“Be Thou at Peace”

December 29, 2012 — 1 Comment
GEN (Ret.) Schwarzkopf and Gus Lee 2008

The General and Gus in front of a tribute from the West Point class of ’68.

He was a giant in our lives and in history. When the Nation doubted itself, his example reanimated us.

At West Point, when I thirsted for character strength, he generously poured from his cup into my young, puny spine. This was all the more unusual, for in that era, most faculty kept cadets at a distance.

Throughout the 47 years that I knew him, he challenged me to suppress my strong desire for self-advancement and my fear of failure, and to replace them with the intentional behaviors of moral courage and selfless service.

He owned a temper that could rival that of Moses. I saw it many times and trembled in its exercise. He once threw chalk at me when I began to doze in his classroom. His anger came from a fear that, via inattention, selfishness and weak spines, we would fail those who were entrusted to us.

A naturally interior person, he intentionally modeled how to courageously and rightly care for our people. His formal job was teaching us engineering, but he lived, demonstrated and taught principled leadership to change our character. Like Aristotle, he knew that character is essential for professional excellence, and is the first requirement of happiness.

In periodic contacts in subsequent years, he reinforced the truth that moral cowards cannot inspire others to their best selves. In our business dealings, he encouraged me to act in the right and validated my risking my corporate vice-presidency to do the right thing. I called these actions “RORTS,” Regardless of Risk to Self-interest. I learned that concept from him when I was a 19-year-old cadet.

I spent the greatest amount of time with him before he was H. Norman Schwarzkopf, four-star general, prime presidential candidate material, Knight of the Bath and recipient of a museum’s worth of planetary recognitions. While eating hot dogs in his quarters on a Saturday afternoon while children chirped on the Plain, I was critically aware of his substantial intellectual gravity and commanding physical personality. But his impact on me was relational and spiritual. He was a chest-opening moral presence. Licking relish from his fingers in his tiny Bachelor Officer Quarters, he was the living example of the man I was supposed to become.

He was my mentor and he was like a father, and I will always be filled with gratitude for his leadership. I appreciate him with the same acuity with which I miss him.

I send heartfelt prayers and blessings to his wife Brenda and their three wonderful children, who sacrificed their time with him so he could serve the Nation and our allies.

The final stanza of West Point’s Alma Mater begins,

And when our work is done,

Our course on earth is run,

May it be said,

‘Well done, Be thou at peace.'”


November 7, 2012 — 1 Comment



Edgar Bodenheimer
Nuremberg Prosecutor

Tito hit me so hard I crossed two time zones before I hit the canvas. After smelling salts snapped me out of my reverie, I realized I had lost. After being helped up, I took Tito’s gloves in mine. “Goo fight,” I tried to say through my half-snapped mouthpiece. Thus did a Chinese kid learn a little about being a good American sport. After the election, can you, like a good sport, Unconditionally, Positively, Respect your opponent?

Current campaigns imitate conflagrations. I work with firefighters who battled Colorado’s 2012 wildfires. The fires took lives, burned 655 homes, torched 213,550 acres, destroyed animals, cost $200 million and blew smoke and ash in our eyes. They came within a mile of adding our home to the 22 that were consumed in our neighborhood.

Our Presidential election consumed ten battleground states, a million attack ads worth a billion clams, years of smears that burned nearly 6 billion bucks (1) and made political spit-ball a routine American Olympic event. Vicious  accusations punched my ears and yet echo in the small, hollow space between them.

I plead guilty to yearning for an earlier Golden Age. I know we had one – people used to work for a living instead of living to work, and, well, just check my waistline. Jefferson and Adams may have gone to Fist City in 1796, but there were no Presidential fisticuffs in the Fifties. We had polio, segregation, three TV channels and a high risk of nuclear eradication, but the Nation voted for Ike or Adlai without the seething anger, deep-seated hostility and vicious finger-stabs which define today’s differences. Only 7% of us had college degrees. It’s increased almost 400% (2). Now, despite a massive higher education industry and diversity, we act like accusing Javerts instead of forgiving Jean Valjeans. Somewhere, Victor Hugo weeps.

So let’s take a deep, cleansing breath as I introduce you to Professor Edgar Bodenheimer, Holocaust refugee, gentle legal scholar and my law school inspiration. He projected Unconditional Positive Respect, UPR. In fabricated German, it becomes “Ooper.

Hitler began his persecutions in 1933; Edgar smelled humans burning and fled the Holocaust, landing happily in the US. As an American Nuremberg prosecutor, he made the case of Nazi crimes against humanity. He did it by respecting those who had done unspeakable evil.

His profound humanity dictated that he honor all persons – even those who had slaughtered his family, friends, and millions of innocents, and had made a mockery of civilization.

I can see Prosecutor Bodenheimer, who, in thick socks stood a dignified 5’-6”, facing Nazi Germany’s cruel genocidal murderers. He neither hates nor resents. He does not accuse, attack, rail, rant, blame, raise his modest voice, or tout his wisdom, acumen or intellect.

EDGAR: If you would, please, Mein Herr, tell me what you were thinking prior to your decision to build the shower installations at Dachau?

Can we show that same respect for people of the other party? My natural tendency is to only honor those I like. OoperUnconditionally, Positively Respecting those who disagree with me – comes as naturally as a self-performed root canal. Edgar inspired me to be a deputy DA who prosecuted evil doers with unfailing civility. Here’s an example of me cross-examining a defendant charged with despicable crimes, followed by an Edgar Ooper:

ME (NATURAL STATE): You contradicted yourself! Isn’t it true that you’re an inhuman, murderous, rapacious, deceitful, hideously twisted sick sociopath who’s worthy neither of drawing air nor worth the cost of a light bulb in Soledad Prison. (In other words, you’re a member of the opposite party.)

ME (WITH BODENHEIMER OOPER): Thank you, sir. Please tell us what happened next.

The 2016 campaign began earlier this year, but the Hobbesian brutishness of our colluding conflict began much earlier. Like when we carried clubs.

One side accuses the Other of insensitivity, brutishness, greed and cruelty.

The other counter-accuses: stupidity, irresponsibility, waste and hatred of Nation and God. We decry fundamentalism as we become increasingly fundamentalist, accusatory and intolerant.

If you didn’t deeply love the 2012 version, what can you do personally to improve our national civic culture? I challenge everyone on all fifteen sides of the American aisle to demonstrate Ooper – Unconditional Positive Respect – to the fellow Americans with whom you differ. That’s one out of every two of us. Like a boxer and a true American good sport, win or lose, congratulate your opponent for the depth of her convictions. Toast the fact that in the USA, we argue, debate and even rant, and we don’t have to imitate Congress.


(1) http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2012/08/2012-election-will-be-costliest-yet.html

(2) http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/p20-550.pdf



We live seriously: election hostility, the unemployed, fear of being unemployed, burn-out, the market, hurricanes, global HIV/AIDS, the national 220px-70th_Academy_Awards_posterdebt and the Middle East. Few giggles.

The Great Depression produced uplifting movies about prosperity, kindness and dance. Like many immigrant kids, I practiced becoming an American in Hollywood’s feel-good escapism. As a kid, I always wished I could watch the Oscars on television. Kids in our ‘hood, didn’t. I was a film buff and was very hard to beat in the Silver Screen category of Trivial Pursuits.

I had a light-hearted moment when I was busted by security cops at the 70th Academy Awards. Lee Mendelson, producer of Peanuts, and I were writing a screenplay for China Boy. To distract me from our work, he invited me to the Oscars.

“The Oscars!” cried Diane. I found out that they have an annual lottery system for limited seats that means even stars can’t go. And I was going! It took a while to sink in, like learning that you’re going to be a father or your team, a perennial loser, has won the Super Bowl.

Academies, as West Point, have Rules. At the Awards, it was: no cameras; tux or gown; no cameras; only limos; and, no cameras. As a former Deputy DA, I, well, brought a camera. A small one. On the inward route, onlookers held up placards: Good Luck! We hope you win!

It was the year of Titanic and movie hoopla reminded me of the days of youth. The day was bright and the smog smiled. Exiting onto the red carpet, people shrieked at Lee, who looks like Garry Marshall; at his date, who looked like Jennifer Lopez; and screamed, “Jackie Chan!” at me. I nodded and smiled and warmly waved at my enthusiastic admirers.

I stared at petite Julianne Moore, lean Samuel L. Jackson and a very lean Celine Dion, who would sing the Titanic theme song in that season when Leonardo was a demi-god, and I collided with a building. The building wore Oakleys and said, “Non-nominees and non-winners to the left.” It was a security guard who could play tackle and guard for the Rams. Simultaneously.

Faye Dunaway 70th Oscar Awards

Faye Dunaway, as she appeared that night.
photo by Ron Galella at wireimage.com

“What if I were Jackie Chan?” I asked. We were now on thinner carpet; I was relegated to steerage where people spoke Italian and Chinese and had no life jackets, while First Class passengers were feted at a champagne reception, no doubt with lifeboats and a silver tea service on the side. Yet, most of those present were stars; I was surprised that they weren’t taller. Faye Dunaway was next to me, tall, stunning, evanescent in a gown of seven veils that danced without apparent movement. I stopped; she stepped on my foot. Grasping my biceps and squeezing a little, the woman who was Vicki Anderson, Milady de Winter and Bonnie Parker said, “I’m so sorry!” I quickly said, “I’m not.” With the speed of a paparazzi, I readied my camera. Miss Dunaway smiled dazzlingly.

The Secret Service looks for guns. Oscar’s security scans for cameras. “No photography!” cried The Building. “Give, sir!” Busted. I surrendered the camera and my identity. Miss Dunaway pursed lips and canted her head in a gentle gesture of sympathy.

“Miss Dunaway, please,” said The Building, who lifted the velvet rope for First Class. She released my arm and joined the other Oscar winners.

Too small and agile for bulky guards, Robin Williams danced up and down the line, asking with exaggerated care, “How are you?” In a few hours, he would win an Oscar for Good Will Hunting. “How are YOU?” I asked of him. “No, no!” he protested. “I ask the questions here, wise guy!”

On this Monday night in March, 84 million would watch what we saw in person. Billy Crystal made us laugh like lunatics; Jack Nicholson made cynicism look good; the stars emitted light, like so many lasers. A disembodied Big-Brother-voice kept herding us back to our seats after every commercial TV break. “It’s your show, folks,” it intoned. “Don’t embarrass yourselves! PLEASE SIDDOWN!” A tired Walter Matthau rested what had to be size 26 clown dress shoes. Robert DeNiro looked finely human. The female stars looked inhumanely beautiful.

Big Brother then introduced 70 past Oscar winners. A sign of age: I knew all of them and could name most of their winning films. I saw Charlton Heston, and silently thanked him for giving hope; Gregory Peck for inspiring courage; Sean Connery for encouraging a taste for sports cars; Cher for the immortal line I use in my seminars: “Snap out of it!” Hollywood can sprout the sorriest values while making the best films, and these 70 actors took our breath away.

Lee Mendelson and I clapped and cheered and wiped a tear. This was a slice of America far from the chronic challenges of life. The Oscars remind me to celebrate not being so serious.

This was a light moment. What memories do you have that give pause to stress?


photo courtesy of copyrighted iStockphoto.com

Everyone says they want to do the right thing. But in the struggle to do it, how do we know what is truly right?  From Built to Last (1) and the last blog, we discovered that the Do-Rights created companies that were incredibly successful. How did they know what was right? How do any of us know that?


We’ve lost the art of knowing the Highest Moral Action, the HMA: Sadly, 75% of our high school and over 60% of college and grad students cheat (2); 43% of U.S. children live without a father(3); and 87% of U.S. managers would commit fraud to make their firms look better(4). According to Kerry Patterson’s research in Crucial Conversations, 98% of Americans are conflict avoidant (5) – and, ergo, are cowardly. Our once-robust economy, now busted by fraud, grows joblessness and insecurity. Meanwhile, we argue that we can’t really know the right thing.


I was a small, scared, asthmatic, legally blind kid in a tough, Fist City black ‘hood. Movies were an escape. I loved Disney’s pre-Pixar Pinocchio – a little wooden puppet who wants to be a real boy. The Blue Fairy says the puppet’s wish for humanity will come true if he is “brave, truthful and unselfish” – in other words, if he can become a prince of character.



photo courtesy of copyrighted iStockphoto.com

To be brave, truthful and unselfish, Pinocchio (and young Gus) will have to listen to his conscience.

Here’s the catch: Pinocchio doesn’t know what a conscience is. The real challenge in 21st Century America is that we don’t know, either. We no longer morally reason. Today, “conscience” is outdated. I’m an educator, and a corporate and government trainer, and I don’t hear that word in the classroom or seminar space until I raise it. The word, “Conscience,” causes people to frown, pause and think.

The kind Blue Fairy commissions Jiminy Cricket to act as Pinocchio’s conscience to face temptation, bad company, easy wrongs and moral disaster. Jiminy warns him, but the wooden lad is “grabbing life.” Mistakes continue; Pinocchio lies. This endangers everyone, like a moral Ebola virus.

In the final act, he sees and then does the highest moral action: he has to save others from his errors. This will cost Pinocchio’s life.

In imitation of reality, the Blue Fairy grants a second chance to the now brave, truthful and selfless puppet. We get it: when conscience is animated, we see the highest moral action, and love becomes possible, relationships flourish in happiness, and life gains deeper meaning.

But that’s just a fairy tale, right?


Brave is Disney’s newest in a pantheon of fifty-plus cartoon films. To protect her own interests, Merida, a headstrong princess with hair the color


photo courtesy of copyrighted iStockphoto.com

of a forest fire, resorts to the advice of a witch. Where’s Jiminy Cricket when we need him? The resulting spell cast upon her mother, Elinor, produces a family and community tragedy.

Merida must discern the meaning of the riddle, Mend the bond torn by pride. She must stop blaming the witch and accept that her self-centered actions led to awful consequences. It’s only when a conscience-stricken Merida sees the highest moral right – the hardest thing to do – that healing occurs.

But it’s only a fairy tale, right?

Maybe not. The movie-reviewing website Rotten Tomatoes found that Brave was liked by an impressive 80% of viewers. Is this speaking to a longing for us to KNOW and DO what is right?

In Courageous Leadership seminars, I teach Three Tools to know the Highest Moral Action. The first, installed by original engineering in each of us, is the conscience. Except for Disney and the Built to Last Do-right firms, it’s gotten a bad rap.

We access Conscience by stepping on our mental brakes, letting Conscience whisper to us and by discerning the highest moral action. We accept that trying to figure out the right thing is better than saying it can’t be identified. The alternative method is to ignore the moral whispers and prepare for the eventual unintended results to yell in our ears.

In subsequent blogs, I’ll reveal the other two methods of discerning the Highest Moral Action. In today’s turbo-world, Jiminy Cricket needs help!

QUESTION: What behaviors can you adopt to slow down on high-speed moral intersections, and allow Conscience to have its small but powerful voice?

(1)    Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, HarperCollins, 1994

(2)    www.academicintegrity, the International Center for Academic Integrity

(3)     U.S. Department of Census, 2010

(4)    2010 Global Fraud Study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners

(5)    Patterson, et.al., Crucial Conversations, McGraw-Hill, 2nd Ed (2011

We all want success. But do you have a list of actions to achieve it?

If you had a magic lamp, would you be wise, or impulsive? If our blog gave you Three Habits for Success, would you follow them?

Magic lamp

photo courtesy of copyrighted iStockphoto.com

In 1933, Winston Churchill reported that Adolph Hitler was going to war. Churchill observed that democracies would have to quickly change behaviors to survive it. Few believed him. Even fewer acted until it was nearly too late.

In 1994, in Built to Last,* Stanford business professors reported on how to maximize profits. Research said corporations which did the right thing made more – huge amounts more – than companies that simply sought results.

Do-rights made 700% more than their rivals and 1500% more profit than the general market. No flash in the pan: they made these huge profits for a hundred years.

Do-rights were led by gutsy, principled people who inspired their companies to actually live out high core values behaviors. It’s what leaders do.

Like Churchill, this blog does more than report facts. It provides behavioral solutions to recurring, age-old problems. It is a call for action to replace fearful expedience with courageous right action.

I’ve worked with extremely inspiring, Do-right leaders. Because they listened, and believed the Stanford data and the principles that pre-existed the research, they found the courage to adopt the Three Habits. They did this despite discomfort, they did it despite fear, and they became built to last.

I was Formed to Fizzle. I preferred early promotion over improved character. I chose trying to look good over being morally right. While these bad habits stymied my success, they at least produced stress, frustration and unhappiness.

How can you be Built to Last? I’ve studied this question for four decades.

The answers are not about intellect, speed or margins. They’re about doing the right thing and changing behaviors. They’re about loving virtue.

Here’s your Magic Success Lamp. Are you ready to test your wisdom with three clear – and tough – new habits?

1.        Discern the Highest Moral Action. Everyone thinks, but few discern. This isn’t easy! It takes guts to practice this. No more thinking short-term, expedient decisions that seem easier, but aren’t really.

2.        Do the Highest Moral Action You’ve identified the Highest Action. Now use your strong backbone to do that action regardless of fear or risk to self-interest.

3.        Work with a Mutual Accountability Partner to encourage you to adopt Habits 1-3. (Even if you’d prefer root canals to changing your old ways.)

THE QUESTION: How will you adopt the Three Habits? Check in next time for tips on how to discern and do the Highest Moral Action. Meanwhile, enjoy practicing your new Habits of Success, and becoming Built to Last!

*Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, HarperCollins, 1994


Welcome To My New Blog!

June 27, 2012 — 7 Comments


Long before the invention of the corporation (or Twitter),we were hardwired  to show courage regardless of risk to ourselves.[1]                                                                                                     

I wrote that line in 2006. It remains true. That’s because whether we’re blue, red, green, or the American bluish brown-conglomerate of these often clashing primary colors, we all dislike cowardice. We don’t like it in others; we don’t like it in ourselves. We’d hate it in those we love.

Today, without courage, nothing—from relationships to families, communities, firms, economy, our Nation or democracy —is safe from the toxic effects of our pervasive fears.

For years, I’ve been in phone conversations and snail/email correspondence with many of you regarding courage, leadership and ethics. Few matters are more essential. Courage is not physical bravery or valor, which most of us seldom require. But we need moral courage when we think, speak, act, relate, decide or react – a hundred times a day. It is the stuff of life, itself.

Last week, Diane urged me to begin blogging as a more effective way to encourage the dialog. Thanks to her, the blog invites personal and community consideration of courage in our relationships and courageous leadership in life.

Years ago, I was asked to meet with Terry Stein, M.D., and Dr. Bob Tull, experts in professional education on the West Coast. Their company serves 3 million members. Our task was to help several hundred of their hard-working leaders raise sagging customer and employee satisfaction scores. Since most of our lives are spent in communication, we designed an intense leader development program focused on strong communication. This evolved into Courageous Communication, which Diane and I detailed in Courage: The Backbone of Leadership. The program was effective in leader development and in raising satisfaction scores, but I remember a leader named Fred Baring. After one of our tough leadership clinics, I asked if the new tools had helped him with a challenging team member. He had someone else in mind.            “

I used your model with my teenage daughter,” Baring said. “It’s changed everything.”

iStock_000001515376XSmallTwo days ago, Chief Tom DeMint of the Poudre Fire Authority in Colorado called me. He had just led his courageous and brave fire fighters in four weeks of combating lethal and vicious wildfires that took three lives, 600 homes and 150,000 acres of forest land. It had been the state’s largest firestorm in history, and Colorado’s communities loved them as never before.

“I was talking,” said the Chief, “with Luke (not his real name, a tall, broad-shouldered battalion chief with piercing eyes.) He had just helped citizens in a bad emergency. I’ll give you the details later. He said your class last week changed his life. He wants your email address so he can thank you.”

So this is our conversation about courage.

Please join me in discussing how to activate, strengthen and share it.



[1]  Gus Lee and Diane Elliott-Lee, Courage: The Backbone of Leadership, Jossey-Bass, 2006, p. 2.