25 May West Point Graduation Week – Day Six

 

The big events today were the graduation parade and banquet.  When the cadets are plebes, they have a parade ceremony called Acceptance Day where they literally fold into the Corps of Cadets.  At the graduation parade, they literally come out of the Corps as they transition from cadet to officer.  It’s too bad the significant signposts of a career in business aren’t so obvious, nor symbolic.  In the business world, one has to be vigilant, astute and self aware for progress and setbacks when it comes to a career where self-reliance trumps institutional rigor for growth and development.

At the banquet in the evening, Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno addressed the cadets and spoke of similarities between the classes of 1915, 1976 and 2012.  Stars fell on the class of 1915 as 59 of 164 graduates that year (36%) rose to the rank of general, and one became president (Eisenhower).  The 1976 class has produced 33 generals including McChrystal, Rodriquez, and Odierno – all of whom believe the U.S. will be involved in “open-ended, low-intensity conflicts for decades.”  Odierno foreshadowed that the 2012 class (like the classes of 1915 and 1976) may not be tested immediately.  His basic message to the 2012 graduating cadets was around patience, competence and destiny.  He basically told them not to worry about deploying to a combat zone as lieutenants and that they’ll eventually face significant and unexpected challenges.  In the meantime, he told them to take care of their soldiers, learn their craft, educate themselves, and let destiny come slowly.  The advice reminded me of what I heard generals 25 years ago tell lieutenants on how to become a general:  “Be a great lieutenant.  When you’re promoted to captain, be a great captain.  When you’re promoted to major, be a great major…”

So what’s a take-away for business leaders?  Learn your craft, educate yourself, be patient, seize opportunities when they arise, don’t lose hope, keep the faith, and let your destiny evolve over time.  Epiphanies are quite rare, and leadership is developed and honed over decades not days or months.

*PS – Mike:  Thanks for the great photo of George!  http://www.flickr.com/photos/west_point/7268471236/in/set-72157629892958444

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