“I wonder how many children today are asking their fathers and mothers if they will be home for Christmas?”
— Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf
NASHVILLE — As Lee Greenwood's musical hit “God Bless The USA” filled the large Delta Ballroom of the Opryland Hotel, a military hero with a booming voice stood in quiet appreciation of a standing ovation in his honor.
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led America's combat troops to victory in the Persian Gulf War a decade ago, had just delivered a stirring speech about leadership to several hundred corporate real estate executives assembled for NACORE's annual conference, held Dec. 2-5.
But the thunderous applause was not only in recognition of the charismatic warrior's words of wisdom about what it takes to lead others. It also was a tribute to the man himself and his personal sacrifices. Now a retired U.S. Army general, Schwarzkopf was called to war four times during his distinguished military career.
Risking their lives
“As I speak to you right now, somewhere in this great nation, servicemen and women are saying goodbye to their families as they go off to war,” said Schwarzkopf, referring to the U.S. war on terrorism taking place in the Middle East. “I know what it's like. Think of the anxiety of a family that is saying goodbye to a loved one with absolutely no idea when they will see them again, or worse yet if they will ever see them again alive.”
The last time Schwarzkopf was called to war was in 1991. By then, he was a four-star general. “The last thing I saw as I walked out the door and looked back at my family was my three children with tears running down their faces because Dad was not going to be home for Christmas.
“So why do the troops go? Why do their families let them go? The answer is simple: They do it because your country asked them to. They believe in Rule 14 — do what's right.”
The general reminded the audience to never forget about the staggering loss of life on Sept. 11 when terrorists struck with a vengeance, killing thousands of Americans. And for that reason, Schwarzkopf made an impassioned plea for Americans to stand behind the U.S. government and its armed forces. “That hasn't always been the case. I've been to war four times. Two times, I had the support of the American people, two times I did not,” he stated.
Not all of the general's comments were serious. For example, in his opening remarks, Schwarzkopf quipped, “For those of you who do not recognize me, I'm Norm Schwarzkopf. I say that because for some reason people think I ought to be wearing camouflage.”
I heard the general deliver a similar speech two years ago to a group of real estate professionals. He was just as articulate and humorous. Back then, however, the business world was too consumed by whether the Dow would hit 15000 to fully appreciate the general's leadership advice. In light of the tragic events of Sept. 11, Schwarzkopf's message resonates with great clarity throughout the country. In this time of turbulence, his voice is a calming influence.
Rules to live by
Rules 13 and 14 are the cornerstone of the general's leadership philosophy. Schwarzkopf said he learned those golden rules while serving as a two-star general at the Pentagon. Rule 13: when placed in command, take charge. “Leaders are respected because they recognize a need for action. They make things happen, and then they take responsibility,” he said. Schwarzkopf praised President George W. Bush for taking charge in this current crisis by vowing to root out terrorism and using all military and financial means available.
The general defines leadership as the ability to inspire people to willingly do that which they wouldn't ordinarily do. He distinguishes managers from leaders: whereas managers oversee processes or systems or equipment, leaders lead people who have their own dreams and ambitions, the general explained. Sounding like a preacher delivering a Sunday morning sermon, Schwarzkopf emphatically stated: “Leadership involves a sense of duty. Leadership involves a value system. Leadership involves ethics. Leadership certainly involves integrity.”
Most of all, the general believes character counts. “If you look at the leadership failures that have occurred in this country in the last 100 years, you'll find that 99% of all those failures were failures in character. They were not failures in competence.” The general cited former presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton as leaders with character flaws.
“Leaders have to lead by example,” he said. “Whether they like it or not, they live in glass houses.”
And on a lighter note, happy holidays from the entire staff of NREI.