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Leadership Lessons From the Grave

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Steve Muro heads the National Cemetery Administration (NCA), the division of the Department of Veterans Affairs that manages 131 national cemeteries and provides burial services for military veterans and eligible family members. The NCA recently received the highest rating ever in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, beating out all other federal agencies and even top corporations. Muro discussed his on-the-job experiences and his leadership principles with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.

Q. Has there been a particular experience during your time with the National Cemetery Administration that made the biggest impact on you?

A. I was doing the cemetery representative's job in California, and my first assignment was the baby of a veteran. The baby who died was less than a year old, and it was hard. There was no hearse. The family car opened and the mother was holding the casket in her lap. I realized then what we did at the national cemetery for those who serve this nation, the veterans and their dependents, was special. I also understood that we don't have a second chance to do it right. We have to do it right the first time. This is something that we stress, and I stress, to all of our employees -- we only have one chance to get it right.

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