After reading extensive excerpts from the Senate Armed Services Committee’s confirmation hearing on January 31, 2013  considering retired Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel’s suitability as the next Secretary of Defense, I could not help but think of William Shakespeare, of Julius Caesar, of Brutus, of Marc Antony.

“So are they all, all honourable men” was the line from Marc Antony’s eulogy, which I memorized for oral recitation in 10th grade English class, that kept coming back to me. Because Marc Antony’s eulogy is facetious in its praise of the very men – and especially Brutus – he knows betrayed Julius Caesar and figuratively stabbed him in the back and literally stabbed him in the front.

I also thought of Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno and the nethermost layer of his hell, which was reserved for traitors. He assigns Brutus and Judas Iscariot to this layer, using this literary vehicle to show betrayal as the ultimate breach of trust. 

(It may interest you to know, by the way, that The Inferno, along with the rest of The Divine Comedy, is actually a political, not religious, book. This fictional work was Dante’s revenge against his political and personal enemies, but by using the cover of a religious treatise, he could condemn his enemies without fear of retaliation. However, the fictional, unscriptural concepts that Dante introduces in this work were later incorporated into the dogma of the church and became much of what both Protestant and Catholic adherents believe about the afterlife today – all of which is based on a work of complete fiction.)

Chuck Hagel Secretary of Defense HearingsThe reality is that few of the people involved in this proceeding are honorable men – and very few of them show any quintessential leadership traits. The overriding hypocrisy, the back-stabbing, and posturing by most of those on the Senate Armed Services Committee are all unquintessential leadership traits.

A glaring example of this emerged over and over as different members of the Armed Services Committee referred to Chuck Hagel in their lead-in to their questions as “friend” or “old friend,” and then each of those same people proceeded to deal with Mr. Hagel in a manner that was, not only unfriendly, but downright hostile. With “friends” like these, who needs enemies?


Arizona Senator John McCain was particularly notable in his hostility and outright bullying (please purchase Unquintessential Leadership for a thorough discussion of bullying and two other unquintessential leadership traits that are often closely related to it) during the hearing. This has been the trend of John McCain’s behavior and character since his unsuccessful 2008 U.S. presidential race. It seems that a bitterness and anger has set in with him that has made him the attacker, the accuser, the blamer, and the one who demands the final word and not only always has to be right, but has to hear, even if it requires brute force, everyone else admit he’s right.

McCain’s questioning of Chuck Hagel was a continuation of that behavior and character. Whatever strengths,John McCain Senate Armed Services Committee knowledge, experience, and respect that John McCain once brought to the table with his inclusion in Senate matters has been eclipsed – and perhaps lost, though, hopefully not for the long haul – by this unquintessential leadership behavior that now characterizes his interaction with almost everyone.

Of all the Senate Armed Services Committee members who questioned Chuck Hagel, the only one who based his questioning on actual things related to national defense that Chuck Hagel has discussed in the past in a measured, persistent-but-not-bullying way was South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. The stark contrast between his interrogation of Mr. Hagel and John McCain’s was easily discernible in print, but even more discernible in the video excerpts.

John McCain’s body language, tone, and face are those of an unquintessential leader. Everything is combat and he must win at all time and his “enemy” must publicly surrender. Lindsey Graham’s body language, tone, and face showed none of those things. It was clear, though, that his line of questioning was directed toward a centerpiece of American defense policy, and its importance was why he stayed with it to try to elicit a policy response from Chuck Hagel.

lindsey graham Armed Services Committee SenateOn the other side of the table in the confirmation hearing, however, was another unquintessential leader. As a quintessential leader who interviews and hires people routinely, if Chuck Hagel had been a candidate I was interviewing for a job, after about five minutes, I would have ended the interview and would have asked my HR department to send out a form letter to Mr. Hagel saying “thanks, but no thanks.”

Mr. Hagel was completely unprepared for any of the questions he was asked. He lacked key information on policy matters directly related to the job of Secretary of Defense. He lacked, it seemed, informed and well-thought out policies on international matters and foreign relations. In short, he seemed not to even be aware of the rudimentary elements and matters related to the job he is being considered for. Most of his time was spent embroiled in defending or being decimated about his past, and the end result was the question, at least in my mind, of why anyone thought Mr. Hagel was even remotely qualified to be considered for the Secretary of Defense position.

Quintessential leaders are (a) qualified and (b) extremely prepared for their jobs. That is what we as quintessential leaders must be at all times. We will never know all the answers to all the questions, but as quintessential leaders, it’s our responsibility to be honest and say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll find out and get back to you,” and then get back with an answer as soon as possible. You won’t lose respect if you don’t know all the answers, but you will lose respect if you don’t know any of the answers.

Quintessential leaders are also not hypocritical and disingenuous. You will not hear a quintessential leader call someone a friend and then treat him or her like an enemy. Quintessential leaders do not bully, do not insist on always being right nor do they insist that everyone publicly admit he or she is right, do not blame, do not accuse, do not attack, do not exhibit any kind of hostility. Disagreement and hostility are not twins. People can disagree without hating each other. And people who hate each other can agree.

As quintessential leaders, we should always look at the wealth of examples of people in leadership positions that surrounds us every day and identify what is quintessential leadership and unquintessential leadership. Then we need to take what we find and measure ourselves against it, because knowledge doesn’t do us any good unless we apply it. And the only person you or I can change is ourselves. If you’re not growing and changing, you’re at best stagnating, but more likely, you’re going backward.

And that’s one direction, as quintessential leaders, we need to be vigilant about ensuring that we’re not going consistently. As long as you and I breathe for a living, there will be times when we take a step or two back. That’s life. But the difference between quintessential leaders and unquintessential leaders is that quintessential leaders know this, are continually watching for it, recognize it as soon as it starts happen, and take immediate action to stop and reverse it.

Where are you today? Going backward? Stationary (stagnant)? Going forward? 

What are you going to do about it?

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