Norman Schwarzkopf - Connecting Head to Heart

I like to tell my audiences that I have what I call “chronological credibility” – a (sometimes skewed) kind of wisdom that comes from simply being on the planet for a longer period of time than those with whom I interact. And although I’m not a young man anymore, I can still remember two or three instances when a personal encounter with greatness turned on my light. Let me tell you about one of those times…

The year was 1998. I was a scheduled speaker at a major convention at the Grand Wailea Hotel in Hawaii. I was sharing the stage that year with keynote speaker General Norman Schwarzkopf.  INTERESTING QUICK READ ON “LEADERSHIP ACCORDING TO SCWARZKOPF”:

The morning of the scheduled presentation, the general and I were having breakfast on the lanai. And there, over eggs and coffee and guava juice -- in the midst of a casual discussion on the day’s upcoming topics -- he said something to me that I’ll never forget.

He said “Francis, do you know what’s missing today in corporate America?”

I said, “Well, I certainly have my opinions on the subject, but I’d be more than interested to hear what you consider to be the missing piece.”

And he looked at me, smiled and said “Leadership.”

Then he lifted his fork, pointed it at me and added “And leadership has nothing to do with competency. It’s not competency that’s missing, Frank. The world is full of competent corporate professionals.”

The leadership I’m talking about has everything to do with CHARACTER.”

Every one of us has experienced, close up and personal no doubt, the disturbing lack of character in corporate leaders of one kind or another since the 90’s. I point to the “great meltdown” of recent years. And it ain’t getting any better.

“It’s all in here,” the General said, pointing to his forehead.

Then he pointed to his chest, leaned in and whispered

“And the key is to link what’s in the head… to what’s in the heart.”

As I said initially, that was a relatively long time ago, considering the relentlessly rapid march of time. Even then my “chronological credibility” was well established,

I remembered performers like Ernie Kovacs…innovators and free thinkers who gave everything to the task at hand – even when nobody was looking. Especially when no one was looking – and achieved greatness.

I remembered sitting in Sargent Shriver’s kitchen in 1961, talking to a group of young volunteers who had this commitment to make John F. Kennedy the next President of the United States. They didn’t have a prayer in the world, but we all know what happened.

I remembered that In 1973, Federal Express Founder Fred Smith looked me in the eye and said, “This company is going to be delivering packages GLOBALLY.”

Federal WHO?. Federal WHAT? But it happened. Today Fed Ex is a verb.

I had experienced my share of greatness before I shared a meal with General Schwarzkopf...but for some reason this moment was an eye-opener for me. That connection electrified me -- those words, those gestures, that conviction --and it has since driven me in my progression toward betterment and philosophical enlightenment.

I now recognize that from the early days of working at the network to the days of working at the White House to my years with American Airlines and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Federal Express to today, now, right here…every single person that I ever saw that achieved true greatness championed character over competency.

You can buy competency…but character is not for sale.

Can you remember a remark in passing that had a life-changing effect on you… someone you know who said something that changed the way you looked at the world… or your profession or yourself? Embrace and live that lesson.

 If you have a future ahead of you…your ambitions, your dreams, your goals -- and the fulfillment of said ambitions, dreams and goals -- depends upon your character…on how you behave when you think nobody’s looking.

 Remember…you are your character.