Unlocking Leadership: Panelists Delivered Insights on Navigating Moments of Truth

The Medal of honor Leadership Program

From left to right: Thomas MundellPresident & CEO, The National Medal of Honor Leadership and Education Center, Ryan PittsMedal of Honor Recipient, War on Terrorism (Afghanistan), Leyla GulenFox 24 Charleston, Matice Wright Springer, Senior Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton Aerospace, Michael Thornton, Medal of Honor Recipient, Vietnam War, and RADM Michael Manazir USN (Ret.)Vice President, Navy Systems, Government Operations at Boeing.

Many leaders today can credit their journey to one single moment in time.

In a panel discussion hosted by the National Medal of Honor Leadership and Education Center (NMOHLEC) on Nov. 16, four prominent leaders shared tips with a wide variety of local professionals on how they can meet their moment. The event at the Citadel in Charleston, SC, emphasized the six core values of the Medal of Honor – Courage, Sacrifice, Citizenship, Integrity, Commitment, and Patriotism – as accessible tools that can help someone from all walks of life navigate their leadership journey.

For Ryan Pitts, panelist and Medal of Honor Recipient, a defining moment occurred while working as a financial analyst, when he faced a potentially costly financial mistake that could have gone unnoticed.

I was working on a program that was a little over $1 billion, and I made a costly mistake in the financial reporting. It was something that would have been lost in the numbers that big, and nobody would have known about it. But I told my manager about it. I had my mea culpa and said, ‘You know, this is my mistake, this is how it happened’ and that was one of those times where it was both integrity of doing the right thing while nobody’s looking, which I was taught in the military, as well as doing the right thing while everybody is looking. I also had the courage to accept and own up to the mistake.

Ryan Pitts

Ryan Pitts

Panelist and Medal of Honor Recipient

The Citadel event was part of a series of symposiums that the NMOHLEC will be hosting around the country as part of its efforts to infuse current and future leaders from all walks of life with time-tested values that help ordinary people do extraordinary things.

The NMOHLEC is developing a leadership curriculum that will include state-of-the-art digital teaching components. We plan to build a $75 million, 50,000-square-foot conference center and immersive guest experience at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, SC. The goal is to be the go-to source for values-based leadership education and a driving force behind a national conversation on this topic.

The panel at the Citadel was moderated by Leyla Gulen of Charleston-based Fox 24 (WTAT), who guided the discussion around how difficult decision-making can transform individuals into leaders and role models.

Sometimes ethical decision-making comes with nuances. While in the Navy, retired Rear Admiral Mike Manazir witnessed a captain asleep on duty but knew that the captain was extremely disappointed in himself the moment he came to his senses. That left Rear Adm. Manazir in a complicated scenario, as he explained in the panel.

“That guy’s soul had disappeared to the bottom of his boots,” Rear Adm. Manazir said. “If [[the bridge team]] had seen him sleeping, I would have had to take a different approach. But it was just me and him and I said, ‘You know what you did was wrong, and I just don’t want you to do it again.’”

Rear Adm. Manazir added that a year later, he received a note from the captain, thanking him for the life lesson. “I think that sometimes the ethical behavior that you have is often shaped by the humans that you are around,” he said.

Matice Wright-Springer, senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton and the U.S. Navy’s first African-American female flight officer agreed. During the panel, she explained that she experienced a workplace environment that witnessed verbal and physical abuse from a senior leader, teaching her to value the individuals she works alongside.

“Give them the courage to take a risk,” she said. “And when they make a mistake, use it as a teachable moment. Don’t use it as a moment to hit them over the head with their mistake. If you want them to be courageous and you want to value them, praise them in public and disapprove of what they do in private. Never confuse the two.”

Medal of Honor Recipient Mike Thornton says that an individual’s path to leadership starts young with education – well before they meet those moments of critical decision-making. He talked about his work with members of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society to reach young students across the state, let them know about the nation’s heroes, and explain how each of those Medal of Honor Recipients has values that those students can access.

“I think it’s just a way of reaching out because the children don’t get told,” Thornton said. “These are some of the greatest leaders that we ever had, all shaped by values. We need to educate our kids and let them know that we have these values. The kids are hungry for this information.”

– Barney Barnum