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5 Leadership Lessons From A Retired 3-Star General In The U.S. Army – Lesson #2

5 Leadership Lessons From A Retired 3-Star General In The U.S. Army – Lesson #2

By General Robert Van Antwerp

9 years ago




If you would prefer to read this video instead of watch it, the transcript is available below.


As a leader, does how you start something actually matter? And if so, how do you start things right?

Hi there, education heroes! My name is General Robert Van Antwerp, a retired three-star general from the Army. Today, I am thrilled to share with you part 2 of a talk I gave about the leaders who’ve made a permanent positive impact on my life and leadership. In this video, I’ll introduce you to General Norman Schwartzkopf, who I served under in Operation Desert Storm, and the powerful lesson he taught me about getting things started right.

Enjoy this talk, and I’ll be back in a few minutes!

This next guy, do you know who he is? This next guy is Norman Schwartzkopf. Affectionately known as Stormin’ Norman.

My connection with him is that I was a battalion commander in the 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Stormin’ Norman was the commander of the Gulf War, 1991.

My lesson from him was simply this: Great leaders get things started right. What does that mean? It means any initiative, anything you’re going to start, a new project you’re forming…how do you get it started right?

One of the things you do, is you have a lot of touches at the beginning. Even though I trust you and you’re building this. Why? Because I don’t want you to go two weeks on a track this way when we want to be headed this way. So let’s have frequent touches.

Here’s how Schwartzkopf ran the Gulf War. First of all, he came to every division. We had 13 countries in the coalition. Some people would argue 16 – they all had forces. We had nine divisions. It was the last time we had a war where there was a forward edge of the battle. You crossed that line, and you knew you were in enemy territory. Now, you don’t know. Because there are ink blots all around. That’s the new theory. Normally what would happen – and I don’t know if you do this – if you have a big program you’re laying out, you might go up and give the introduction because you’re the high “muckety-muck,” and then you turn it over to your operations people, your deputies, and then they lay it out.

Norman Schwarzkopf did not do that. We knew his team had built the plan, but when he came to every one of those divisions, he briefed the plan down to battalion command level. So you would have commanding general of 101st and all the other guys; you would have all the brigade commanders and then all the battalion commanders. That was a lot of folks in a big division! He briefed the plan himself entirely; he got up there.

Did we know that he knew what was in that plan? Oh yeah! Then he took questions for an hour and a half. We asked him everything from soup to nuts because pretty soon, we were going to take that plan and we were gonna cross that line. It was amazing. I remember…it’s so vivid in my mind. I mean he’s a big guy! He’s 6’6″; his hands are like meat hooks. He was walking out a door similar to that. He got to the door, stood halfway and looked back at us and said, “I’ll be back in two weeks to see how your plan fits into mine.”

Two weeks later he came back, and we briefed our plan. Our division commander, guess what he learned when Stormin’ Norman briefed his plan? Our division commander learned to brief our plan. The whole thing, down to what the engineer battalion was doing! Then General Schwarzkopf asked questions for about an hour; we tweaked our thing a little bit and had some really good conversations.

He is high-critical, and we needed that because we wanted to know. The thing he knew that we didn’t: we knew what the two units would do because you always coordinate with the flanks – but we didn’t know that the marines were going to do a feint over in Kuwait from the Gulf to make them think that’s where we were coming from. He knew all that was all part of the plan. Then, again, he left. He shook hands with everybody. I remember his hand engulfed yours.

He was walking out the door and he said, “I may not talk to you again before we meet in Kuwait on the high ground. I’ll see you there.” And then he walked out.

I mean you could have heard a pin drop. That’s how he led.

What he had just said was, “I’m empowering you from this point on.” No good plan withstands the first contact with the enemy. He knew that. We knew that. He said, “The rest is up to you. I’ve given you enough intent. I’ve given you where we want to go. Without me, you all are going to be able to do this. I’ll see you on the high ground.”

I’ll be doggone! When we got into Kuwait, there was a big turning circle right there and a big statue right there. The guy standing up on the wall was Norman Schwartzkopf. As we were riding by, now in Kuwait, we thought, “Huh! He did exactly what he said!” That’s Norman Schwartzkopf!

Well, I hope you enjoyed my talk on the leadership lessons learned from General Norman Schwartzkopf. What are one or two practical things you could do to start better?

If you found this talk helpful, please do us a favor? Click the “Like” button to share it with your friends, and also scroll down to the bottom of this post and let us know your thoughts.

So let’s continue the discussion below. We’d love to hear from you. Take care and I’ll see you soon.

General Robert Van Antwerp

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