoretical course I took and the history courses I teach. I just needed to know where to find them
There exists something called the Great Man school of history which follows a premise that history is nothing more than the deeds of great men. There is a built in gender bias there, of course. I think that if we called it the Great Figure school of history, it might not have fallen into disfavor amongst academics. The idea that a person can, through sheer force of will, personality, or character influence an age is an interesting one to say the least. To dismiss it out of hand would be wrong as I think few can doubt that Hitler, for example, put his mark on an era. If you argue that he was merely a product of his time, so too were plenty of other people and they, with the exception of Stalin and a few others, did not become maniacal mass murderers.
I wasn't short, damn it!
What this course has shown me is that great leaders, be they generals, politicians, or everyday people like you and I, are sometimes born but more often made. As a Half A$$ Historian, I like to study monumental figures from the past to try and figure out what made them tick. What were their shortcomings, their fears, and what obstacles stood in their path. There are real life lessons to be learned from this. For those who say that history has no practical application, this is what I point to in order to prove the wrong!
I struggled with depression.
It isn't just about leading countries or leading men into battle. We all have the ability to be great in our own way. For some of us, it might simply involve being the best parent we can. Maybe we aspire to being the best at our job or gaining a promotion. Some might be happy being the best parent they can possibly be or the best writer or maybe graduate from Half A$$ Historian to a Complete A$$. (Though plenty who know me might say I have already gotten there!) Regardless of what our end goal is, we all have the power to change our own history and perhaps by extension, the histories of those around us. Consider me. I was on top of the world with a career I excelled at. All that ended in an instant. Now I fight chronic and often debilitating pain and PTSD with its accompanying issues that are life altering on their own. My story could have ended there and to be honest, there were times when I wanted it to. But I make a decision every day to get up and go to the one job left that I can physically handle. I made the decision to go back to school and try to better myself. And maybe learn something along the way. Which brings me to the actual point of this post and I do apologize for being a little more verbose than normal.
Dress for success. Or I'll hit you!
What have I learned about leadership in a historical context? Well, I idolize General Patton and so I look to him for leadership examples. I think that when you look at some of his maxims, you can apply them to great leaders throughout the past. Here are just a few:
1. Do more than is expected of you.
2. Never take counsel of your fears.
3. A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood.
4. You're never beaten until you admit it.
5. Select leaders for accomplishment, not affection.
And of course:
6. When in doubt, ATTACK!
All of these things helped make Patton our greatest battlefield commander, in my opinion, but it also has bearing on our day to day lives. We can all take these words to heart, whether we are leading troops in battle or "commanding" a classroom. By studying what makes great leaders from the American past tick, we can gain valuable insight into our own strengths and weaknesses. That, Dear Readers, is a real world application of history. I am also inclined to agree with the General's poem, Through A Glass and Darkly when he said
So through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
I have fought in many guises
Many names, but always me
So forever in the future
Shall I battle as of yore
Dying to be born a fighter
But to die again once more
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who hopes to be getting his second straight A in my new graduate program!
Sources: Patton's Maxims are all of the internets! I recommend Carlo D'Este's masterful biography if you really want to know about the man. He's even more interesting than the movie! And you can find his Maxims here.