Mike Starling: Pursuing Potent Character and Effective Leadership

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Starling, USMC, Retired, and Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA) graduate from 1988 has returned to “The Hill” in Front Royal, Virginia–this time as an employee. His mission: to coordinate talents of faculty and staff towards molding the young minds at R-MA into effective leaders through uniform and focused lessons of character and leadership.

Colonel Starling has been appointed by R-MA President Brigadier General Wesley, USAF, Retired, to the new position of Chair of Leadership and Character. His charge is to ensure the development of each student to resemble the portrait of the R-MA graduate. This includes being intellectually curious and adventurous, confident to lead others, self-aware, self-assured, well-mannered, respectful, and resilient.

Starling is well versed in character and leadership along with training men and women on the subject. He came from a military family where these lessons were fortunately part of his upbringing. He then attended R-MA where these lessons were solidified. 

After graduation, he attended the Virginia Military Institute and became an officer in the United States Marine Corps. He has a career of educating, training, and leading across the globe. He has often found himself in a dynamic work environment, but one thing has always remained the same. Character and leadership have been crucial to every success.

Character and leadership go hand in hand, and it is important that each student fully grasps the value of both. History has witnessed great leaders who used their gift of leadership for destruction and chaos due to low character and ethics. 

There have also been men and women with a tremendous amount of character, but they lack the leadership to move their peers towards a worthy cause. In the words of Norman Schwarzkopf, A four-star General in the United States Army, “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” 

Before one can lead, they must first be able to follow. It is the same concept for character and leadership. Before students can be taught leadership, they must first learn the tenets of character. What do we consider character though? It is living honor above self. It is being confident, yet humble. It is cultivating physical and moral courage, applying self-discipline, and being a great teammate.

Our students are required to apply these tenets of character as the cornerstone of their leadership. But what is leadership? It is maintaining one’s integrity in the face of temptation. It is exercising initiative and, though a leader, exhibiting the act of followership. It is being a team builder, and effective communicator, and leading in order to serve. 

This is not something the students develop behind a desk. This is something they live in their daily routine. It is a culture, not just a class. Students are not simply defining character and leadership, they are applying it to all areas of life. They will ask themselves, “How did I perform today? For my interests or others? Did I do the right thing every time? Especially when it got tough? Did I do what was expected of me? Did I lift others today?”

It is not enough to tell a student what character and leadership are. They must have a guide to help them answer such essential questions. Using much of the development efforts that existed around campus, Colonel Starling has provided this guide, and will see it implemented across campus and in all facets of life at R-MA.