Tag Archives: leadership


As an elementary school student, I was fascinated with the subject of leadership. Like many boys, I read books about heroic leaders in history. Became absorbed by the feats of fictitious leaders in stories and movies. All courageous men putting themselves in harm’s way to save the helpless and weak. Invariably coming out on top and riding off victoriously into the sunset. With their enemies properly captured, incarcerated, or dead.

What were their motives? Not money, increased respect, or higher placement on the social scale. Famous military leaders were typically depicted as selfless heroes more interested in accomplishing their patriotic duty than moving up in rank or attaining a lofty status.

Selfless leaders like those depicted were invariably problem solvers. Wily strategists more than good at the fast draw, quick with their fists, or skilled at the use of war machines. Airplane pilots revered because of their maneuvering ability. But in the context of being better than the opposing pilots. And leading their units in successfully accomplishing a larger mission.

The logical transference of my interest was involvement in sports. But I was a skinny kid with bad eyes, compounded by visual depth perception issues. I was pretty good at track and field, and some boyhood diversions like marbles or mumblety-peg,  pocketknives flipped toward the ground and sticking upright. Circles drawn in Arizona’s caliche-caked earth and divided by a single line into two parts. The objective: slice your opponent’s “territory” into increasingly smaller units, until what was left was smaller than a shoe.

But even something as innocuous as playtime competitive diversions, reinforced by books and movies about heroes, taught me that “smart” almost always trumps “tough.” Effective leadership is almost always based on the quality of insight into human nature and the challenges encountered.

My reading of history in the areas of military, exploratory, or political achievements taught me that victory is usually achieved by creative thinking and action. Doing something the opponent does not expect and could not counter.

Leadership also included a willingness to take reasoned risks. Acknowledging the chance of making a mistake. But believing in oneself. Accepting the adage “failure is not an option” as more probable than just possible.

Non-Competitive Leadership

A myth places boys as gravitating toward a competitive life. Woven into our male DNA, just as females are “supposed to” be inclined toward cooperative behaviors. Stereotypical conclusions may work in movies and literary works of fiction. But they are much too simplistic and ineffective in real life.

Over the years I discovered real leadership is much different than management or administration. Nor is it based on bravado and a macho superiority.

Leadership is a powerful mix:

  • intelligence
  • willingness to learn
  • openness to the opinions of subordinates or colleagues
  • creative ingenuity
  • flexibility
  • the determination to find and use solutions to problems.

Real leadership is most closely related to the same qualities our best teachers possess. Like Jesus, they urge their followers to think deeply. Inspire them to find talents they did not know they had. Such leaders compliment with a demonstration of confidence. Not by artificial forms of positive reinforcement such as continuously saying “Good job!”

Demonstrating confidence takes respect and perceptiveness. Treating the subordinate or student in ways that acknowledge their existing and evident strengths as a starting point.

Check out these examples:

I’ve been impressed by your ability to work effectively with computers and other technical devices. You intuitively solve problems in a step-by-step way, as our best American leaders did when facing serious dilemmas. Lincoln used the kind of skill you have with tech in isolating problems. And working with others in finding and refining solutions. Step by step, little by little. What are the differences between solving technical problems and working with human beings with different opinions? How could you prove to a future employer you can do more than interact with a computer and technological challenges, by being part of a problem-solving team?

In this company all employees are asked to think as creatively as possible. Creativity in an organization is not like composing music or painting a beautiful picture. It starts with hypothesis development, the ability to make good educational guesses as to what a researcher will later find out. Not test-tube research, but the kind of quest that results in possible answers based on what we read, hear, or intuitively know. You do that well with sensitivity to what is happening around you. Like writing a one sentence “cause and effect” hypothesis. Something like “Worker efficiency, productivity, and creativity will measurably improve if they meet in person one hour each day to discuss specific ways communication can be improved without the use of technical interfaces.” 

Leadership as in the examples is not indoctrination, browbeating, intimidating challenges, or a demonstration of how someone with a superior intellect or organizational rank forces compliance via specific assessment strategies.

Jesus never acted that way. Rather, he used metaphorical analogies (parables) to make his followers think in concrete terms. Stories that touched on the ability of his disciples and others to see logic in God’s will— how He wanted human beings to relate to each other. And to Him.

©2023 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved


This blog post is hard for me to write. Not because it will be seen by some as controversial or depressing.

But because the subject is in the news every day. Presented to us as America’s unique and devastating problem.

In July of 1952, I was 14. Living in Phoenix and ready to attend high school. Feeling the intense heat of a desert summer, dwelling in a house with no air conditioning. Only evaporative (swamp) coolers.

But I was excited about the pending visit of my grandfather and step grandmother from New York State. They had lived in Phoenix for two years. Now returning for a visit.

Grandpa was an impressive guy. Handsome with a full head of graying hair he cut himself. Muscular with a rich tan. An analytical way of thinking that revealed a high degree of intelligence.

Everything he did or thought about was meticulously done. Even his handwriting looked like ancient calligraphy. One of his favorite pastimes was studying the dictionary.

He was a Mason and could recite pages of Masonic ritual. He loved practical mathematics like geometry, highly regarded in Masonry.

His self-discipline seemed impeccable. He occasionally smoked a pipe but would set it aside for months. He would eat what he needed, then stop when he thought he should. Upsetting my mother when so much food was left on his plate.

His mode of dress in Arizona was “western.” Because he loved the cowboy mystique of early day Phoenix. His attire was always impeccable. He took fastidious care of his 1949 Cadillac and the property surrounding the house he bought in 1950. Sold it two years later to return to New York.

They left Arizona, because my step grandmother hated the heat and life in a growing desert metropolis.

During the 1952 visit, Grandpa wanted to explore the possibility of returning to Arizona. My step grandmother loved Upstate New York. She had been raised by her father, a prominent merchant and community leader. She had inherited property and money. Grandpa accumulated only modest holdings from farming and a retail business.

In the first day of their visit, Grandpa gave me an ancient single shot 25-caliber rifle. He owned it when he was a boy. I was elated. Placed it in the closet of the bedroom my brother and I shared.

The next morning, the rifle was missing. My brother said he had not taken it. So I went to the kitchen. Mother and my step grandmother were chatting. My father had already left for his job. Grandpa was not in the house.

I went out the back door to see if Grandpa had gone to our workshop we called the “shed.” As I approached the shed, I saw my Grandpa lying in a pool of blood.

He had clamped the rifle into a bench vice and used it to shoot himself in the head.

No note was left. Just a diary in which he said he was depressed about turning 65. He didn’t want to face the inevitable aging deterioration. He dreaded leaving Arizona for the cold and gloomy New York winter.

My Grandpa’s suicide made me both angry and depressed. This was an era in which guns were glamorized in movies. Western fantasies about gun fights were prevalent. How could this gun, this gift, actually kill?

As I looked into my Grandpa’s open casket, I could not find the bullet hole in his head. The mortician arranged his abundant hair so no wound could be seen.

The police kept my rifle. I did not want it.

Over the years I realized Grandpa suffered from a psychological condition called obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD diagnoses have existed for centuries. But only recently have they been classified as a medical dysfunction.


My relationship with real guns—with real bullets that can kill—started with my Grandpa’s suicide. With the rifle he gave me. In a shed where my father, brother and I spent many happy hours building and fixing things.

After that summer I enrolled in Phoenix Union High School. A large campus in the middle of the city. In those days Junior ROTC was a required program for freshman and sophomore boys. Each of us were given modified M-1 Garand rifles for training and drilling. The 1936 rifle was the model most used by the U.S. in World War II.

I was taught to disassemble and assemble the M-1 blindfolded. How to clean it thoroughly. I occasionally fired it in an indoor range. We were shown Army training films that explicitly told us how to use the rifle to kill the enemy.

Although I was still deeply affected by Grandpa’s suicide, I accepted my early military training. That was the way the world worked. Even with somewhat weak eyes, I became a good shot. Proud of my ability to participate in the manual of arms drill. Learned to be a good young soldier. Given the rank of Cadet 1st Lieutenant in my senior year.

A week after high school graduation I joined the Army and attended basic training in California. A special program called the “Reserve Forces Act.” After six months of active-duty training, I became a part-time soldier in a quartermaster unit based in Phoenix.

My parents encouraged me to follow that path to avoid the draft.

After the six months of active duty, I attended a local community college and participated in weekly army drills. I disliked the drills. They seemed like meaningless busywork. The same was true with summer camps.

I transferred to Arizona State University where a friend talked me into enrolling in Advanced ROTC. Completing that program would give me an officer’s commission in the Army. It seemed a good career move.

It was a good career move. But upon graduation I was assigned to armor. Tanks. Machines designed to intimidate and kill with considerable efficiency.

I was trained to be a tank unit commander and performed my duty to the best of my ability. Although I disliked the duty, I tried my best to be a good military leader. I was good at it. In tactics, weaponry, and leadership.

 To serve my country as expected.

But the longer I served the more disgusted I grew with the idea and practice of war. How obscene the machinery of war became. 

Even after receiving awards for my proficiency with tank weapons. Recognized for my skill at tactics. Even after becoming a captain and company commander.

Every day I served, Grandpa’s suicide haunted me. It still does.

Guns are just killing machines. The public’s fascination with guns is destroying the country I offered my life to serve. School children and other victims. Killed by military style assault weapons available on the open market. Killed by handguns owned by millions.

I despise our fascination with the weapons that kill us. And I accept that declaration as a form of service. To pass gun laws that make sense. To work to save the lives of our fellow Americans.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved