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Myers Outlines Characteristics of Servant Leadership

Contact: Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (Jan. 23, 2014) – Trustworthiness, strong character, and focus on “the greater good” of an organization are characteristics of servant leaders. That’s the opinion of Gen. (Ret.) Richard B. Myers, former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. He spoke to a gathering Jan. 22 on the University of Central Missouri campus, when he presented the Ike Skelton Lecture, the first presentation in the recently established Servant Leadership Lecture Series.

Gen. Richard Myers
Gen. (Ret.) Richard B. Myers presents the Ike Skelton Lecture in Hendricks Hall Jan. 22, launching the new Servant Leadership Lecture Series, a joint initiative of UCM and Whiteman Air Force Base

The Servant Leadership Lecture Series has grown out of a partnership between Whiteman Air Force Base and UCM and reflects the joint values of both organizations. It is part of the Whiteman Advantage initiative which brings together personnel and resources from Whiteman and UCM to create a shared vision of community while improving opportunities for servicemen and women on campus and on base.

The Ike Skelton Lecture is one event in the series, and was created in honor of former Congressman Ike Skelton, a Democrat from Lexington who passed away in 2013, having served as Missouri’s 4th District Congressman from 1977 to 2011. His tenure included leadership as the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, which gave him an opportunity to personally work with Gen. Myers.

Throughout Myers’ presentation, the general cited Skelton as a prime example of an individual who devoted much of his life to servant leadership. He called him a “man of great character,” possessing the qualities that America needs in today’s leaders to tackle major national issues, including terrorism and national security.

“Ike was a man of his word in every sense, and a pleasure to work with,” Myers told the gathering of UCM, WAFB and community members. “I think having this lecture series and talking about servant leadership is what’s going to keep America able to deal with those challenges.”

Myers said he appreciated Skelton’s desire to ensure military personnel continued to learn beyond the basic skills they are taught in the service.

“One of the things he was concerned about was professional military education. Just so you know, I think professional military education, like Ike Skelton thought, is what differentiates the United States militaries from all the militaries in the world. If you spend 20 years in the military, no matter what branch of service you are in, you are probably going to spend 10 percent of your time improving your education,” Myers said. “Not many other professions require that. A lot of that is due to Ike Skelton and the importance he attached to it (education).”

“There could not be a better name to put upon this series, and I feel very honored to be a part of it,” Myers added.

During his speech, Myers outlined traits he believes are vital to leaders. He emphasized “strong character.”

“Let me help you define character,” he told the gathering. “The first thing you can say about character…if a person has good character…then they probably have great integrity. They can be trusted by their friends.”

“In the military, integrity is a pass/fail item. You can count on the one on the left and the one of the right get the job done. If the one on the left lets you down, your mission could fail and you could die. It’s that simple,” he said.

“What I found out during my military career is if you couldn’t be trusted, then nobody wanted you around,” Myers remarked. “Those who don’t have good integrity in the military sooner or later wind up looking for other work. I can say the same thing about the private sector now that I am on several company boards.
“If you are going to be a good leader, you have to be both trusting and trustworthy. You have to be trusting of those below you and those above you, and people have to be able to trust you.”

Myers said leadership with good character includes knowledge that an individual is “serving something bigger than themselves.” He spoke about Maj. Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold, who was sent to Ft. Riley, Kan., in the early 1920s after defending a friend who was adamant about the potential power of aircraft in the military. While he was serving there, Arnold was also offered a job as president of the Pan American Airways.  Believing “there is a lot more that I can do for my country,” Arnold turned down the job offer and eventually went on to become Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. He was the only Air Force general to hold five-star rank, and the only person to hold a five-star rank in two different U.S. military services.

“No matter what you are doing, you have to think about the greater good, and that’s got to be satisfying to you,” Myers said. “When someone has that notion, people are going to get in your line, and they’ll follow you anywhere because that’s really what it’s all about.”

UCM President Charles Ambrose and Brig. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing at WAFB, joined Myers on stage for introductions. Ambrose noted that Bussiere will soon be leaving Whiteman Air Force Base to take on new responsibilities as deputy director of command, control and nuclear operations, J3 on the joint staff at the Pentagon.

“UCM is grateful to Brig. Gen. Bussiere and his legacy of self-less, community-focused leadership, which provides the foundation for the Servant Leadership Lecture Series and General Myers’ visit,” Ambrose told the crowd.

After his formal remarks, Gen. Myers fielded questions that were read by Brig. Gen. Bussiere, and submitted by UCM students and service members. He also took time to respond to a few audience questions. He met with local members of the media prior to his speech.

A Kansas City native, Myers served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Oct. 1, 2001 to Sept. 30, 2005, after previously serving for 19 months as vice chairman. As chairman, he was the highest-ranking military officer in the nation, serving as the principal military adviser to the U.S. President, the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council.  He oversaw the U.S. strategy on the war on terrorism, including U.S. efforts in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the military relief efforts following the Pacific tsunami in 2004 and Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005.

A highly decorated military officer and a seasoned fighter pilot who logged more than 600 combat hours during the Vietnam Conflict, Myers spent 40 years in the U.S. Air Force. His career includes numerous operational command and leadership positions such as Commander of the U.S. Space Command, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Pacific Air Forces; U.S. Forces Japan, and two fighter wings.