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Posted at 2:55 PM ET, 01/ 7/2011

Peggy Noonan is right -- on the qualities of leadership

By Jonathan Capehart

Through more than a year of musings about this and that, you may have picked up that I'm a closet Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt. Okay, fine, Lettia Baldridge. Anyway, how we treat each other as people -- gay and straight, Democrat and Republican, rich and the rest of us -- is very important to me. That's why the flow of insanity from reality television worries me. A society that makes stars of Snooki, the Situation, Paris Hilton and the Kardashians (I could go on, but I'd need a Xanax) is one that is in serious trouble.

In writing about the cultural cauldron that burned Capt. Owen Honors, Peggy Noonan masterfully zeroes in on what ails us: "It is that no one knows how to act anymore." That's because far too many people in positions of authority have eschewed some of the necessary requirements of leadership in favor of being one of the guys. And what we've lost in the process is crisply captured by Noonan.

But the videos were a shock in that this was a captain of the U.S. Navy, commanding a nuclear-powered ship, and acting in a way that was without dignity, stature or apartness. He was acting as if it was important to him to be seen as one of the guys, with regular standards, like everyone else.

But it's a great mistake when you are in a leadership position to want to be like everyone else. Because that, actually, is not your job. Your job is to be better, and to set standards that those below you have to reach to meet. And you have to do this even when it's hard, even when you know you yourself don't quite meet the standards you represent.

A captain has to be a captain. He can't make videos referencing masturbation and oral sex. He has to uphold values even though he finds them antique, he has to represent virtues he may not in fact possess, he has to be, in his person, someone sailors aspire to be.

Call me old-fashioned. I don't care. Noonan nails it. Not everyone will be an aircraft carrier commander, but everyone is a leader in some facet of their life, in the eyes of someone in their life. If we all adopted just one of the leadership qualities Noonan outlines, we'd be a better nation for it.

By Jonathan Capehart  | January 7, 2011; 2:55 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Comments

The problem with both your position and that of Peggy Noonan is that the man was NOT the Captain at the time he produced these videos. Take a quick look at your calendar the next time you want to snap to judgment on an issue like this.

Rather he was the XO; whose duties include Morale and Welfare of the personnel under the Captain's command. In point of fact, he was merely doing his duty -- attempting to lance the boil these issues create on ship where 5 or 6000 sailors of all sexes and sexual orientations are confined together in a limited space for six months at a time. He performed this duty admirably while preserving for the Captain the opportunity to uphold those very values you claim this man lacked. In short, he was the lightning rod for the "old man," just as he was supposed to be. And, he probably got a better reaction from the sailors by at least attempting to approach the issues with some humor -- unlike your sanctimonious preachings would have.

In the end, if we as a people "don't know how to act" anymore, perhaps people like you and Ms. Noonan can check the mirrors first when looking for scapegoats. It's your collective refusal in the journalistic world to step up to the plate and uphold values and standards across the board instead of picking and choosing the people you will attack. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of being "held to a higher standard" while the Commander-in-Chief get away with violating a young female intern in the Oval Office with a cigar and then committing perjury over the issue. Maybe it's time EVERYONE was held to the same standard, don't you think?

So, Mr. Capehart and Ms. Noonan, maybe next time you can go ahead and check your facts before shooting off your mouths about something you clearly know nothing about and equally clearly don't want to take the time to learn about.

Posted by: jlv61560 | January 8, 2011 2:44 AM | Report abuse

The thing about ethics and moral rectitude is that it is simply a matter of "doing the right thing." Anyone who saw or heard those tapes would not agree with the opinion of the opinionated person who defends this fellows behavior as XO.

There is something called "taste" and leadership is about knowing how to accomplish a task without violating ethical, taste, and scope values. What this XO did violated all of those things, and his commanding officer was right to remove him from his job.

Just because his senior in Command may have expected him to act as a "lightning rod" is not an excuse for this behavior and this poor product. What it does say is that his superior officer should have been removed from office as well for letting him make such over the top, tasteless, incendiary and disgusting videos.

There were probably closeted gays on that ship, and I doubt they found the material uplifting. The humor was a good thing, but what did those videos teach about working together professionally and harmoneously to accomplish the mission?

You seem to think that only you are qualified to have an opinion about the military. That tendency is why the Founding fathers put civilians in charge.

Posted by: chris_holte | January 8, 2011 5:55 AM | Report abuse

Whatever.

I don't agree.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | January 8, 2011 7:36 AM | Report abuse

The standards of simple civility and common decency appear to have been lost over the years. It's a pity.

Posted by: notfooledbydistractions1 | January 8, 2011 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Capehart, you are absolutely correct. Whatever happened to good behavior? The captain was wrong, whatever his rank at the time. I am horrified at some of the X material that I am told is on TV. I don't watch that drivel so I am spared the disgust, but knowing it is there is disheartening. The producers of such shows apparently can't make it in the world of quality TV so they rely on entertaining those who "never learned how to act" and think vulgarity is acceptable.
It isn't.

This man was in the position of leadership and showed no such qualities. His career is over and all because he did not know how to act - much less lead.

Posted by: Kansas28 | January 8, 2011 10:13 AM | Report abuse

The problem with both your position and that of Peggy Noonan is that the man was NOT the Captain at the time he produced these videos. Take a quick look at your calendar the next time you want to snap to judgment on an issue like this.

Rather he was the XO; whose duties include Morale and Welfare of the personnel under the Captain's command. In point of fact, he was merely doing his duty -- attempting to lance the boil these issues create on ship where 5 or 6000 sailors of all sexes and sexual orientations are confined together in a limited space for six months at a time. He performed this duty admirably while preserving for the Captain the opportunity to uphold those very values you claim this man lacked. In short, he was the lightning rod for the "old man," just as he was supposed to be. And, he probably got a better reaction from the sailors by at least attempting to approach the issues with some humor -- unlike your sanctimonious preachings would have.

In the end, if we as a people "don't know how to act" anymore, perhaps people like you and Ms. Noonan can check the mirrors first when looking for scapegoats. It's your collective refusal in the journalistic world to step up to the plate and uphold values and standards across the board instead of picking and choosing the people you will attack. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of being "held to a higher standard" while the Commander-in-Chief get away with violating a young female intern in the Oval Office with a cigar and then committing perjury over the issue. Maybe it's time EVERYONE was held to the same standard, don't you think?
============================================
First thought, on one point you are right. You don't have to hold yourself or be held to a higher standard. Of course, if you don't hold yourself to a higher standard, then others will not hold you to a higher standard, and you may wonder why you are not getting the respect that you think you may deserve under certain circumstances.

One of the XOs duty, (besides your apparent listing of being a shipboard Conan O'Brien) is the conduct the people on the ship in the event of trouble or disaster. Fire is a danger, and the Enterprise was the victim of a major fire. If I have a choice of a serious leader who will do what it takes to deal with a problem or a Comedy Central/SouthPark/whatever, I'll take Door Number One.

Remember, other peoples' opinion of you and your worksite is formed in about two minutes. The Enterprise XO, in the time of the video being shown, has shown himself more interested in making the crew feel good than in leading. In the event of trouble, the crew will identify the XO as a good old boy, not a professional.

Would you trust your boss if the first thing you thought of when you saw him/her was the latest ribald movie or e-mail joke that he sent out? I'd think he was funny and just like me.

Instead of being a leader whom I could turn to when things went to h*ll in a handbasket.

Posted by: PALADIN7E | January 8, 2011 10:55 AM | Report abuse

My response to jlv61560: My, my. You win the prize and may retire the trophy for writing the most unintentionally self-revealing comment of the month. You've also written a classic example of what "beg the question" means.

Your whole point rests on making a distinction between being XO and captain of the ship. How amazing that you believe you have scored some major point. None of the criticism leveled against Honors and none of the reasons for relieving him of command are diminished by one iota because he was "just" the XO. He was justifiably held accountable for his conduct as a senior Naval officer. His exact position is totally irrelevant.

How revealing, too, of your blinkered perspective on the world that the example you drag out is the story about the middle-aged man who had consensual sex with a young floozy who threw herself into his arms--an event that happened over a decade ago. I won't bore the other readers of this blog with details of the plethora of other politicians caught in lapses of judgment and morals. Do a Google with such terms as page boys, prostitutes, Louisiana, sex, adultery, Appalachian Trail, South Carolina, governor, Gingrich, Abramoff, Republicans.

Your brain obviously has a filter custom-made to ensure that all sensory perceptions it receives automatically reinforce all the self-serving viewpoints it already harbors and blocks all else, proving to you once more that you and the people exactly like you are the good guys and all the others are the bad guys.

You truly live insulated from reality to grasp at the straw of a difference between being XO and captain to rationalize the bizarre and inappropriate behavior of Honors--and to dust off a 13-year old incident to try to make your point.

Posted by: tbarksdl | January 10, 2011 6:03 AM | Report abuse

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