Major General Clifford Stanley: Leadership by Example

February 19, 2019
Throughout our lives, many people inspire us. Whether they had a hand in our professional career or an impact on our lives, these individuals stand out against the many, and for good reason. In celebration of Black History Month, LMIer Bill Smith pays respect to his friend, retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Clifford Stanley. It wasn’t so much Stanley’s professional achievements that were inspiring to Bill; rather, his ability to overcome adversity and keep doing what he had to do, “working, taking care of his family, and keeping his faith.” Stanley was truly a man who led by example.


Major General Clifford Stanley

Ductus Exemplo—Lead by Example

The motto of the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School is ductus exemplo—lead by example. Cliff Stanley exhibited such leadership through a lifetime of service, and I had the honor of working alongside him in the Marine Corps. 

Commissioned in 1969 after graduation from South Carolina State University, Major General Stanley initially served as a supply officer but was redesignated as an infantry officer, leading to command assignments from platoon, company, and battalion. He became the first African American to command a Marine Corps regiment. I served with then LtCol Stanley as his executive officer and observed firsthand his commitment to excellence. 

In between command assignments, he attended military schools and colleges at every level and served in high-visibility jobs, including parade commander at Marine Barracks Washington, White House fellow under President Reagan, and special assistant to the director of the FBI. Following his retirement in 2002, Major General Stanley was the executive vice president/chief operating officer at the University of Pennsylvania, president of Scholarship America, and on several non-profit boards, including the Northern District Boy Scouts and the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia. He completed his public service as the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, Department of Defense. 

But his inspirational story is not only about his deeds and professional experience, it is also about his commitment to family and his faith.

In 1974, during his assignment at Marine Barracks Washington, his wife was randomly shot by an avowed racist, paralyzing her for life. Cliff Stanley’s story is not just his many accomplishments, it is that he accomplished so much while concurrently taking care of his wife and daughter.

But Cliff Stanley’s legacy doesn’t stop there. Inspired by her dad, his daughter became a Navy nurse.   

For me, Cliff Stanley is an inspiration because he overcame adversity and still did what he had to do—working, taking care of his family, and keeping his faith. He was truly a man who led by example.

Ductus Exemplo

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