5 Ways the Military Can Give You Courage to Lead in Foster Care

We can take lessons from great military commanders to help us become better leaders in the foster care programs.

Jamie Schwandt July 15, 2017
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There are good leaders in every organization, yet there are only a select few who have the ability to take a team from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

For example, in the military, Gen. George S. Patton has had an influential impact on all leaders. Patton has inspired the current generation of military commanders. Retired Brigadier General (BG) Gerry Schwartz is another one of the finest leaders in our current generation. He is a man of courage and a man who is not afraid to speak his mind when something is wrong. This led to some uncomfortable interactions with other military leaders prior to his retirement, yet he stuck to his guns and I greatly respect him for it.

Leaders in foster care and adoption can learn from these great military commanders. Let me share with you five key lessons we can learn from them.

1. Learn from failure.

“When there is fear of failure, there will be failure.” – Gen. Patton

BG Schwartz is a Six Sigma Black Belt and practices the art of process improvement. One thing we can learn from him is that we must learn from failure. This skill is vitally important with foster children. Think of the vast amount of failure they have already witnessed. Yet, what if they were able to look at failure as learning? Failure possesses a deeper meaning. Instead of looking at failure as a step backwards, look deeper within the lesson. You will find there is always a path forward.

2. Do your best.

“If a man does his best, what else is there?” – Gen. Patton

I have had the privilege to work for BG Schwartz. I thought I had to be perfect and be better than everyone else. He demonstrated to me the importance of not competing with others, but doing my best. It is unrealistic to ask people to be better than someone else. This is a powerful lesson for underprivileged children. The only person we should compete with is the person we were yesterday.

3. Confront evil.

“May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won’t.” – Gen. Patton

Think of the evil a child from foster care has witnessed. They have witnessed worse things in their short life than most people see in a lifetime. We should all strive to be a leader who confronts evil. We all know what evil looks like, yet we often fail to confront it. Do not let a child suffer through abuse. If you see evil, find the courage to confront it.

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4. Do not fear making a decision.

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” – Gen. Patton

In the military, decisions determine life or death. This is also true in foster care and adoption. We should not strive for the perfect plan, because the perfect plan does not exist. We have all heard the stories where children are stuck in horrible foster homes for an extended period of time. Where there were phenomenal adoptive parents begging and pleading for the same child, yet leaders failed to act. Think of the years taken from a child’s life for every day a decision is not made.

5. Do what you feel is right.

“Do your duty as you see it and damn the consequences.” – Gen. Patton

BG Schwartz is a candid leader who will do what he feels is right, as he is not a status quo leader. There are leaders in every organization who are afraid to challenge people, they are afraid to challenge the status quo; but why become a leader if you have no desire to influence change? If you were told to place a child into a home and you knew this home was wrong for the child, what would you do? Let’s take it one step further. If your job was on the line, what would you do if you did speak up and you were told to do it anyway?

Lastly, for those of us who are currently serving or have served, there is one thing that provides us the foundation to lead with courage. This one thing is family. BG Schwartz greatest skill is that of a husband and father. In fact, the greatest advice he provided me was to place family first. I will never forget a private conversation we had a couple years ago. In that conversation, I realized the key to his success. His key goes by the name of Laura Schwartz. Without her, BG Schwartz would not be who he is today and I would not be writing about a leader with the courage to lead.

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Jamie Schwandt

Dr. Jamie Schwandt (Ed.D.) is an author and former foster child. He is a TV show host, motivational speaker, lean six sigma master black belt, statistics professor, and a major in the U.S. Army. Dr. Schwandt is the author of the books Finding Your Hero (2015) and Succeeding as a Foster Child (2014). He is the host of the inspiring TV show Dreaming Big and is a fitness expert with a unique mindset for positive growth. You can find his published work here, his website, Facebook, and Twitter.


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