Synthesis Essay – Sam Houston
MSgt Joshua D. Malyemezian
Air Force Senior Noncommissioned
Imagine a Congressman from Ohio accusing a
Congressman from Texas of supporting the Native American on the house
floor. The Texan wrote the Ohioan asking
for an explanation with no reply. The
Texan then confronted the Ohioan on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. The confrontation ended with the Texas
Congressman beating the Ohio Congressman with a cane. The aggressor was Sam Houston: a military
leader during the war of 1812, the first president of the Republic of Texas, and
the last foreign head of state to serve in the United States (US) Congress. Moreover, he was the Governor of Texas
leading up to the Civil War and both a visionary and ethical leader. This essay will demonstrate how Sam Houston
was a visionary leader specifically, how he used idealized influence and the
rainbow rule. Then, how he was an
ethical leader, looking at how he used free thinking and avoided the ethical
trap of worrying over image. Finally, I
will explain how I have implemented and avoided these same areas throughout my
First, let’s start by looking at how
Sam Houston was a visionary leader using the Full Range Leader lesson concept
of idealized influence. As stated in the
Advanced Leadership Experience (ALE) course material Full Range Leadership, idealize
influence is “instilling pride in others for being associated with you; going
beyond self-interests for the good of others; acting in ways that build others’
respect; displaying a sense of power and confidence” (BCEE, 2017a, p. 11). Sam Houston exemplified this throughout his
life, but the most impactful display of visionary leadership was when he used
his idealized influence as the Governor of Texas. He made the difficult decision to not support
Texas in succeeding from the US as he thought it would cause a civil war in
Texas and ultimately cost Texan’s their lives.
In 1861, an elected convention voted to secede from the US and join the
Confederate States of America. Although,
Houston questioned the legality of the convention he chose not to resist,
stating “I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon
her” (Campbell, 2007). Houston even turned down a proposal from President
Lincoln to send 50,000 troops to Texas to prevent the succession. According to, the Small Business Chronicle
idealized influence is “the willingness to take risks and follow a core set of
values, convictions and ethical principals in the actions taken” (Schieltz,
2018). Sam Houston demonstrated this
with his actions. He could have easily taken
the 50,000 troops from President Lincoln and kept Texas in the Union. However, that was against his core values
which were more important to him than his position and chose not to support
putting Texan lives at risk.
Equally important, as a visionary leader, Houston
demonstrated the effective use of the rainbow rule. The rainbow rule is defined within the
Diversity lesson of the ALE course material as “treat others the way they would
have you treat them” (BCEE, 2017b, p. 5). Although Sam Houston owned slaves, the way he
treated his slaves is what made him a visionary leader. His ultimate goal was to end slavery in
Texas, but was hesitant to pass legislation ending slavery because he feared it
would result in a large number of former
slaves becoming homeless. While he
worked to put an end to slavery he tried to give his slaves a better life by
paying them, teaching them arithmetic, and how to read…all of which were
illegal at the time. As reported by the
Financial Post, “leaders should stop using the golden rule and start using the
golden rule 2.0: treat people the way they want to be treated” (Dowden, 2015). Owning slaves in the 1800s was common practice
in Texas, Sam Houston was a visionary leader by going against the grain,
applying the rainbow rule…even breaking the law at times to do it.
Not only was Sam Houston a visionary
leader, he was also an ethical leader. First,
Sam Houston demonstrated ethical leadership by using the Critical Thinking
lesson concept: free thinking. As
written in the ALE course material, free thinking is “having an independent
mind to think freely and restraining your desire to believe because of social
pressures to conform” (BCEE, 2017c, p. 5). As I mentioned earlier Sam Houston made the
widely unpopular decision to not support Texas succeeding from the US in order
to prevent a civil war in Texas and save Texan lives. His peers thought otherwise and voted to
succeed, Sam Houston stated “I shall make no endeavor to maintain my
authority as Chief Executive of this State, except by the peaceful exercise of
my functions” (Campbell, 2007). As
covered in an article by University of Southern California President Stephen
Sample, “thinking free can be understood when we imagine ourselves coming out
of a heated swimming pool on a cool, brisk day. When we are thinking free, we
stay out in the cold until we shiver and our teeth chatter. It’s the ability to
tolerate the cold long after it becomes unpleasant – to forcibly sustain our
thinking free for more than a fleeting moment” (Sample, 2001). Sam Houston demonstrated free thinking with
his actions. He did not make his
decision based on a short term convenient solution. Instead, he fought his political party for
what he believed in and it ultimately cost him his Governorship ending his 37-year
Moreover, as an ethical leader he avoided
falling into the ethical trap of worrying over image. Worrying over image is defined within the
Ethical Leadership lesson of the ALE course material, as “making decisions
based on how they’ll impact your reputation or standing among peers,
subordinates, supervisors, or community rather than on military rules, regulations,
and codes of conduct” (BCEE, 2017d, p. 7).
As Governor Sam Houston put his reputation aside and consistently voted
against legislation supporting slavery.
At the time, slavery was not only legal in Texas, most of Sam Houston’s
political party wanted to expand slavery across the US. For example, the Kansas-Nebraska act allowed
him to vote alongside the north preventing
the expansion of slavery into those two new states. Additionally, he voted down a piece of Texas
specific legislation called the two-year rule which gave slaves two years to
get out of Texas once freed or be forcibly re-enslaved. According to Army Chaplain Colonel (ret)
Johnson, in a US Army War College article, “Concern about what might turn out
to be an “embarrassing situation” leads into an ethical trap on which
we’ve been particularly hung-up for years in the Army, namely, the anxious
worry over image. We frequently run scared; instead of acting upon what is
right, we often hear: “You know, if we do this, it’ll be embarrassing to the
Army’s image” (Johnson, 1974). Sam
Houston was an ethical leader by avoiding the ethical trap of worry over image
in that he supported ending slavery when all those around him not only supported
it, but wanted to expand it. In fact, he
freed his slaves using only a draft copy of the emancipation proclamation.
I’ve demonstrated how Sam Houston
used idealized influence, the rainbow rule, free thinking, and not falling into
the ethical trap of worrying over image.
Now, I’m going to discuss how I have used the same leadership concepts
throughout my military career. First, I
take pride in my use of idealized influence.
The one area within idealized influence that applies to me the most is
sacrificing personal gain for the success of the mission and success of my subordinates. I do this by making sure I am the last one of
out of the office, I never ask an Airmen to do anything I haven’t done, and I
do my best to be a servant leader for both my Airmen and my leadership. One of my Airman frequently comments “MSgt
Mayo, you are always here”. I am
not always there, but I have his
respect because he knows when he’s at work, I’m at work. I tell my Airmen that when they are at work,
I am here for them and that my stuff can wait. Being able to walk the walk is true leadership by
Second, I practice the Rainbow Rule
concept on a daily basis. Every person
is different and deserved to be treated with respect, dignity, and ultimately
the way they want to be treated. I do
this by getting to know each one of my Airmen.
I have an Airman who does not appreciate public recognition. I have been taught to publicly recognize my
Airmen since Airman Leadership School. However,
I noticed that each time I did it, the Airman was uneasy afterwards. So, I talked to him and he told me he would
prefer a simple “good job” in passing.
Ultimately, once I’m able to get to know my Airman better I alter my
leadership approach depending on the Airman.
I may be more direct with some Airmen, while with others a simple look
gets the point across. Ultimately, I try
to be a nice person and keep the Airmen’s needs in the front of my mind.
Third, I have used the critical thinking
concept of free thinking throughout my career. One particular instance comes to
mind though. My commander was looking at
a way to give time back to the Airman.
He proposed, in a staff meeting, to eliminate a not so popular meeting
called the contract management review. This
was a lengthy meeting that brought in junior members to brief each one of their
contracts to the commander directly. The
vote was unanimous to nix the contract management review meeting. I disagreed, I argued that the briefing isn’t
for the commander, it is for the young Airmen.
It allowed them to get facetime with the commander, hone their public
speaking skills, and prove they know their contracts. I was thinking of the big picture; not just “having
to go to another meeting” ultimately, we agreed to make the meeting quarterly
Finally, I will discuss how I have avoided
the ethic trap of worrying over image. I
was working a $25 million acquisition. We
received a protest, which basically means a contractor accused of the
government of not following the rules. This
is a black eye in the contracting community, and commands want a rapid
resolution. There are typically two courses of actions commands can take; fight
it (may win or lose) or admit fault. The
command was ready to fight it. However, I
noticed that we made an error during the evaluation phase. I, in turn, made my findings a matter of
record. I recommended admitting fault
and taking corrective action.
Consequently, this was not a popular decision and we got our hands slapped by higher
headquarters. Ultimately, I was not worried
over image because admitting fault was the ethical thing to do, and we would
have lost in court had it gone that far.
In conclusion, I believe Sam Houston
was a visionary and an ethical leader throughout his career as a military
leader, Presidency, and Governorship. I’ve
discussed how Sam Houston used idealized influence and free thinking to try to
keep Texas from succeeding from the US.
Additionally, I discussed how he used the rainbow rule and avoided the
ethical trap of worrying over image as he fought to end slavery in Texas and
the US leading up to the civil war.
Lastly, I discussed how I’ve used idealized influence, free thinking,
applied the rainbow rule, and avoided the ethical trap of worrying over image
throughout my military career. As I
mentioned earlier Sam Houston was the last head of state to serve in US
congress. Arguably, if he hadn’t been a
visionary and an ethical leader he could have gone on to be the first President
of two countries: Texas and the US.
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M. (2018). Four Elements of
Transformational Leadership. Smallbusiness.chron.com. Retrieved from:
R. (2007). Sam Houston. New York: Pearson Longman.
N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education. (2017a). Full Range Leadership.
Maxwell-Gunter Annex, AL: Author.
N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education. (2017b). Diversity. Maxwell-Gunter
Annex, AL: Author.
N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education. (2017c). Critical Thinking. Maxwell-Gunter Annex, AL: Author.
N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education. (2017d). Ethical Leadership.
Maxwell-Gunter Annex, AL: Author.