As we near the end of 2012, a difficult twelve months for many Americans both personally and professionally, a Forbes article by Kevin Kruse caught my eye this morning Schwarzkopf. With the passing of General Norman Schwarzkopf (Stormin’ Norman to those of use who remember his leadership during Desert Storm) I can’t help but be amazed that more than 20 years have gone. Desert Storm will always mark an important season for me, a year living on my own and launching my career, the return of my children’s father after a 12 month deployment with the USMC and the birth 9 months later of our first child, a daughter named Marinda. In her lifetime some things have changed and most not for the good. We are still at war; we face a withering economy, high unemployment and massive debt. Now a junior in college she, like so many other Millennials are searching for a place to hide (Peace Corp, Grad School etc) to ride out a nearly 50% under/unemployment rate amongst the educated of her generation.
I can’t help but think about a 1991 Newsweek Cover featuring General Shwarzkopf’s face as he hugged a young woman who had been rescued. This was a rare moment, a female soldier taken prisoner—but we found her, we saved her and the troops came home. Schwarzkopf then and now is the embodiment of leadership. Personally and professionally he maintained his dignity and respect for his troops, the mission and the enemy during his active duty career and afterward.
Leadership is a hot topic of late, politically and in terms of the business world. My favorite (and Kruses) Shwarzkopf quote speaks to this topic, “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy”… We all seek the right strategy given the circumstances. Those circumstances change constantly and we have to be flexible and adjust our strategy and tactics to meet the situation head on. But, without character, no team, politician, project or product concept will be successful. We are all leaders and followers/servants in many capacities both personally and professionally. It takes character to know when to lead and when to follow. Although not all of us have been in the military, we all are at war in one way or another. We can’t avoid challenges, but how we deal with them speaks more to our character than our intelligence. Being smart doesn’t make people loyal, doesn’t motivate them to work hard, doesn’t create a vision and mission that others can get behind, but real character, and dedication does.
Character and courage are the ingredients necessary for hope in 2013. My prayer for everyone is a huge dose of both to move forward, launching into whatever is next using our talent and time for projects and people who really matter most to us.