Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr.'s message on leadership - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr.’s message on leadership

The following excerpts on leadership are from a speech given by the late Gen. Schwarzkopf in 1998.

The moral climate of an organization is established at the top, it is just that simple.

The single most important ingredient of this thing called leadership is character. Character, because leadership involves things like sense of duty, sense of honor, ethics, integrity and even morality. All these things are involved in leadership.

Go back and look at the leadership failures in this country in the last one hundred years. You will find about ninety-nine percent of all the leadership failures in the country in the last one hundred years were not failures in competence, they were failures in character.

Look at the Wall Street scandals that occurred a few years ago. Here’s the most competent financial managers in the entire world. Let something called greed get in the way, okay, and that happens to be a character failure.

We had a President, Nixon, who was literally swept into office by an overwhelming vote because the American population thought he had great competence and then he was kicked out of office because of his character, because he lied to the American people.

This thing called character is so important.

Leadership is character.

There was a recent survey that scares the hell out of me, I will confess.

Seventy-five percent of all people surveyed said they lied to their bosses on a regular basis. That’s kind of overwhelming. But you know what, when they went back and asked them why do you lie to your bosses, they said because our bosses are unethical and therefore since our bosses act in an unethical manner it’s perfectly allright for us to act in an unethical manner.

The ethics of an organization, the moral climate of an organization is established at the top, it is just that simple.

You don’t necessarily have to be loved to be a leader, but you definitely must be respected.

I’ve met a lot of great leaders who were not loved, but I’ve never ever met a great leader who was not respected. And leaders are respected because they accept responsibility, they accept responsibility for their actions but more importantly, they accept responsibility for the actions of the entire organization that they lead.

First rule. No organization will ever get better unless the leaders are willing to admit that something is wrong with their organization. You must have a climate within your organization where people are allowed to say that something is wrong.

Leaders set goals for their organization. Goals are only meaningful, number one, if everyone in the organization understands the goals, but more importantly if everyone in the organization clearly understands the role that they are going to play in accomplishing the goal. That’s what’s important about establishing goals. Understanding what it is that you are going to do. Goals are used by leaders to focus their organization, very important. But you know what else they do, they tell the organization what they don’t have to do. You don’t do things that don’t accomplish your goals.

Standards. You show me a high performing organization and I will show you an organization where the leaders demand high standards. You show me a low performing organization and I will show you an organization where the leadership accepts low standards. Standards are important because it tells your people what’s expected of them. The measure of success is this thing called standards.

Leaders establish high standards for their organization.

This is the most important thing I’ve ever learned. Failure is contagious, but success is infectious. Leaders reinforce success within their organizations.

Leaders also accept some mistakes. When you’re dealing with human beings you must allow not freedom to fail, but you must allow a latitude to learn in your organization.

Good leaders don’ tell people how to do their job. Don’t get me wrong, they tell people what to do, they allocate resources, they establish standards, they discuss concepts, they talk timelines and they talk expectations, they do all of that. But they don’t tell people how to do their job.

If you go ahead and challenge people to do what they know how to do best and you give them the authority and you give them the resources to go out and do what they know to do best, and that’s happening throughout your organization, when all the pieces of your task come together, it’s going to exceed anything you ever imagined possible in your life because you allow this synergy of individual initiative to take place.

Great leaders do not tell people how to do their job.

Lousy leaders are so lacking in confidence in themselves, they don’t have any confidence in anyone in their organization, so they don’t allow anybody in their organization to make any decisions at all, but because they have no confidence, they don’t make them either, and the whole organization sits out there awaiting guidance, awaiting instruction and when it doesn’t come, one of two things happens. Number one, the organization stagnates or worse yet, the organization starts pulling itself apart in twenty different directions.

The two rules of 21st century leadership and all you have to do is remember these two rules and you will be a great leader in the 21st century.

When placed in command, take charge, do something.

Do what’s right.

You see, we’ve come full circle right back to this character business again. Because you know what, when the truly tough decisions have to be made, we normally know right here [in the heart] what the right thing to do is.

The tough part is doing it and especially when no one’s there, when no one’s there to grade your paper, when no one’s there to say he really knew what the right thing to do was, but he went ahead and did the wrong thing anyhow.

When you can get away with doing the wrong thing, that’s when this thing called character becomes so important.

Do what’s right.     

General Schwarzkopf’s closing remarks

At the end of the Gulf War Barry McCaffery, who’s now the drug czar up in Washington, he was one of my division commanders, he said you know, if we had their weapons, and they had ours, we still would have won. We still would have won because we knew our cause was just, our troops knew we were doing the right thing. We knew we were doing the right thing because from all over the world we were receiving tons of mail from people just like you who wrote us and said we support you you’re doing what’s right. I don’t know if you knew it, right before we kicked off the offensive, we were receiving four tons of mail per day, that’s twenty-eight football fields piled high with mail, every single day, telling us we were doing what was right.

Since I have been back to the states, one thing I hear more than anything else is people come and say thank you General Schwarzkopf for restoring my faith in my country. I say, wait a minute, it wasn’t General Schwarzkopf that restored your faith in your country, it was five-hundred and forty-one thousand magnificent men and women who were ripped on short notice from the rest of their family and they were set halfway around the world to the most inhospitable environment that you can imagine that they had to put up with the heat and insects of the desert during the day and the cold and the damp of the desert at night and they had to go to sleep dreaming dreams that nobody should have to dream and they had to face death and some of them indeed gave their lives. That’s who restored our faith in our country, we should never forget that. Okay, we should never forget that.

More importantly, we should never forget why they did it. Why did they do it, why did they do it? They did it simply because their country asked them to and therefore, they thought it was the right thing to do. That’s why they did it. But you know what I want to ask these people, I want to say why in the world did you ever lose faith in your country. Why in the world would you ever lose faith in the United States of America? You know I had a great life, I’ve traveled, and lived extensively in forty-eight different countries in this world. I hope you clearly understand with all of our warts and all of our problems and this sort of thing, the United States of America is the greatest country on the face of this earth, bar none. Bar none.

Our friends tell us that regularly. Our enemies tell us that grudgingly and our former enemies are doing what, they’re all trying to be like us. I mean look what’s going on over there in the former Soviet Union, they’re all trying to be like America. And yet for some reason in our own country we have people constantly telling us how bad we are, constantly telling us how bad we are.

The day I left Saudi Arabia my counterpart said something that I will never forget. He was admittingly anti-American. But he said if the world is only going to have one superpower, thank God it’s the United States of America. Stop and think about that. Stop and think about the nations that could have emerged as the world’s only superpower during our lifetime. Hitler’s Germany, Tojo’s Japan, Mao’s China, Stalin’s Russia, any one of those countries could have very easily, very easily emerged as the world’s only superpower. And think of the darkness that would have ascended across this earth if that would have happened. But they didn’t, and we did.

That places an awesome responsibility on our shoulders, awesome responsibility on our shoulders, because it places an awesome responsibility visa vie, our role in the world today. But I think far more importantly, it places an awesome responsibility on us as to what kind of a nation that we are going to be unto ourselves.

And once again the doomsday prophets and naysayers crawl out from under their flat rocks, oh the American people can’t handle it, American people can’t handle a leadership role, American people aren’t tough enough, they point to gridlock in Washington, they point to riots in the streets of California, they point to crime in Chicago. They say this is what America is all about, America isn’t tough enough to assume a leadership role.

I don’t buy that for one moment, I don’t believe that for one second. America is not gridlock in Washington D.C. America is not crime in the streets of LA. America is not riots in Chicago or any place else. That’s not what America is all about. America is hundreds of villages and towns all over this country loaded with people that still have all the same beliefs, all the same ethics, all the same value systems that have always made America great. That’s what America is all about.

If we’re the world’s only remaining superpower, so be it.

All we have to remember is two things.

If we are the world’s only remaining superpower, we must be willing to take charge when required to do so, but more importantly than anything else, we must always, always do what’s right.

And none of us ever again will have any reason to lose faith in this great nation called the United States of America.

General Norman Schwarzkopf passed away on December 27, 2012 at the age of 78.

I had the honor to meet the General while assigned to his security detail when he was the keynote speaker at a business conference that was held at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas in 1998.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


About the author

Doug Poppa

Doug Poppa is a US Army Military Police Veteran, former law enforcement officer, criminal investigator and private sector security and investigations management professional with 40 years of experience. In 1986 Mr. Poppa was awarded “Criminal Investigator of the Year” by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia for his undercover work in narcotics enforcement. He was also re-assigned to the Northern Virginia Regional Narcotics Enforcement Task Force for 18 months. In 1991 and again in 1992 Mr. Poppa’s testimony under oath in court led to the discovery that exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense by the prosecutor and sheriff’s office officials during the 1988 trial of a man accused of attempted murder of his wife that led to his conviction. As a result of his testimony the man was ordered released from prison, given a new trial in 1992 and found not guilty. Mr. Poppa became the subject of local and national news media attention as a result of his testimony which led to the demise of his 12-year police career. After losing his job, at the request of the FBI, Mr. Poppa infiltrated in an undercover capacity a group of men who were plotting the kidnapping of a Dupont Chemical fortune heir and his wife in 1992. His stories have been featured on Inside Edition, A Current Affair, and CBS News’ Street Stories with Ed Bradley. Contact the author.
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