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Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Customer Care

What Leaders Can Learn From Crazy Horse, Part 1

Great leaders do not reflect but rather radiate energetic passion

Published: Monday, June 7, 2021 - 12:02

We live in an era of statue removal. Meanwhile the largest mountain carving in the world is under construction in the Black Hills of South Dakota just 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. The final carving will be 640 feet long and more than 50 stories high. The subject of that carving? Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse was one of the Native American warriors who defeated Lieutenant Colonel George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana in 1876. He was known for his bravery, humility, and commitment. One Arapaho warrior, Water Man, who fought with Crazy Horse, characterized him as “the bravest man I ever saw.” Crazy Horse would ride closest to Custer’s soldiers all the while encouraging his warriors. He would shout, “Hoya hay. This is a good day to die!”

“All the soldiers were shooting at him, but he was never hit,” said Water Man.

Crazy Horse would ride closest to Custer’s soldiers

The obvious goal of all effective leaders is the pursuit of results achieved with excellence. But it is more than the quest for the kind of success that resides at the far end of the yardstick. It is the strong expression of wholeness. Great leaders are “suns” of distinction, not “moons” of accomplishment—they do not reflect but rather radiate energetic passion. Their infectious heartiness touches, influences, and gives courage to all around them. Crazy Horse did more than simply show off his personal bravery; he unearthed like-minded daring in his fellow warriors. 

A little-known story about Crazy Horse came from Chief Rain-in-the-Face from the Hunkpapa tribe of the great Sioux nation. In the book, The Custer Myth (Stackpole Books, 2000, paperback edition) by historian W. A. Graham, he reports that some Indian braves went into battle only after consuming drugs, alcohol, or both. Rain-in-the-Face claimed Crazy Horse never needed such help to be brave. He wanted to remain totally in the moment, high only on his pledge to a noble purpose and zeal to prevail.

Great leadership is a genuine expression honed from a strong sense of self. It is unabashedly being who we really are in front of others. Unshackled by a fear of rejection, we are released to go further, soar higher, and keep going longer. Realness is boldness unclothed and without remorse or apology. It is the quest to be daringly genuine.  

Memo to leaders: Examine leadership practices that directly or subtly erode the self-esteem of your associates. Avoid using guilt as a tool for influence. Communicate a compelling purpose. Encourage and affirm initiative. Remember the words of writer Tex Bender: “You can pretend to care, but you cannot pretend to be there.” Be present in the lives of associates, not just in their toil. Tell the truth; live that truth. Authenticity always trumps arrogance; humility is more cherished by followers than superiority.

First published April 13, 2021, on Chip R. Bell’s website.


About The Author

Innovating Service With Chip Bell’s picture

Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Chip Bell has helped companies dramatically enhance their bottom lines and marketplace reputation through innovative customer-centric strategies. For the sixth year in a row, Global Gurus in 2020 ranked Bell as one of the top three keynote speakers in the world on customer service. Bell has authored 24 books; seven are international best sellers. His latest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions, shows how co-creation partnerships enable you to tap into the treasure trove of ideas, ingenuity, and genius-in-the-raw within every customer.


Leaders have followers

To be a great leader on a battlefield, physical courage is required. To be a great leader in the boardroom, moral courage is required; doing the right thing even though it may come at a personal cost. Commanders on a battlefield that are "leading from behind" do not gather followers into combat. Managers who fail to deliver on moral courage when needed, are no longer followed or respected. People can spot the cowards on the battlefield and the boardroom.