Soldier, Statesman, Peacemaker: Leadership Lessons from George C. Marshall

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Keep your wits about you about you and your eyes open; keep working hard; sooner or later the opportunity will present itself, and then you must be prepared both tactically and temperamentally to profit by it.
— George C. Marshall

As we go through our lives and look to improve as leaders and human beings, there are many famous names that repeatedly come up as people we can learn from. In the past few years as I delved into reading more about Stoicism, the name George C. Marshall become much more prevalent. I wasn’t really familiar with Marshall. As the first chapter is aptly titled “The Unknown Famous American”, it seemed I wasn’t alone. But as I continued to read it was evident that his influence on the United States as General of the Army, Secretary of State and as a leader, during the twentieth century was vital. Many have spoken of his greatness, “Winston Churchill called him the "organizer of victory" and "the last great American." Dwight D. Eisenhower said of Marshall, "Our people have never been so indebted to any other soldier." And Harry Truman referred to him as the "great one of the age.” Some remarkable praise from other leaders whom many leaders of today try to emulate. I must say that I took away more from this book than many others I have read, both from a leadership perspective and that of being a good person. George C. Marshall is someone worth learning from.

True leaders find a way to lead regardless of their position, stature, or age.

This may be a simple thought but it’s important. It’s important for any person who considers him or herself a leader but even more so for those of us who aren’t directly in charge of something. It becomes an easy way of thinking that because we don’t make the final decisions on something, that we can’t really be leaders. Deep down we know this isn’t true and Marshall’s simple theory makes sense. What many may see in Marshall is the final product but as the book eloquently states, “the thirty-four years he labored in obscurity and struggled under the army's seniority-laden laden promotion system before becoming a general officer-is equally instructive”. It goes into great detail as to how Marshall lead those around him regardless of his title or position. It is inspiring and a good reminder to any of us who consider ourselves leaders.

People Talk. Give Them Something Positive to Talk About

“In whatever organization you find yourself, remember that people talk. And it's not all idle gossip. Our cultures learn to protect themselves by getting the word around about people whose honor is doubtful. You'll never be more valuable than your word. I don't mean this as a warning, but as an opportunity-because, by the same token, healthy organizations also spread the word about people of incorruptible honesty. So tell the truth, deliver what you promise, let your caring show, and you'll be noticed.” This is a good reminder that not only does gossip get spread negatively, it can be spread positively if we give people reasons to do so. Our actions are everything and leaders must be aware that by doing the right thing, they can protect themselves more so than just trying to get people to like them.

We will take care of the troops first, last, and all of the time.
— George C. Marshall

Never. Stop. Learning.

One of my all-time foundational beliefs, reiterated by Marshall, we must never stop learning and have the humility to admit there is much we don’t know. But we also must have the desire and willingness to learn and grow. The author speaks of Marshall’s love of learning, “Many other officers of the era also shared Marshall's self-confidence, confidence, self-discipline, and "compulsion to excel," but it was his "intense desire to know" that separated Marshall from his peers. Even during the war years, when the responsibilities that befell him were of such a magnitude that it would have been forgivable if Marshall had found little time for anything else, he refused to stop learning. He understood his job demanded constant learning.” Even during the gravest conditions a country can endure, he still found time to learn. We have no excuse.

George C. Marshall was a fascinating man and leader. His lessons that are taught through this book can help guide those of us that strive to become better leaders and people.

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