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GUIDELINES FOR LEADERS. Ethical Lessons From Sitting Bull. A presentation for the Tribal Leaders with Character course THE LITTLE BIGHORN.

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Ethical Lessons


Sitting Bull

A presentation for the Tribal Leaders with Character course

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This was the greatest loss ever handed the U. S. army. Most discussions have focused on the errors of Custer as an explanation. Here, we look at the brilliant – and ethical – decisions made by Sitting Bull that led to victory.

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A Contrast in Ethical Leadership

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What Kind of Leader are You?

  • We ask, “What kind of leader are YOU,” not, “What kind of leaders do we have?”

  • Tribal Leaders with Character is about taking personal responsibility.

  • As a leader, we applaud you for your continued willingness to learn. At the end of this presentation are references to continue your education further.

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    SITTING BULL(A Great Leader)

    “Sitting Bull, great spiritual leader and Chief of the Sioux, …, captured the power of 13 heroic leadership skills to rekindle greatness in his people. The Little Bighorn campaign of 1876 encapsulates these crucial skills and provides a blueprint for leadership action . . .” (p. xxiii)

    Sitting Bull’s leadership relied heavily on an unwritten “code of ethics” that he had lived by in his lifetime.

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    LT. COL. GEORGE CUSTER (An Antithesis to Sitting Bull)

    “Leaders like Custer . . . pursue single-minded objectives that distort their own personal missions and those of their organizations, corrupting the very foundation of leadership. Existing only for themselves and the sycophants who protect them, they create a black hole of selfishness that ultimately collapses in on itself.” (p. xxviii)

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    “Sycophant Isn’t a Dakota Word”

    A “sycophant” is defined in the dictionary as “a servile flatterer.” We call these people, “yes-men,” or something worse.

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    “[Sitting Bull] chose to create a new order, in which the rights of the individual were balanced by a commitment to the welfare of the overall community. Where heroic leadership builds on shared commitment, non-heroic leadership drives toward personal glory.” (Murphy & Snell, 1993, p. xxviii)

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    Results of “Custer” Leadership

    • Two of Custer’s ethical faults were, being abusive to those who disagreed with him, and wanting to take all of the credit for himself.

    • As a result …

      • He received fewer warnings about the superior numbers of the Sioux,

      • He ignored those warnings he did receive,

      • He attacked without waiting for reinforcements.

    • The rest, as they say, is history …

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    Are you a Custer or a Sitting Bull?

    No one likes to hear about problems, but sometimes it’s necessary.

    What do you do when an employee or co-worker points up an ethical problem? What if it would interfere with your plans to hire an employee or get grant money that you think you need? What if it would cause problems because one of the people involved has political connections?

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    Phase One

    Assembly and Integration of Forces

    Phase Two

    Projection and Application

    Phase Three

    Adjustment and Reflection

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    Assembly and Integration of Forces

    (Steps 1 – 6)

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    Step 1. Create Commitment(What kind of leader are you?)

    “Leadership starts with commitment the bonding between leader and followers behind a common purpose.” (p. 4)

    Sitting Bull: Led through commitment,

    through service to others,

    Custer: Led through contempt,

    through selfishness and exploitation.

    “For each, their vision set priorities for those under their command …” (p. 4)

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    Do You Use Your Position for Personal Gain?

    • Have you hired relatives over others who were more qualified?

    • Do you travel on “tribal business” and then spend your days shopping or sight-seeing?

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    Step 1. Create CommitmentThree Acts of Personal Courage

    • According to the Lessons of Sitting Bull …

    • “. . . the first step on the path to leadership is a private one, in which a leader solves the great paradox that lies at the heart of leadership success: that self-fulfillment comes from service to others.” (p. 5)

      • 1. Recognize the need to change.

      • 2. Search for knowledge needed to accomplish change.

      • 3. Share the struggle to make the change a new reality.

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    You: A Courageous Leader!

    We congratulate you on taking this path. You are taking this course because you recognize the need for change and are willing to change.

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    Step 1. Create CommitmentCommitment and Freedom

    Fact: “. . . Commitment to others represents an act of individual freedom. The desperation and finality of his commitment freed Sitting Bull from petty ambitions for control and glory.” (p. 11)

    Sitting Bull: Fused his destiny with that of his people.

    Custer: Unlike Sitting Bull, Custer and leaders like him look for leverage, for ways to advance their own careers, sometimes at the expense of their people.

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    Step 1. Create CommitmentCommunity of Commitment

    • There are seven distinct phases a good leader goes through to infuse commitment into a group of people.

      • Establish a context within which people can understand the cause.

      • Inspire hope in the cause.

      • Build a consensus.

      • Develop a plan for action.

      • Assemble and prepare the team for action.

      • Implement the plan.

      • Evaluate team performance for improvement.

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    Step 1. Create CommitmentCommunity of Commitment

    • Establish a Context – This course discusses the loss of money and trust that comes from unethical behavior.

    • Inspire Hopein the Cause – How often have you heard,

      • “Nothing will ever change.”

      • “It won’t make any difference.”

    • In this course, we want you to know, to believe, that you will make a difference.

    • Build a Consensus – We see this happening on reservations now. More and more people are demanding change from the old unethical ways.

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    Step 1. Create CommitmentCommunity of Commitment

    • Develop a Plan for Action – This course ends with an action plan.

    • The last phases of creating commitment …

      • Assemble and Prepare the Team for Action

      • Implement the Plan

      • Evaluate Team Performance for Improvement

    • …will be addressed in future courses.

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    Step 2. Build Trust

    “All leaders must instill trust in their people. Without trust, commitment will die and the community will lose the constancy of purpose that strengthens the group bond.” (p. 24)

    Sitting Bull: Built trust as part of a strategy for

    revitalizing the Sioux. Sitting Bull’s

    people trusted him to guide them, to serve their needs.

    Custer: Custer cast distrust throughout the

    ranks of his men; they did not like him.

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    Are You a Person ThatYour People Trust?

    Do you treat people in a fair manner, so that your employees and co-workers like you?

    If you think you could use a little help in this area, please see our section on Emotional Intelligence.

    Also, read our section on Moral Collapse to see the warning signs of mistrust.

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    Step 3. Increase Power

    Practice Strategic Humility

    “The first step to power involves denying it for yourself, subordinating the self-centered urge for personal gain to the collective benefit.” (p. 51)

    “The greater the need for power, the more a leader must understand the need for strategic humility.” (p. 51)

    Acquiring strategic humility is not something you are born with. It is a learned skill. It requires immense self-control over selfishness and arrogance.

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    Step 3. Increase PowerShare Power to Increase Power

    Sitting Bull: His people were able to channel their own power through him because they trusted him. Sitting Bull harnessed his people’s power by not competing with it. He subordinated personal ambition and showed others the need to do the same. He merged his needs with those of his people.

    Custer: His arrogance undermined his ability to build trust and increase power through others. Custer drew power from his rank, and through fear he inspired in his men. Custer often harshly punished his men for the most minute infractions.

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    Step 4. Live the Experienceof Your People

    “Sitting Bull knew that he must first seek to understand his people before he could expect to be understood by them.” (p. 74)

    Sitting Bull: He lived among his people claiming no special privileges. He ate what they ate, slept where they slept, traveled among them, and shared the responsibilities of daily life.

    Custer: He remained aloof from his people. He treated them with the same contempt he treated his enemies. Custer rode the best horses, ate the best food, and slept apart from his men. He did not know them.

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    What Kind of Leader are You?

    Do you “claim no special privileges?”

    Do you come to work whenever you want, work however many hours you want, and then expect those you supervise or your co-workers to put in a forty-hour week?

    Do you stay in four-star hotels in Washington while your people don’t have heat in their homes?

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    Step 5. Be a Healer

    Sitting Bull: Leaders bestow beneficence, generosity and compassion upon their people. They areresponsible for their people’s welfare.

    Custer: was taught to be a one-dimensional thinker. His goals were based solely on his personal ambitions and the careers of his benefactors. He was after personal glory.

    “For Custer, charity and compassion were alien concepts, unmanly acts demanded by weak underlings and provided by misguided leaders.” (p. 96)

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    Step 5. Be a Healer

    Yes, we need to adhere to policies and procedures. However, do you have the strength and courage to show compassion?

    For Example: Rose was a tribal worker who had been sober for two years. After the death of her son, she was drunk for three days and missed work. The tribe had a “no tolerance policy” and she should have been fired. When she tearfully admitted her reason for absence, her supervisor did not fire her, but gave her a warning that she would be fired if it happened again, citing Rose’s two years of excellent work as a justification for not terminating her.

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    Step 6. Communicate onMany Levels

    Sitting Bull: Sitting Bull gathered information from all levels of his people: other chiefs, scouts, tribesmen, elderly, women, children, etc. He was in touch with all locations of the “Sioux” world.

    Custer: Isolated himself so he and his men entered the Battle of the Little Bighorn deaf, dumb, and blind. He failed to cooperate with superiors, ignoring orders: he failed to listen to advice, and he paid the price.

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    Do You Listen?

    Are you a leader who listens to advice, from whatever source?

    Do you listen to the concerns of youth, of elders, of community members served by your program?

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    • Our “Tribal Leaders with Character” project offers multiple means of communication:

      • Post on the Spirit Lake Forum:


      • Send your opinion through the “Your Turn” forms on our website.

      • Write an article for Miniwakan News

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    Communicate on Many Levels!

    If you feel the need to remain anonymous, we will respect your privacy. You never need to include your name or email on our, “Your Turn” forms.

    You can log in to the Spirit Lake Forum as anonymous. The password is tribaljoe.

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    Phase One

    Assembly and Integration of Forces

    Phase Two

    Projection and Application

    Phase Three

    Adjustment and Reflection

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    This Completes Our Study of Phase One,

    Assembly and Integration of Forces.

    Phase Two, Projection and Application, Begins Now

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    Projection and Application

    (Steps 7 – 11)

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    Step 7. Think Strategically

    “Sitting Bull planned for the welfare of generations; Custer planned for one moment of personal glory.” (p. 148)

    When thinking strategically, you break down your challenge into manageable pieces. There are six distinct sub-steps to strategic thinking.

    Sub-Step 1. Commit to Thinking Strategically

    Sub-Step 2. Conduct a Self-Assessment

    Sub-Step 3. Assess Your Strategic Position

    Sub-Step 4. Identify Opportunities for Improvement

    Sub-Step 5. Test the Usefulness of the Opportunities

    Sub-Step 6. Take Action

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    Think of the Future!

    When YOU make decisions, are you planning for the future?

    Do you look at giving a per capita payment so you can receive more votes in the next election, or are you looking at economic development, making the tribe financially sound, investing in our schools and early childhood programs?

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    Step 8. Respect Your Competition

    Never assume you are better/smarter than your opponent.

    Sitting Bull: “Sitting Bull … fully respected their [the Bluecoat’s] potential to inflict harm.” (p. 174)

    Custer: “His disdain … clouded his judgment, leading him to underestimate their [the Indians’] ability to mount an effective action. His own self-assurance, and his lack of respect for his competition, prevented him from learning.” (p. 175)

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    Are You Respectful?

    Do you blame others for the conditions in your community, or do you look to yourself?

    Do you look down on leaders who don’t meet your expectations or who misuse tribal funds?

    Are you courteous to people you disagree with?

    Do you try to work out your differences with others?

    Do you expect others to change to accommodate you?

    Or do you try to change to accommodate others?

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    Step 9. Redefine theRules of Battle

    “Creative leaders redefine the rules of battle to turn their enemy’s strengths into a weakness.” (p. 200)

    Sitting Bull: He questioned all the standing assumptions. He encouraged team learning, where people create new ways to tap their potential. All for the good of the team.

    “Team learning depends on shifting people’s focus from their own individual performance to the way that performance fits into the whole unfolding strategy.” (p. 200)

    Custer: Shunned team learning. He held his men in disdain. He cared little for team goals or team welfare.

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    What Kind of a Leader are You?

    Do you share power?

    Do you support the decisions of those who work for you?

    Do you allow others to ignore the chain of command?

    Do you overturn the decisions of your subordinates when asked for a favor by a relative or a council member?

    Do you think rules apply to others, but not to you?

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    Step 10. Know the Terrain

    Effective leaders get to know the environment they will be working in.

    1. They analyze their position. For any campaign there must be a starting point.

    2. They test their position.

    3. They ally themselves with decision-makers.

    4. They identify any roadblocks or warning signals that might jeopardize their mission.

    5. They measure the readiness of their people.

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    Step 10. Know the Terrain(Analyze Your Position)

    • Choose a target – what do you wish to accomplish?

    • Identify relevant changes – what is the current situation and what needs to be changed? What will change given the current situation?

    • Rate changes as positive or negative.

    • Stay focused on your objective – don’t lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish.

    • “Heroic leaders always keep in mind what they are trying to accomplish.” (p. 230)

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    Step 10. Know the Terrain(Test Your Position)

    Intuitively evaluate your relationship with others …

    “The level of emotional connection leaders and their followers feel with their objective directly influences their ability to accomplish that objective.” (pp. 230-231)

    “Ifthey lack confidence in either their own ability to accomplish an objective or in the validity of the objective itself, the resultant lack of connection can sabotage their efforts.”

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    Step 10. Know the Terrain(Ally with Decision-Makers)

    A leader must be able to identify four types of decision-makers and help them answer their questions.

    1. The Economic Decision-Maker Evaluates Cost Question: Can we afford this campaign?

    2. The Technical Decision-Maker Evaluates the Plan Question: Will it work?

    3. The User Decision-Maker Evaluates How Question: How do we implement this plan?

    4. Facilitators Work to Coalesce Forces Behind Plan Question: Who can we get to help?

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    Step 10. Know the Terrain(Identify Roadblocks & Warnings)

    A heroic leader is not overconfident. He/she must constantly look for signs of trouble that might interfere with what the people are trying to accomplish.

    “Constant reassessment allows for course corrections before serious trouble can derail achievement of the objective.” (p. 245)

    Effective leaders identify potential problems early, before the problems grow into concerns that are difficult to solve.

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    Step 10. Know the Terrain(Measure Readiness)

    There are different states of readiness.

    1. Growth – A Society is growing, increasing power, territory, and/or quality of living.

    2. Trouble – People are focusing on current issues. At this point, a leader might remind people of past accomplishments and future possibilities.

    3. Equilibrium – A society is existing, neither growing or in trouble. People are complacent.

    4. Overconfidence – These people need a healthy dose of realism.

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    Are You Ready for Change?

    Is Change Necessary in Our Society Today?

    Are people living well?

    Are people happy?

    Are you focusing on today’s problems or planning for the future?

    Are most of your neighbors at peace or are they cranky and belligerent, or depressed and hopeless?

    If you and your neighbors are unhappy, depressed, angry, and/or frustrated, change is necessary.

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    Step 11. Rightsize Your Forces

    To achieve an objective, you must place the, “right people, in the right place, at the right time, for the right purpose, doing the right work, at the right cost.” (p. 248)

    This is called rightsizing.

    Rightsizing means you start by identifying, what work needs to be done? Then you decide who should do the work, where the work will occur, etc.

    In other words, “the work” gives rise to the need for an organization. You don’t develop an organization and then go out and find some work for it to do.

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    Are You the Right Person to do Your Job?

    The Right People?

    Do you vote for the most qualified person in an election, or the person that can help you, personally, the most?

    Are you doing your job to the best of your ability?

    When at work, are you working or visiting with others?

    The Right Place?

    Do you show up for work on time?

    Are you at work all the time that you are punched in?

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    Phase One

    Assembly and Integration of Forces

    Phase Two

    Projection and Application

    Phase Three

    Adjustment and Reflection

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    This Completes Our Study of Phase Two,

    Projection and Application

    Phase Three, Adjustment and Reflection, Begins Now

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    Adjustment and Reflection

    (Steps 12 – 13)

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    Step 12. Welcome Crisis

    “… even the best planning and the most cohesive team can still fall victim to crisis.” (p. 294)

    “Crisis engenders emotion, and that emotion can cloud a leader’s judgment. The heroic leader learns to control his or her emotion and view any crisis as a natural phenomenon. Even when the unimaginable occurs, the heroic leader remains calm, approaching the crisis dispassionately and with supreme confidence …” (p. 277)

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    Step 12. Welcome Crisis

    A crisis is a critical decision point, when we choose between two or more paths that could change our way of living forever. Native Americans have been living in a state of immediate crisis for the last century.

    This course is an opportunity for us to improve our situation. During this course, we have identified obstacles to individuals speaking out publicly for fear of retribution.

    We saw this as an opportunity to create a forum, anonymous forms, places where tribal members could speak freely and let others know they are not alone in their ethical concerns.

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    Step 12. Welcome Crisis

    • To manage crisis, you must …

      • Anticipate Crisis – acknowledge that crisis can and will occur.

      • Take Charge in Crisis – two kinds of crises demand two different coping strategies.

        • Is the crisis high-intensity, short term?

        • Is the crisis low-intensity, long term?

      • Learn from Crisis – long term crisis requires long term tactics, while short term crisis often requires bold and courageous action.

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    Step 12. Welcome Crisis

    • CASE STUDY – Shell Oil Company

    • CRISIS: A 1990 explosion in the pump room of the Rapana, a 227,400-ton oil tanker.

    • SHELL established an objective: put out the fire.

    • SHELL identified further possible scenarios and prepared plans to deal with them.

      • More explosions might have occurred, so the ship was abandoned (to save lives).

      • The abandoned ship might’ve drifted ashore, so the country most likely to find the ship on its shore was notified (prevent spill).

    • SHELL learned from the crisis – evaluated results.

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    Step 12. Welcome Crisis

    Be Prepared …

    “An ill prepared team is itself a crisis waiting to happen.”

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    Step 13. Measure the Results

    “The final act of heroic leadership involves measuring the results of your leadership, evaluating the consequences of all your plans and personal performance within the context of the vision for which you initiated them. In this way, the measurement process brings a leader full circle, back to a recognition of the need to learn and improve.” (p. 298)

    “An act of strategic humility, honest measurement reaffirms a leader’s commitment to his or her people and thereby strengthens the bond of community interest through which everyone learns and improves together.” (pp. 298-299)

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    Step 13. Measure the Results

    “… too many of our business and political leaders worry more about what the system can do for them than what they can do for the system. What drives such leaders? Fear. Fear of losing the fast buck, of losing their hold on the reins of power.” (p. 300)

    “Heroic leaders, however, recognizing that a life driven by fear does more harm than good, measure results to drive out fear.” (p. 300)

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    Step 13. Measure the Results

    “What a leader measures defines what he or she stands for.” (p. 301)

    Sitting Bull: Constantly measured how his actions and his tribe’s actions affected the future. Sitting Bull’s commitment to the interests of his nation made him a hero.

    Custer: Custer’s commitment to himself alone made him an egotistical and selfish leader and cost him his life. Unfortunately, as often happens with selfish leaders, he took many good men with him.

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    Step 13. Measure the Results

    • Measure Commitment, not Selfishness – Heroic leaders measure results in terms of shared benefits, not self-interest.

    • Measure the Challenge – In terms of intensity and complexity, heroic leaders determine the risk to the lives and welfare of their people before undertaking a challenge.

    • Share the Results – Results of an action affect the heroic leader as much as his or her people. An action is for the good of all or no one at all. An ethical leader lives the lives of his or her people!

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    This Completes Our Study of Phase Three,

    Adjustment and Reflection

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    “Without clear leadership criteria, we will continue to place our country in jeopardy of being manipulated by individuals who, like Custer, take advantage of the absence of such standards to establish their own self-serving criteria for what effective leadership means.”

    Could it be that in the 21st century, we are more like Custer than Sitting Bull in our leadership styles?

    Measuring our leaders against ethical criteria is one way to return to our traditions.

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    “Heroic leaders are made, not born (p. xxx).”

    Murphy, E. C., & Snell, M. (1993). The Genius of Sitting Bull, 13 Heroic Strategies for Today’s Business Leaders. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

    Brininstool, E. A. (1952). Troopers With Custer, Historic Incidents of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

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    Learn Even More …

    We highly recommend the following book, quoted throughout this presentation …

    Murphy, E. C., & Snell, M. (1993). The Genius of Sitting Bull, 13 Heroic Strategies for Today’s Business Leaders. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

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    The End

    This Concludes our Presentation on Leadership.

    Thank you for Coming!