A few years ago, I read General Norman Schwarzkopf’s autobiography “It Doesn’t Take A Hero.” Schwarzkopf, who died at the age of 78 in 2012, commanded U.S. and coalition military forces during the Gulf War.
The former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command frequently gave speeches on leadership following his retirement after nearly four decades in uniform. Speaking to cadets at West Point, Schwarzkopf said that leaders act out of a sense of duty for a greater cause, and not for selfish interests. Character and competence are what counts.
Here are Norman Schwarzkopf’s 14 rules of leadership:
1. Think of yourself as a leader. Leaders lead people, not systems, processes et al.
2. Character. Requires sense of duty, ethics, morality – it is not a measure of competence. In times of crisis, people pick character to follow. Have strength of character – a prerequisite to having the courage to do the right thing.
3. Leadership must be respected, even though not loved. Make it happen and take responsibility. You can delegate authority, and still take responsibility. It is more important to be respected than to be loved. Leaders do not seek to be pleasing first.
4. The true rewards of leadership come from leadership itself – not the next promotion or tangible reward. Do not seek rewards; leadership is its own reward.
5. No organization will get better until leadership admits that something is broken. The prevalent can do attitude must be willing to accept you can’t do before you know something has to change.
6. The climate must allow people to speak up.
7. Leaders establish goals for an organization. They must be understood and know their role in reaching the goal. FOCUS is the number #1 goal in the military. The greater the number of goals, the more confusion you get. Creating focus is the number #1 priority for a leader. Excellent leaders instill focus by creating shared goals that are clear and understood; everyone understands their roles in achieving the shared goals.
8. Leaders set high standards; they don’t accept low standards. They set expectations. People go to work to succeed, not to fail.
9. Leaders set high standards and clarify their expectations. They then expect that people will go to work on achieving these standards.
10. Recognize and reward success – it is infectious. Failure is contagious. Leaders recognize and reward success. They understand deeply that both successes as well as failure are contagious.
11. Accept a few mistakes. Provide the latitude to learn. Leaders accept a few mistakes but also, create the latitude and atmosphere to learn.
12. Don’t tell them how to do the job – simply allocate resources, set standards and the results will exceed your expectations. Leaders do not deal with how to get the job done; they surround themselves with talent and then allocate resources and remove roadblocks to enable the talent to excel. Love the troops. Leaders love their troops and let them know in many ways.
13. When placed in command, take charge. Even if the decision is bad, you have set change in motion. It is better than being stagnant. When placed in command, take charge.
14. Do what is right. It is a sign of character. Have strength of character – a prerequisite to having the courage to do the right thing. Do the right thing – have the moral courage to do the right thing.
At the conclusion of the Gulf War, which constituted six weeks of aerial bombing and a 100-hour ground war to evict the Iraqis out of Kuwait, the general gave a moving speech in a special joint session of congress. In it, Schwarzkopf thanked the American people for supporting its military during the war (unlike what happened in Vietnam). The general also reminded Americans and congressional representatives that soldiers bear the ultimate price for freedom in the form of life and limbs.