Quiet Generals

Omar Bradley was born into poverty. His father was an itinerant school teacher and sharecropper. His father died when he was 15, and his mother remarried. After graduation from high school, Omar took a job as a boilermaker at $0.17/hour.

He can credit his career to his Sunday school teacher who encouraged him to take an exam for entry to West Point. He finished second on the exam, but only the first place winner was accepted. When the first place winner turned down the appointment, Omar was accepted into West Point.

Omar was a star athlete and was considered one of the top college players in the nation. With all of his athletic time commitments, he still finished in the top 30 percentile of his class. In his class, there were 59 future Generals.

He was assigned a military command during World War I, but the war ended before he actually served in combat. Omar came to the attention of General George Marshall and ended up working for him prior to the start of World War II. He was a Lieutenant Colonel at the time.

When World War II began, he was promoted to Brigadier General (bypassing the rank of Colonel). Throughout the war, General Bradley was a key leader in all of the major battles in Europe. He was the quiet general, in contrast to the more flamboyant generals like Patton and Macarthur.

After the war was over, President Truman asked General Bradley to head the Veterans Administration where he fought tirelessly for veteran’s healthcare and assurance that the G.I. Bill of Rights benefits were made available to veterans. Later he became the first ever Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was the key policy maker during the Korean War. General Bradley remained on active duty from 1911 until his death in 1981, giving him the longest active duty career of any soldier in American history.

General Bradley was one of only 5-Star Generals in our history. He was what we now think of as an intrinsic leader (Type I) in contrast to extrinsic leaders (Type X) which we think of when we think of military leaders. Type I leaders don’t thrive on praise or adulation as motivators.  They have an internal sense of what is right and what is needed that motivates them. While they may receive recognition, it is not something they seek out.

General Bradley was a rarity in his day where Americans tended to know more about the charismatic leaders such as Douglas Macarthur or George Patton. But in the long run, his achievements outstripped those who were better known.

In today’s economy, Type I leaders have become more the norm as our society has become more purposeful and looking for leaders who seek motivation by serving society. Unfortunately, our image of leadership hasn’t evolved. When we think of leaders, we tend to think of self-promoters who tend to flame out in the long run rather than the “quiet generals” who have a lasting impact of doing good.

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“We live in a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants, in a world that has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. We have solved the mystery of the atom and forgotten the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about dying than we know about living.”– Omar Bradley

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