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What Should I Have Done Differently?

What Should I Have Done Differently?

By General Robert Van Antwerp

9 years ago




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

How would you respond if the President of the United States looked straight into your eyes and asked, “What should I have done differently?”

Hi there, leaders! My name is General Robert Van Antwerp, a retired three-star general from the Army. Today, I want to share with you a portion of a talk I shared on my top six influential leaders, and specifically what I learned from President George W. Bush. Enjoy this talk, and I’ll be back in a few minutes!

This next guy really needs no introduction. I call him 43. So I worked with 41, worked with President Clinton (42), worked with 43, and worked with President Obama. I’m not dropping their names, I’m just telling you that the Corps of Engineers…when there’s a disaster in this world, they are a responder.

I was in Indonesia six days after the tsunami. I went into Haiti and just about every place that there’s been a disaster. You get the call and you’re on a string, and you get on the presidential aircraft, and go. During that time, there is a lot of strategy and things happening. But here’s my story on George Bush.

I don’t care what your politics is, to me he’s an amazing guy. Maligned because he’s not that smart? The guy is a brilliant guy. We saw an interview where they were interviewing him. I just had to stand back and say, “What this guy has – and the experience – it’s amazing!” But here’s what he did. This has stuck with me, and it fits right in with what we talk about here.

We were on the airplane; Katrina had happened two years before. President Bush had said, “By 2010, that system’s going to be done at 100-year protection.” I was going down there to get an inspection by the President of the United States of what we had done. I mean, this was orchestrated. We knew where we were going to take him. But I also learned this: I’m going to show him the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m going to show him because he can bring resources to bear. If we owned it and we hadn’t done it right, we were going to own it. I wasn’t going to hold information back from him.

On the airplane going down there, he asked me this question, and I put it in the category, “feedback asked for by the President.” He said, “If we were just going down there and responding to this disaster for the very first time,” which the President does…they get on a plane and they’re going if it’s a big one. They’re going! Because, with them comes federal funds and declarations.

So he turned to me and said, “Van.” He called everybody by their first name. If he didn’t know it, he would get to meet you first before you ever had this discussion. But he said, “If this was the very beginning and we had to go down again, what should I have done differently?”

You know what you want to tell him is, “Mr. President, you are awesome! You just did everything right.” But you had an opportunity, and here’s what I told him. And I don’t even know if you could change this up if you’re the President because everybody was saying, “Will you build it back right like it was, only better?”

Almost every president from time in memoriam has said, “Look, we’re gonna come down here and we’re gonna put the resources in and build it back bigger and stronger than it was!” But there’s an implication that it’s “just like it was.” That would mean the Ninth Ward was going to be built back even though it was 12 feet below sea level, and there would be no wetlands out in front of it to protect it from surge anymore. So he told them that, and it committed us to 330 miles of levees at well over a million dollars a mile. That offered still no protection out in front of it.

It would have been much better to pull it into a footprint of 220 miles, create wetlands, and give everybody in the Ninth Ward $500,000 to move to ground that was 20 feet higher. And we had the property because the Corps of Engineers is a huge real estate agent for the nation.

So I just told him that in very nice words! And he said, “Thank you. I see what you’re saying.” And he was thinking in his mind, “How can I, in the next disaster, go in there…assess, be empathetic, say, ‘I feel your pain,’ but not commit us to something that in the long run isn’t the smartest solution?”

So do you have trouble giving and getting feedback? I think we all do, to some degree. It needs to be an art form. If he can do it, we can do it.

So, when I came on with the Flippen Group, and I had been a client for three years – as I told you a little bit – my coach was Flip Flippen. I got some feedback that I’d never heard before from someone that said, “You can even get better.” So, that’s my George Bush story!

Well, I hope you enjoyed hearing what I learned from President George W. Bush. 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 answer this question: In what situation do you need to ask for feedback this week? So let’s continue the conversation below.

We’d love to hear from you! Take care and I’ll see you soon.

General Robert Van Antwerp

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