I was watching a news clip recently of Bill Cosby, during which there was a comment about his service in the Navy. Immediately I looked up the information to find out that he had been a hospital corpsmen. While my regard for Bill Cosby has always been high, this elevated my respect for him because he is a military veteran. I stopped and thought about my reaction to learning about his service time – why did his service make a difference? The bottom line I came up with is simply because it does. I went a step further to decide if my reaction was in kinship with him as a fellow Navy veteran or because of his service alone. It was because of his service alone, I decided. Then I thought about some other professions that inspire this same sort of immediate respect: doctor, police officer, clergyman.
Analyzing the general characteristics of a US military member, a list of words comes to mind: disciplined, honor, hardworking, committed, and trustworthy, to name a few. These same words are usually applied to inspiring people and leaders as well. Upon learning that someone is a veteran, there is an automatic correlation of these character traits to the person. Along with the qualities listed comes an expectation of performance. People who are assigned these types of characteristics must continue this type of lifestyle at all times. This may be unfair, but it is the truth. When people in respected positions act in a way that is contrary to our expectation, it is hard to overlook or forgive. In fact, I think it is harder to excuse poor behavior or lapse of judgment for these persons than it is for say a professor.
Why is that? Why should we expect more? People in certain professions are specifically trained for leadership roles. They are taught to handle crisis situations, people management, and technical competence. That is part of why society automatically associates desirable traits with the profession. It is then up to the individual person to live up to society’s expectations and perform at or above the level required.
– Lori Buresh
CEO, The Professional Development Team