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General Boomer ’56: A True Leader Defined

Boomer2.jpgLast week, Randolph-Macon Academy alumnus, General Walter E. Boomer ‘56, USMC, Retired, returned to campus to speak to the Marine JROTC Cyber Patriot Camp participants in Boggs Chapel offering his inspirational message on leadership. “Leadership,” he said, “is the art of causing people to believe in your vision and striving to help you achieve that vision.” While most people would agree that leadership is necessary for the success of businesses, Boomer took it further, saying, “Democracy will not flourish without leadership.” To succeed personally, professionally, and as a citizen of this country, one needs to be a good leader. To help the students accomplish this sometimes daunting task, Boomer offered Four Fundamental Truths of Leadership:

  1. Care about your people.
  2. Set the example.
  3. Know your job.
  4. Be a person of your word.

First and foremost, a leader must care about his or her people. Followers, whether they are employees, volunteers, or soldiers, will not do their best for a leader if they do not think they are cared about. Boomer offered as an example a story about his battalion commander some years ago. While Boomer was a captain, his lieutenant colonel showed him a memorable yet simple act of kindness: he offered Boomer a cup of coffee. As the story goes, Boomer and the Lt. Colonel were making a trek up a goliath-sized hill deep in the forest of Vietnam. Exhausted, Boomer lagged behind a bit. When he made it over that final hurdle of the hill’s summit, the Lt. Colonel offered a hand and a hot cup of joe. “He cared about me,” Boomer shared, “and there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to help him achieve his vision.”

The second fundamental truth of leadership is to set the example. “If you’re not happy with your company’s performance,” Boomer said, “take a look in the mirror.” People mimic their leader. The lieutenant colonel who was waiting with a cup of coffee for his brother-in-arms knew how to set the example. He probably knew that what he was doing was a good deed, but he might not have known that it would have such a lasting impact.

“Know your job” is the third fundamental truth of leadership. How can one be an effective leader without knowing the ins and outs of the position’s responsibilities? Boomer told the students that their job was two-fold: to be diligent in their studies and to learn how to become good citizens of this country and of the world. Along with these two goals, however, Boomer reminded the students to reflect back on the First Fundamental Truth. “Get to know your fellow students,” he advised. He encouraged the students to be the classmate who shows the same kindness to the new freshman student as he shows his fellow senior classmate. Tying the two truths together, Boomer pointed out that knowing their jobs as students includes understanding the responsibility to foster good will among their peers. He also recommended the students get to know their teachers. Boomer reiterated to the Cyber Patriot campers that their job, as both students and future leaders, is to fill their minds with as much knowledge as they can while they’re in school. This knowledge and their experiences with their peers and teachers will help transform them into the future leaders of this country.  

Lastly, General Boomer shared his fourth fundamental truth of leadership: “Be a person of your word.” “If you tell me you’ll be at Point A at 6:00,” he says, “you better be there at 6:00.” People need to be able to trust their leader and believe that he or she will come through for them as promised. Nobody respects someone who goes back on their word. People who follow through on their word develop a reputation among their peers and subordinates as being a person of their word, and that develops trust.

In summary, Boomer stated that a leader who cares about his or her people will set the right example for them to follow, know his or her responsibilities as a leader, and have the trust of his or her people. These are four fundamental truths of leadership as imparted to the 200+ JROTC students in attendance at Boomer’s speech last week. As they can attest, General Walter E. Boomer is a true leader among men.Boomer1.jpg