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Leaders Set Values by Their Actions

5th Principle's fourth principle of the Muddy Boots Leadership Philosophy is incredibly important. This principle states: Set the example in values-based behaviors both on/off the clock. Hypocritical leadership must never happen. Check out this historical example of how values, both positive and negative, can have monumental impacts.

The United States Army says that integrity, one of the Seven Army Values, is doing what is right both legally and morally. It has also been said that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking. I personally appreciate the line in the Cadet Prayer that states to choose the “harder right over the easier wrong.” No matter how you choose to describe it, integrity is essential for every leader.

One of history’s most significant displays of integrity in a single moment was that of Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson during the My Lai Massacre on March 16, 1968. On that date in Vietnam, American soldiers took part in one of the greatest tragedies in our nation’s history. Driven by anger and frustration from the hardships and complexity of the recent Tet Offensive, a search and destroy mission for Vietcong Guerrillas turned into a massacre of upwards of 500 Vietnamese civilians.

Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson observed the massacre while flying his reconnaissance helicopter. Thompson confronted multiple fellow American soldiers, many of them officers and other senior leaders, during the massacre. At one point, when logic and reason failed, Thompson placed his own life at risk to save innocent civilians by landing his helicopter between the aggressors and their targets and leading several potential victims to safety. Thompson landed his aircraft, ordered his crew to train their weapons at their fellow American soldiers and personally intervened. Thompson confronted an American platoon leader, Lieutenant Brooks, imploring him to cease the attack. The following is their exchange,

Thompson: “Hey listen, hold your fire. I’m going to try to get these people out of this bunker. Just hold your men here.”

Brooks: “Yeah, we can help you get ‘em out of that bunker — with a hand grenade!”

Thompson: “Just hold your men here. I think I can do better than that.”

When Thompson was asked why the My Lai Massacre happened he responded, “I believe the number one cause was bad leadership.” A leader’s integrity must never become compromised. This rings even more true when facing overwhelming adversity. Whether it was a complete lack of or a serious lapse in integrity, leaders failed at My Lai and were responsible for the murder of 500 innocent men, women, and children. There are many examples of compromised integrity at My Lai; however, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson will forever be exalted for his tremendous integrity.

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