Manvotional: Leadership and Responsibility

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 24, 2013 · 19 comments

in Manvotionals


This is a different kind of Manvotional…a short audio interview rather than a piece of text. But I heard it today on NPR’s “To the Best of Our Knowledge” and found it so powerful I knew I had to share it here.

In the clip, Steve Paulson interviews Donovan Campbell, currently an author and business executive and also a veteran of three combat deployments — two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. In 2004, Campbell was serving as a Marine platoon leader at the beginning of the insurgency in Ramadi. His platoon saw a ton of combat, and half of his unit would eventually be wounded. Campbell pledged to get all his men home alive, but during an attack, one of Campbell’s men was killed. Paulson and Campbell revisit an interview they did four years ago about the tragic incident, and Campbell speaks about meeting the killed Marine’s mother, and apologizing to her for failing to bring her son home. He speaks stirringly about how a leader must take responsibility, even if he’s not directly to blame for something:

“I still own my responsibility in the failure to bring him home. It may not have been my fault, but it was my responsibility. I was the leader and there was only one person to look to, when you, for everything that your men do or fail to do, and that’s the leader…That’s the right mentality to have, even though you may err on the side of carrying too much weight. Particularly as I’ve seen leadership as applied in, well, at least in my context in the business world, I think that the Marines get it right, and they got it right by teaching me from the get-go that hey, it is your job as a leader to accept responsibility, that’s what you do, particularly to accept responsibility for failure. And when you’re given these forty young men, we’re going to tell you your life is no longer about yourself, it’s about taking care of them and achieving your mission. That’s a, I realize now that that’s a rare philosophy, and that’s a rare leadership model. We say that life is not about you anymore. The minute you pin on the rank, and the minute you accept that paycheck, you accept responsibility and you accept a commitment to something greater than yourself. And I think that applies just as much now as it did then.”

If you’ve got about ten minutes, listening to the whole short interview is definitely worth your time.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrew March 24, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Sounds so easy but to accept responsibility for both the good times and bad times is one of the hardest things in life for a man. Great quote and link.

2 AA March 24, 2013 at 11:35 pm

“We say that life is not about you anymore.”
That’s pretty much the definition of manliness in one sentence.

3 Adam March 25, 2013 at 6:33 am

In college, I’ve heard more people hold to the belief that there is no value in self-sacrifice at all. “You’ll be more useful alive than you will be dead,” they say.

This statement greatly disheartens me, and I am in utter horror when I consider all of the things that have happened to our culture that caused so many people to believe this is true. We put such great emphasis on the self that we essentially become the gods of our own worlds.

4 Jan Dreyer March 25, 2013 at 8:49 am

Thank you for bringing this to my attention! Very powerful words!

5 Phil March 25, 2013 at 9:24 am

Awesome. I washed out of Officer Candidate School. Simply wasn’t prepared. I wish I had taken it more seriously as I could use these leadership tools now.

6 Stan R. Mitchell March 25, 2013 at 10:24 am

That has to be tough. While we didn’t lose anyone in 97 when we earned our Combat Action Ribbons, we did lose a man in 99 in jungle warfare training. And to this day, I still find myself often getting angry about it. See here:

I think all vets get a little messed up from everything they have to deal with.

7 J.Delancy March 25, 2013 at 11:54 am

One of my very first Manvotionals was “The Power of Self-Direction” by David Schwartz. One his tenants was, “Take Responsibility”. It took me years to learn why it so important but once done, there is no greater power that a man can possess.
Best of all, taking responsibility and showing leadership tends to be a hit with the ladies, which is even more motivational.

8 Nathan March 25, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I sympathize with what Adam is saying. I think so much today we have been desensitized to violence. I think Campbell personifies Manliness, and even more so than serving your country, having that mode of self sacrifice, voluntarily is the greatest triumph. Truly the definition of manliness in one sentence.

9 Solid Snake March 25, 2013 at 1:10 pm

They don’t make them like this anymore

10 Joseph March 25, 2013 at 8:06 pm

If my father taught me anything in this life, it is that being a man in the finest sense of the word is to know that you take responsibility for those around you, whether family, friends or strangers.

11 Jim Weston March 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Campbell’s book is one of my favorites of all time. Joker One really hit me hard after reading it a couple years ago, and I still think I may end up going into the Corps after college. He is a fantastic writer.

12 Jason March 27, 2013 at 2:31 pm

The leadership principles I use today I learned from my platoon sergeants and platoon commanders in the Marine Corps.

13 Joe March 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm

I’ve become more and more convinced that a lot of our problems as a society have to do with how little responsibility anybody accepts for anything now. Moral decisions aren’t my responsibility, that’s what law is for. My safety isn’t my responsibility, that’s what cops are for. My health isn’t my responsibility, that’s what healthcare is for. My happiness isn’t my responsibility, I’m just a victim of my circumstances. Truly accepting responsibility for your life is the best thing you can ever choose to do.

14 Sean March 29, 2013 at 4:50 am

“We say that life is not about you anymore”. It is a philosophy, although not as prevalent in our society today as it was just a few generations ago, that can be found and accessed today outside of the military, too. (I’m not saying that the military isn’t a good place to see this in action, as I’m in my 17th year of military service as an officer). But, the theme of service and responsibility to others is a pillar of the Christian faith…Pope Francis just demonstrated the importance of this yesterday as he symbolically washed the feet of prisoners yesterday coupling ‘service to others’ with humility. It’s difficult to write or speak of the core focus of the Christian faith without turning people off with what seems like tired rhetoric , but if you’re looking for a pure model of manly responsibility, there is not a better example than the focus of this weekend’s celebration.

15 Joe B March 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm

I retired from the Army as a Colonel in 2011. This young Marine has it exactly right. It is a given in military culture that the leader is responisble for all that his unit does or fails to do. Period. Thank you for your service Mr. Campbell. I am proud of you and all that you represent

16 Steve March 30, 2013 at 5:18 pm

As a former army officer and LEO I feel justified in saying that everyone wants their rights protected but very few want to accept responsibility for their actions. The Bill of Rights was an add on to the Constitution. Perhaps it’s time we add on a Bill of Universal Responsibilities.

17 Theagenes April 1, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I belive that this quote is attributed to Cicero: “Non nobis solum nati sumus”, We aint born solely for ourselves.
I like to think about manhood just as the platoon leader has to think about life. Once you belive you are ready to be a man, and that can be either at 25 or at 45, then you must accept it. Its not about you anymore, it will never be.

Cheers from Spain.

18 DFHutchinson May 13, 2013 at 10:51 pm

This great man has helped me deal with coming home from Iraq and leaving with something positive out of it all. I served in the Marine Corps and learned of Lt. Campbell from my 1st Sgt. who served as Company Gunny for Golf Co and deployed with him in Ramadi in 2004 and was mentioned in the book “Joker 1″. Both of these men have been a motivation of what being not only a warrior, but what being a leader is all about, it’s not about yourself but sacrificing yourself for the men you serve. I’m very forever grateful to have learned and served with men like this.
Semper Fi Gents

19 Shawn June 18, 2013 at 8:52 am

I LOVE this site. How wonderful it is to see good old fashion Manliness. I feel inspired by the articles. Keep up the great work. I’ll spread the word as best I can.

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