Although I had already been a commissioned U.S. Navy officer for more than 11 years at the time, the message hit me anew every time I read it.
The message—stenciled in black letters upon a white sign and affixed to one of the many blast-resistant walls that encircled Camp Eggers in the heart of Kabul, Afghanistan—greeted us just inside one of the vehicle entrances to the small, crowded base.
It simply read as follows:
The duty to set the example for others to follow by executing orders and enforcing standards falls to the greatest degree on the most respected and qualified members of our profession its leaders.
In the military, setting the example—number five of 11 in the list of the U.S. Navy’s Leadership Principles—isn’t just a suggestion. It’s an obligation. It’s a duty that defines at its core what leadership is and what leadership is not.