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  • James McNeil

Leadership and the suicide struggle

“A great man is hard on himself; a small man is hard on others.” Confucius

While serving in the US Army, I had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of leaders. Some were amazing (such as General Richard Cody), and some were somewhat less than dazzling. (I’ll keep their names out of this.) But one trend I’ve noticed in the Army as well as after is that a good leader leads themselves first.

Every morning at 0600 we were expected to assemble for physical training. The good leaders did not just expect us to give our all in this training. They did too. When it came to our jobs, the good leaders went above and beyond to make sure we knew we could count on them. They expected results from us, but before they did, they gave us results. Because of this, we followed them willingly.

On the other hand, I could probably write a book about the mistakes and missteps of poor leaders. The biggest and seemingly most popular mistake I saw was that they focused on changing their people without offering anything personally.

In 2003, we were in Iraq, and the directive came down that we would have to start working out in the morning. We were relatively stable enough that we would be able to start a morning workout routine, so we were expected to do so. One of the sergeants in my company was almost never at the physical training. He almost always had some pressing matter to attend to, but he sent his subordinates. (No, he was not my direct supervisor.)

Because of the way he was harder on his people than he was on himself, the lack of respect they showed him was incredible. They may have obeyed his orders, but it was clear they gave the least amount of effort they could.

What does this have to do with suicide?

As we begin to reach out to our friends and family who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and ideations, we need to remember this one truth. The way we act is going to carry much more weight than the words we say. Are we telling them to keep going while we sit back and do nothing? Are we telling them they can overcome anything while we don’t even try?

This is something I am re-learning today as I prepare for the last couple of weeks of 2020. Going into 2021, I have a dream. I want to make suicide a thing of the past. I’m going to be working harder than ever next year to help empower people and make that happen. Finding Your Personal Mission was just the beginning of this dream. Together, we can eradicate suicide!

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