Ep. 134 – “Leading” to FREEDOM
Steve: Welcome to the Becoming Your Best podcast wherever you might be in the world today. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to visit together. I wish that we were face-to-face, this is Steve Shallenberger your host and especially in the area that we’re going to discuss today. It happens to be at this particular time around the 4th of July holidays in the United States of America and actually in some other places in the world this is a significant day for their respective countries but clearly, it is for the United States of America. It celebrates the independence of the United States. It celebrates freedom and liberty and all that it stands for and all that it stands for these last few days.
In our community, we have somewhat of an anomaly in terms of this celebration in that we have 30 different events that take place within a span of about 10 days. So for example, our Grand Parade has over 350,000 people that attend. It’s a great spectacular experience, a lot of pomp and celebration going on. We have the Stadium of Fire which we have a headliner, entertainer and fireworks and this is this is all great traditional celebration.
We’ve had a few of those events that I’d like to refer to today as they give us the opportunity to reflect. One of them is the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. This is patterned after the National Day of Prayer held in United States which is a terrific event. The National Day of Prayer is held in Washington, DC and the president attends, the vast majority of Congress, both houses, members of the Supreme Court and about 4500 people from all over the world. They unite to invite divine help to unite our country and to help move forward. There’s also then something we have here locally, the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast where we frequently have our wonderful governor in attendance. This year we have the first mayor for Provo, Utah, was a woman. First time in history. She’s fabulous. Michelle Kaufusi, she gave a fabulous talk. So I’d like to refer to the spirit of her talk. That was the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.
Then another event we have is called the Freedom Awards. This is one of the crown jewels of the overall celebration is, the committee, this is a formal attire banquet with 700 or 800 people and individuals throughout the world that have stood for freedom are invited to come and be recognized and they are the recipients of the Freedom Award which is a beautiful crystal monument, if you will, that stands for liberty and freedom. So I’d like to refer what took place. And then this last Sunday evening we have tens of thousands of people come and listen in to the patriotic service and somebody is invited to come in and give a patriotic message. These have been amazing speeches. I’ll talk about that one. Steve Owens was the guest this year.
And so let’s just dive right into it because it gives us reflection on the role that leadership plays in our lives and that leadership plays in freedom and leadership plays in the success of the world of achieving good things. Leadership is really a magical, intangible force and influence that has the capacity to change our individual lives and also has the capacity to alter the course of history for an organization or a country or even the world. So we’re going to take a few minutes and link the power of this leadership and how it has changed individual’s lives in a dramatic way, but also change the course of human history.
It’s interesting because, as we think about leadership, it is great leaders that produce great results. But there are some that wonder if they have what it takes to be a great leader. So that’s why you don’t have to rediscover the wheel because we spent over 40 years of research in what sets apart high performing individuals or teams from all the rest. After interviewing hundreds of very successful leaders and historical figures that have touched all of our lives. We found that they weren’t perfect, but one of the things we discovered is that there were 12 things they all did and that’s what I put in the book, Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders.
So people don’t have to go out and rediscover the wheel because, we’ve done the work, we’ve done the heavy lifting. These are things that each one of us can master that allows us to have this type of an influence that we’re talking about. It’s the type of leadership that carries the day that makes a difference every single day and helping the good to get to better, and better, become your best. So, I’d like to give now a few examples and tie this example of leadership, of how it’s had that type of an impact, and it continues to do so every single day.
So let’s go ahead and start with the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. One of the things that Mayor Kaufusi talked about, she gave an example of when the representatives from the various colonies that come together and were working to form of a constitution. They were struggling in a significant way. It looked like the Constitutional Convention was going to be a total failure. Everyone was ready to pack up and head home. They couldn’t agree on anything.
And Benjamin Franklin saw what was happening and these are his words, this is a direct quote, and again, think of this magic of leadership, this intangible where someone steps forth and has the opportunity to make a difference. It is these 12 principles that allows this to come together. Quote, “In this situation groping, as it were in the dark, to find political truth. How has it happened that we have not once thought of humbly applying to the Father to illuminate our understanding in the war with Great Britain when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for divine protection. Our prayers were heard and were answered. All of us were engaged in the struggle observed of frequent instances of superintendent providence in our favor. So how, how have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Do we imagine we no longer need his assistance? The longer I live, the more I see this truth that God governs in the affairs of men, and if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that a nation can rise without his aid? So therefore, I move that from now on, prayers be held in this assembly every morning.”
Well, this was a huge turning point for the Constitutional Convention. They all set back, they took a fresh perspective and they figured out a way to make it happen. This is a wonderful example of exercising leadership in a way that created a difference. And of course, they’ve continued to exercise that in other ways. Mayor Kaufushi gave a great talk about working together, about building bridges and finding ways to create a better community, better lives. To take our differences and let those work together to create excellence. Well, I appreciate that kind of leadership.
The next event is the Freedom Awards Gala. This particular year we honored four individuals. I’ll give you just a little background of this. Each year, America’s freedom festival at Provo honors a handful of individuals who have had a unique experience in defending or seeking freedom. So it’s through their stories that we truly understand the value of this precious gift. So here we go four examples.
The first one is Lieutenant Colonel Hiram Grant Keeler. How I wish that you could have been sitting next to me at the table to enjoy this experience together. But here’s the story on Lieutenant Colonel Keeler. As a young boy, this Utah native, Grant Keeler caught the flying bug, watching stunt pilots and aerialists at county fairs. As a young adult in 1942 while watching a movie newsreel, Grant was struck by the words of actor and Airman, Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy said, “We need pilots, join now.” He said, these words just struck him, and Keeler immediately joined the Army Air Corps.
After intense training, he flew many heroic missions, bombing industrial targets in Germany. His plane was shot down twice. The first landing was in Holland but the second time left him captured and laboring to survive with other POWs at the Stalag Luft III for several months. After the POWs were freed from the prison camp, Keeler continued undaunted to fly many more courageous missions. He retired from the Air Force in 1971, but he has continued a full life of service. And in November of 2013, Lieutenant Colonel H. Grant Keeler was formally awarded the Prisoner of War Medal, and last week he celebrated his 100th birthday.
Wow, this is great. I had the chance to sit next to Lieutenant Colonel Keeler and hear his stories. What an inspiration. It was his leadership to make these decisions in his life that made the difference as he really thought about these. He talked about the prison camp, of the importance of staying positive, of staying focused, of remembering the loved ones. He created this vision and we’ll come back to these reoccurring themes.
Here’s the second one, Jake and Vivian Kim. This is their chosen English names. Life in North Korea is limited in the scope of freedom. Both of these individuals are from North Korea. Opportunities, food and information, outside of this tightly closed border, is meager. Although Jake and Vivian were raised with enough to eat, they saw starvation, routine beatings and public executions for crimes as slight as owning a Bible. Jake began looking for an escape from North Korea’s regime. For his beloved wife’s, Vivian, safety, she could know nothing of his plan. And when Jake failed to return from a business trip, Vivian thought he was either dead or starving in a labor camp. Jake’s dangerous, incredible escape was successful.
Months later, he contacted Vivian and asked if she was willing to undertake the same, nearly impossible, journey that took three months through three or four different countries until they ended up in South Korea and ultimately to the United States. Through their ordeal, they will say that they not only found freedom, but they also found God. It was interesting because Vivian decided she didn’t want to make the trek. She left late in the night and risking her own safety and life, she made the same very risky trip that her husband did and they were finally reunited.
Their search for these things, for freedom has led them to United States where they now live and work, hoping to be able to assist their loved ones still in North Korea. Jake and Vivian continue to cautiously protect their own identity even while they were with us for the banquet to prevent harm from coming to their loved ones back home.
So now, just think about this in the application of this bold leadership to have freedom. This was the vision and then there had to be a plan and an execution of this plan. It took many of these other 12 principles of highly successful leaders of never giving up for example. Contact in his wife, the trust that they had with one another. It’s how these things come together that creates this result. And now they have freedom and liberty and trying to promote that in the world.
Here’s number three. His name is Bun Yom. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge communist regime began one of the most devastating genocides in modern history. The infamous Cambodian killing fields is where 15-year-old Bun Yom found himself torn from his family when the Khmer Rouge forced everyone from their homes, killing resistors and any, but those that claimed to be poor and uneducated. Bun Yom and other survivors were rounded up as slave labors. After three years of grueling conditions, Bun was rescued by the Cambodian freedom fighters from the killing fields where I might add, as a footnote, 90% did not survive those killing fields.
Thinking his own family was dead. He joined the freedom fighters and became fearless and leading missions, saving thousands of lives while also using his skills to train hundreds and rescue survival and fighting techniques. Only when Bun received word that his family had miraculously survived did he leave to go find them. Living now in the State of Washington, his legendary work ethic and compassion continues to bless those around him. Well, this is an inspiration. This is what helps keep people moving forward in even hopeless situations that they can. That they set a vision that there can be hope and there can be encouragement and they keep working towards that. Maybe many things we can’t control in life, but we move forward.
Here’s the last one, Joshua and Tamara Holt. In June of 2016, Utah native, Joshua Holt traveled to Venezuela in spite of the growing dangers and instability within the failed socialist state. To Josh and Tammy, a Venezuelan national, the risk seemed small compared to the reward of becoming a loving family. Their plan was to get married and eventually return to the United States together with Tammy’s two young daughters. Just days after their wedding, they were falsely accused of espionage, terrorism and unlawful possession of weapons.
Their doors were knocked down in the house that they were living in and they were imprisoned without trial. As the months dragged on, Joshua’s parents worked relentlessly to keep the case fresh on the minds of the public and government officials, including their congresswoman and Senator and two U.S. presidents who did all they could to help free the couple. It was just a few short weeks ago, Josh and Tammy were released and returned to the United States into the arms of relieved and thankful family and friends. Borrowing from the words of Senator Orrin Hatch, “This case captivated the world as a reminder that we remain anxiously engaged in the fight for freedom.”
Now all of these cases took an unusual fortitude and intangible. That didn’t tangible to get to a better place was leadership. Josh told us of his experience, his captors would come in and threaten him. Other days he would come in and say you’re going home today only to end up mocking him and laughing. Josh said, “I just had to stay focused on the love of my wife and the fact that I could control my thoughts and that I would be positive even under these terrible circumstances.” Well, these are the choices that we have to make the best out of life.
Now, let me now go to the last event I’m going to talk about today in this podcast. It is, The Patriotic Service. Steve Owens did a fabulous job. He’s a personal friend, he’s a businessman, he’s an international leader of a humanitarian effort, particularly over the youth for one of the worldwide churches. He’s a great person. He talked about freedom. I’d like to share some of these parts in line with what we’re thinking about today. One of the examples he referred to was the Battle of Princeton and George Washington and what had taken place. Had just finished the Battle of Trenton, crossed the Delaware, had had a great victory, defeating the Hessian fighters.
So this was a big deal but let’s just describe here the circumstances. George Washington had wanted to move on to take Princeton after the Continental Army had taken Trenton but his men were too exhausted from the river crossing and subsequent battle ordeal. So he took all of his freedom workers or freedom fighters, if you will, his army members, and he took all of the prisoners and stores back across the river to safety. His troops were in no condition to advance at the moment, and he was short of food. By December 31st, he had improved his supplies. The end of the year came and enlistments were up.
And when the drums rolled calling for men to step forward, no one did. George Washington then gave an impassioned speech to his men to reenlist. Can you imagine the conditions? He said, “My brave fellows, you have done all I’ve asked you to do and more than could reasonably be expected, but your country is at stake, your wives and your houses and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigue and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay on only one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty and to your country which you probably never can do under any other circumstances. The present is emphatically the crisis which is to decide our destiny.”
The drums rolled again and many people, many of these soldiers, worn out, exhausted, finally did step forward. And because of the victory at Trenton, militia from all over the area poured into the Continental Army camp, and it wasn’t as many as George Washington had hoped for, but it would have to be enough. If he could maintain his initiative, he might save the revolution. If he lost the battle at this critical time, the revolution would collapse.
They had some other good news and that was that roughly 600 U.S. Marines from the Philadelphia area headed Washington’s plead for help. They had been aboard the various continental warships anchored near Philly and were excellent fighters. All of the marine officers had seen combat against the British, and sea skirmishes and their men had been drilling daily. So three companies of U.S. Marines accompanied Washington’s army on its march to Princeton. The Battle of Princeton was the first time Marines had suffered casualties on any battlefield. Well, it was that day that Washington carried the fight. They did win at Princeton.
That was interesting because a huge ploy was put up at Trenton as the British attempted to wipe out the American forces. They had the capacity, but in the middle of the night, as the British forces slept, George Washington moved all these troops up towards Princeton. They left a few men behind to keep the fires going, to keep the ruse going that the whole army was there that next morning. At dawn, the British Colonel Mahood stormed Washington’s camp only to find a few smoking fires and not a soul in sight. At that moment, the Continental Army was attacking Princeton and after a fierce battle, took back the town from the British. The British retreated from New Jersey completely leaving the loyalists at the mercy of the countrymen. When the British and Princeton saw the Patriots charging across the bridge, they thought it was the merciless Hessians who were attacking.
These two critical battles are called 10 Crucial Days and importantly, the revolution now had a chance. Morale had improved, people once again believed that they could stand and face the enemy, the British outrages in the invasion of New Jersey that they had made a turn many previously on the fence in favor of the revolution.
So that’s how it goes folks. This is the power of leadership. Can you imagine what would have happened if George Washington wouldn’t have stood up and made that plea as no one would stand across that line? But after he reminded them, there it is, is that rare opportunity to do something magical. It’s this apparently intangible that carries the day. That’s what happened there and as a result, so many reenlisted and it changed the history for the Revolution and the United States of America and the future of the world.
We see this example over and over again. So I just wanted to share with you today a little bit of the experiences that we’ve been having the last few days. How grateful I am not only for freedom and liberty, but also the role that leadership plays in our lives that it plays in the history of the world, in our organizations. And that it’s worthy of us continuing to build these skills into our life. People ask all the time, well, what can I do? How can I build these leadership skills? One of the things that you can do is that you’re going to invest in the book Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders. You can not only read it yourself, you can invest in this book for your fellow teammates, key stakeholders. Invest in the book for family members and then study a principle a week.
I even make the habit, as the author of this book, to go back and read it periodically. I probably read it two or three times a year to remind myself of the principles. I guarantee this is not about me, this is about the power of the principles that are universal and they’re timeless and they are the things that make the difference. They help us be far more capable. So that’s one thing that each of us can do. If you don’t have one, you can do that like today. You can set up a plan as a team to go through one principle a week and then shift to the next and when you’re done with all 12, step back and say, “How are we doing?” And then start over again. This way you can do it four times. You can go through each principle four times during the year.
Well, my friends it has been nice to visit today. Hopefully you’ve had an idea that is helpful for you. Remember, each and every day you have the chance to make a difference, you have a chance to be that game changer. That person by practicing these principles that gets to a better place. That’s what your opportunity is and my opportunity. I wish each one of you the best. This is Steve Shallenberger, wishing you a great day.