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My Dad was a U.S. Air Force Captain. Growing up I saw first-hand the sacrifices the brave men and women in our military make to protect lives and freedom. And I learned to respect, support, and appreciate all those who selflessly serve. Today, I am passionate about supporting our veterans in every way I can—especially as a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge—and learning more from the stories they tell. So, as you might expect, I read Chris Kyle’s autobiography, American Sniper, and couldn’t wait for the movie to be released.  


Having now read his book and also watched his life portrayed on screen, I consider Chris Kyle to be a true American hero.  Without entering into the politics that now surround his story or making any type of commentary on war, I see Chris as a real leader who clearly demonstrated The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.   


Model the Way requires that we explore how values guide our actions and behaviors, help define our philosophy of leadership, and shape our vision.  From my view, Chris had a strong sense of purpose and he seemed very clear about what was important to him: 

  • Freedom and Independence… as evidenced by Chris enlisting in the U.S. Navy Seals despite being denied the first time because of metal screws in his wrist from a rodeo accident 

  • Integrity…reflected in how hard he trained to be his best

  • Humility… seen in his discomfort at being called “The Legend” and being recognized for what he saw as just doing his job

  • Family… as he continually put himself in harms way to protect his loved ones at home and his brothers and sisters in-country

  • Faith and Spirituality… evidenced by his priorities of God, country, family

  • Service… demonstrated by his enlistment, honorable service, angst in not returning for a fifth tour, and selfless giving to veterans back home 
I believe this clarity of values guided Chris in his vision as a U.S. Navy Seal, as a husband, as a father, and as a friend. In addition to shaping his vision of keeping Americans, allies, and civilians safe, these values also guided him in taking risks. For example, there is a scene in the movie where Chris is on “overwatch” (when a sniper takes a high position, such as on a rooftop, to protect troops from a surprise attack in the streets).  Because insurgents had begun ambushing Marines inside small rooms and hallways to avoid snipers outside, Chris chooses to join a patrol unit doing house-to-house searches. His desire to join the troops on the ground was fueled by his belief that if he Challenged the Process and shared some of the specialized techniques he’d learned as a U.S. Navy Seal (like room clearances), this new knowledge might build confidence and competence—a key element in Enabling Others to Act. In the end, Chris hoped he might help the troops stay alive. 


Back home, Chris continued to focus on giving back to help others grow and develop.  He mentored—by example— in the volunteer work he did with wounded veterans, especially those experiencing combat stress and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Inspired by fellow Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and his Lone Survivor Foundation, Chris organized outings and ranch retreats for disabled servicemen. He also continued to challenge himself and others, Inspiring a Shared Vision and starting the company Craft International. Through customized training he developed for members of law enforcement and the military, he shared important lessons he had learned as he helped others develop new skills and tools that could save lives. 


I believe that with Chris’ book, he really tried to increase our awareness and understanding of the challenges our veterans face—especially to raise awareness among those not familiar with what the lives of military families are all about.  And now I hope the movie (which faithfully holds true to his book but was made after his untimely death) inspires all of us to Encourage the Heart of the brave men and women who have served—and continue to serve—whether that service is defending and protecting in times of conflict, assisting with food and humanitarian efforts after disasters and outbreaks, or providing rescue operations and medical assistance wherever in the world help is required. And to help get you started on Encouraging the Heart, here are a few ideas: 


1. When you see someone in uniform, say “Thank you”. If they want to talk, ask what they do, and listen.  

2. Send care packages with a personal note of gratitude and appreciation. 

3. If you know someone who just returned from deployment, invite him or her to dinner or offer to babysit so they have an evening alone with their loved one.

4. Check out America’s Mighty Warriors, an organization created by Debbie Lee, mother of Chris’s friend and fellow Charlie Platoon Navy SEAL Marc Lee. You can support a random act of kindness for someone. 

Mary Cooper is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge and president of Engaging Outcomes, an Orlando-based training and consulting firm focused on guiding leaders and organizations in leaving a legacy. A former consultant for the Disney Institute and co-author of The Voice of Leadership, Mary can be reached at mcooper@EngagingOutcomes.com

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