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If you like Norman Schwarzkopf's story, you might also like:
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Norman Schwarzkopf can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Norman Schwarzkopf also appears in the videos:
Schwarzkopf on Leadership: 50th Anniversary of D-Day,

President George Bush: Lessons of Leadership,

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Norman Schwarzkopf in the Achievement Curriculum section:
What is a Leader?

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Norman Schwarzkopf
 
Norman Schwarzkopf
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Norman Schwarzkopf Interview (page: 3 / 6)

Commander, Operation Desert Storm

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  Norman Schwarzkopf

Is a General allowed to feel fear?

Norman Schwarzkopf: Sure, I hope so.


Anybody who says they're not afraid of war is either a liar, or they're crazy. And there's nothing wrong with fear. I mean, fear is good. Fear will keep you alive in a war. Fear will keep you alive in business. Nothing wrong with being afraid at all, and everybody should understand that. And fear tends to cause you to focus, it tends to cause your adrenaline to run, it tends to cause you to do things, perhaps to see things in much, much sharper perspective at that instant. What is bad is when you allow that fear to turn into panic, and you allow that fear to petrify you to the point that you cannot perform whatever duty you have to do. That's the thing that's wrong with fear. But there's nothing wrong with being afraid. And true courage is not not being afraid. True courage is being afraid, and going ahead and doing your job anyhow, that's what courage is.

[ Key to Success ] Courage


I've heard you speak very movingly about what makes a great leader. You talked about Rule 13. Can you explain that?


Norman Schwarzkopf: People need to understand what leadership is all about. Leadership is not managing an organization. Organizations are made up of people. Leadership is motivating people. Leadership is about people. So, yes. You've got to be competent. There's no question about the fact that you have to have competence to be a leader, but you also have to have character. Good leaders are men of competence and character. Many times character is more important than the competence side of the house. So I tell people that the secret to modern leadership is two rules. Rule 13: When placed in command, take charge. The leader is the person who is willing to take the responsibility. There are a lot of other people out there who are willing to do the job, but they don't want to get hung with the loss when it happens. As a leader, you have to be willing to take the responsibility. You have to be willing to take charge. So, Rule 13 says, "When placed in command, take charge."


Which rule system is this?

Norman Schwarzkopf: It's Norman Schwarzkopf's rule system, okay? That's what it says. But then Rule 14 comes into play, and this is very important.


Rule 13 says, okay, I've got it. When placed in command, I take charge. But what do I do? The answer is Rule 14: Do what's right. Because we all know, all of us know, basically, when placed in those circumstances, what the moral, what the ethical, what the correct thing to do is. We all know it. So, the true modern leader of today is the one that's, number one, willing to take charge, and willing to do what's right. That's the secret of leadership.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity


It sounds like you have to rely on your instinct. Nobody tells you what's right.

Norman Schwarzkopf: Sure. Did you ever try to make a speech about a subject you didn't believe in? It's a lousy speech. I can't make a good speech about something I don't believe in. I've tried, and it's wooden, it's not me.


You've got to believe in what you're doing. If you don't believe in what you're doing, you're not going to do it well. You truly have to believe in it. You have to believe that you're doing what's right. And I don't think I could go to war -- I mean I don't think ultimately I could serve my country -- if I thought we were doing something wrong. I think I would get out, I would leave. You don't have to stay, you have an alternative. It's not like the German generals who tried to justify what they did at the Nuremberg trials by saying, "I was only doing my duty." That's not right, because you have higher duties. You have a duty to your moral code, whatever it might be. You've got to do what's right.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


Did that gut feeling of what's right ever take you in a kind of surprising direction? Did it cause you to change direction? Do you sometimes choose that gut instinct over what might be rational, or intellectually right?


Norman Schwarzkopf: There's a lot of gut instinct that comes into everything you do as a leader. Leadership is an art, not a science. It cannot be reduced down to a piece of paper and a bunch of very simple mechanical equations that you apply to it, and out the end drops the answer, and you just go out and do that. That's not what it's about. So much of it is gut feeling. Some of it is risk-taking. You don't take risks with your troops' lives, though. You've got to have your priorities established. You've got to know what you believe in. You have to have to be well trained. You have to have confidence in yourself, you have to have confidence in your training. You get nothing for nothing. It's hard work. You've got to work hard so that when that time comes, when you've got to make the tough decision, you're able to make the decision. Nothing is more debilitating to an organization than a leader who won't make a decision. The whole organization just stops and waits and nothing happens because a leader won't make a decision. That can paralyze an organization. So you see Rule 13, again. When placed in command, you must take charge.


Does luck come into play at all here?

Norman Schwarzkopf: Oh boy, does it ever. Somebody said, "If you give me a choice between doubt and luck, I'll take luck every single time." I believe that. I can think of many times in my career where I came to a fork in the road. I was convinced that I should have gone down one way, and instead I went down a different way. In hindsight you look back, if you'd gone down that first way you wouldn't be where you are today. So luck is very important, sure it is.

What was wrong with the way America fought the Vietnam War?

Norman Schwarzkopf: I don't know where to start.


First of all, it was a piecemeal commitment. We dribbled our troops in. One of the principles you learn from studying military history is if you're going to go to war, you don't piecemeal your troops in, because then they get chewed up and spit out in piecemeal. But it was a piecemeal commitment. We dribbled our troops in for years and years. It was always the light at the end of the tunnel. You know, give us 100,000 more and that sort of thing, and the light never came. Secondly, we didn't use our full military power. We were fighting with one hand tied behind our back. We had this ridiculous situation where the enemy was across a border, and they could attack across the border and do anything they wanted to you, but when you prevailed and went to chase them, you had to stop at the border. You know, "Olly olly in free! I'm on the other side of the border and you can't chase me." That's a crazy way to go about fighting a war. We didn't project the power that we had. There's some people say that our objectives were not clear. I don't know about that, but I certainly feel in hindsight that our war termination criteria were never clear to any of us. So all of that was the wrong way to go about fighting a war.


What kind of reception did you get when you came home from Vietnam? I gather it wasn't the hero's welcome you got for the Persian Gulf War.


Norman Schwarzkopf: The first time I came home from the war I was confused because I had been so intensely involved in this thing called a war, and I came back to the United States and it was like it wasn't going on. This was 1966. The only families who were involved in the war were people who had loved ones over there. Nobody else seemed to much even know or care that the war was going on. When I came back in 1970 it was different because now we were being blamed for the war. The military, who were just doing their duty. Draftees, I mean kids that had been drafted in the military and sent to war, when they came back home were being blamed by the American people for the war. That's intolerable. I mean, that's terrible.


Norman Schwarzkopf Interview Photo
But a maturation process came about in the American people. In the Gulf War you didn't run into that. I think they finally recognized that the members of the armed services are people who are just doing their duty because their country asked them to. They're not the ones who caused the war itself. We got letters in the Gulf from people who would say, "I may not agree with the decisions that put you there, but now that you're there, I'm supporting you. You've got my support." I can't tell you how many thousands of Vietnam veterans I've run into who threw their arms around me and just said, "Thank you, General, you made it all right. You vindicated us." That's good stuff.

And it's not only because you were victorious, but because of the response to the troops.

Norman Schwarzkopf: Many of the victory parades that were held included the Vietnam veterans. In my remarks before Congress, I very specifically mentioned the Vietnam veterans, and said we were proud to be joining their ranks. I wanted to make sure that they got the credit for what they'd done, too.

How did mistakes of the Vietnam War influence your battle plans in the Persian Gulf?

Norman Schwarzkopf: A lot. Both positive and negative.


Somebody once said, you learn more from negative leadership than you do from positive leadership, I believe that. I believe that very much. I was bound and determined that we weren't going to repeat some of the mistakes that we made in the Vietnam War. I was bound and determined that if we were going to war, we were going to get it over with. We were going to use our full military might. And I would say to you, I'm very proud and very happy that our country, that our administration, that the President on down -- Secretary of Defense -- allowed us to do it that way. War is never the right thing to do, but if you have to fight a war, there is a right way to fight the war. That's the way that will minimize your casualties, save the lives of the people who are out there fighting. Get it over with as fast as you can.


You've spoken before about a moral dilemma, when you were called to Grenada. How did you resolve that?


Norman Schwarzkopf: I had long since resolved the moral question in my mind. I did it after Vietnam. I did it when I had a choice to either get out of the military or stay in when I arrived at twenty years. I could have retired at 20 years and I decided to stay in. So I had resolved the moral dilemma in my mind. Although I will say, when we were about to go into Grenada, the question flashes across my mind: "Grenada? What are we doing here? Are we getting involved in another Vietnam? Are we getting involved in another war that the American people are not going to support?" But the Gulf was the same thing, let me tell you what. The young troops over there were not afraid of the enemy. What they were afraid of was they were going to get involved in another war that the American people weren't going to support. That's what they were afraid of.


Norman Schwarzkopf Interview Photo
You learned in Grenada, I gather, not to underestimate the strength of an adversary.

Norman Schwarzkopf: I've never underestimated the strength of an adversary. But Grenada certainly brought that point home to me very, very clearly. In this case, everybody had just pooh-poohed the enemy, and said they weren't going to fight, but they did. Of course, that's "best case" planning. All of us learned to do "worst case" planning.

It seems incredible, but you were more or less planning the Desert Shield operation in your head, before there was a need to do it. What were your duties at the time this was going on?

Norman Schwarzkopf: I had been Commander-in-Chief of Central Command for almost two years when the war broke out. My responsibilities were to conduct any military operations that took place in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Southwest Asia. You could call it a lucky guess, maybe.


I had studied the area and we had come to the conclusion that the worst case scenario that we would have to face would be Iraq. I mean, Iraq had the fourth largest army in the world at that time. They had just won major victories against the Iranians. They had modern military equipment. So, when you looked around at the area and said, who is the worst enemy that you'd have to fight over there? It was Iraq. And we said, what's the worst thing they could do? And that would be sweeping down and deciding to take over all the oil fields. So we decided that if that's the worst case scenario, then make sure that we plan to handle the worst case scenario, and we could handle any lesser scenarios that might come up. So you might say we made a lucky guess and we were right.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


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