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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: It's never too early to cultivate gravitas

February 14, 2013|By Joe Puglia

On a recent night the girls and I were sitting around the dinner table. Our daughters were doing all the laughing. They were in stitches, describing some of the campaign speeches used by their peers in the pursuit of student office. I stared at the girls with a deadpan face because I saw no humor in their stories.

Apparently there is a distinct methodology for gaining office in student government at the high school: You've got to be funny, and you've got to be popular.

I have a different take on what leadership requires. It was only through an act of Congress that I became an officer in the Marines. It wasn't because I was popular. And there were many times when I walked the razor's edge between the weight of responsibility and the effects of insanity from that responsibility.

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As a student of Latin, I learned about the solemnity placed upon the charge and responsibility of leadership. The Roman Republic called it the “Cursus Honorum,” the course of honor. Those who aspired to public office underwent a series of assessments to determine the honor or worth of their character. It was imperative that leaders of the Roman Republic have a certain gravitas. Public office was earned not only by deed but also by strength of moral fiber. The Romans understood that leadership is not a component of popularity; it's doing the right thing. So, I must have missed the part where leaders have to be funny.

There's a scene from “Glory” where Col. Matthew Gould Shaw, the commanding officer of the 54th Massachusetts, is promoting one of his soldiers to the rank of sergeant major. The responsibility entailed in this esteemed position is mind-boggling.

As the colonel confers the rank he says, “Congratulations, Sergeant Major.” The new sergeant major whispers in the colonel's ear, “Sir, I don't know if I want this.”

Colonel Shaw responds, whispering in the sergeant major's ear, “I know what you mean.”

Colonel Shaw and the sergeant major were killed at the battle for Fort Wagner.

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