I’m working through Victor Davis Hanson’s Savior Generals right now. Hanson looks into wars that were all but lost, and the generals who won them. These aren’t average generals.

These are men who had ideals and courage that their peers didn’t, allowing them to lead in ways that others couldn’t.

The second general that Hanson covers is the last great Roman general, Belisarius.

Belisarius consistently won battles that he shouldn’t have. He was continuously under-funded and over-matched, yet time and time again he defeated an enemy who had greater numbers, eventually almost reclaiming the previous greatness of the Roman Empire as he re-took Italy and Northern Africa from the Goths and Vandals respectively.

Belisarius made me think of Robert E. Lee, the man who many call the greatest general the west has ever produced. Both had fewer men than their enemies. Both men were incredibly aggressive even though they were over-matched. Both men won battles that they shouldn’t have won.

Lastly, both men fought not for personal gain but for God and empire (Belisarius), and God, country, and family (Lee).

This point is key. They led not to acquire power – though they both did. They led not to gain wealth. Their behavior was dictated not by a desire to own more, but by ideals that were founded on who they served.

They served their God and nation or empire before they served themselves.

It’s far easier to hold true to your values regardless of the situation when you’re guided by something greater than self-preservation.

Great leaders do this. They are not after fame. They are not trying to own more than the next guy. They’re not swayed by what the public thinks or feels, and as a result, they’re able to make the best decision for their God and country and family.

To be a great leader you need to have ideals that don’t waver.

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When you’re poor you have to have the same ideals and virtues as you do when you’re rich. When you’re winning you have to have the same virtues and ideals as you do when you’re losing. (Read This: Developing The Alpha Male Mindset)

When your back is against the wall you have to behave the same as you do when you’re winning with ease.

You cannot have these same ideals if you’re purely after money or personal victory. You’re going to take short cuts. You’re going to compromise who you were for trinkets and things that you once couldn’t afford.

It is far simpler to be consistent if you’re led by something greater than improving your own status. It’s when your own status is everything that you get into trouble, look for an easy way out, or do things that are uncharacteristic of you when you’re at your best.

Why Do You Do What You Do?

Determine your hierarchy of desires. That is, why are you pursuing what you’re pursuing?

To some degree we’re aiming to get better because we know that not improving is a waste. To choose ease over the struggle or TV over a book is to waste whatever talent we have.

This notion of aiming higher, of trying to become better, to win, so as to not waste our talents has to take into consideration those who sacrificed something to get us here, be it our family, our nation’s military, and so forth. So even though you’re trying to improve for you, you have to understand that you are you because of what others have done. (Read This: Are We Wasting Their Sacrifice?)

Dig deeper.

Who do you want to serve?

Is it your God? Your Country? Your family?

Figure out who you want to make a better life for. From there you can better determine how you should act. If you have kids, this becomes increasingly simple.

What Does This Hierarchy of Service Do To Your Ideals?

If you want to make a better life for your family, you have to identify what a better life is, how to get it, and what virtues you want to instill in them.

For instance, the guy who thinks ‘a better life’ is a nicer house, more cars and vacations for his kids than what he grew up with will raise needy, entitled kids. Your kids are smart, they mimic what you do, not what you say. So while you think you’re giving them this ‘better life’, you’re actually training them to become consumers, not self-reliant, independent, adults.

Become the man that exemplifies honor, courage, and justice, and any other value you hold dear, before you see the things you aim to accomplish and own as the ideal result of your actions.

Know who you serve, then determine the ideal man of service for this hierarchy.

This man will win. He will win with honor. He will lead with kindness and humility and grace, but also by example.

He will strengthen those around him, not leave them dependent on his spoils.

Becoming a Great Leader

You do not need an army to become a great leader, you need ideals.

These ideals are not compromised. You’re not a chameleon, changing with your surroundings.

It’s simpler to construct and abide by a set of ideals when they’re shaped not in response to your selfishness or desire to improve your own status, but based on your desire to serve, to win, and to honor something, someone other than yourself.

Who do you serve?

What ideals do you live by in response to this service?