Gen. Schwarzkopf, widely recognized as one of the truly great leaders of our time, knows what it takes to be a strong leader. His concepts of leadership apply to both the battlefield and the workplace, as the following examples show.


Published 11/1/2008
Dale A. Reigle

Schwarzkopf on leadership

Battlefield lessons work in the office

“The truth of the matter,” said Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., “is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

Have clear goals
People need to know what success looks like. The more clearly you can describe success, the more likely it is that your employees will meet your goals. Think about the goals you have for your practice. Can you state them in a manner that is easily understood by all?

Give yourself a clear agenda
Goals are usually achieved in steps. Each day, set an agenda for yourself that includes four or five high priority actions that will help you achieve your goals. No matter what else happens during the day, you need to accomplish these items.

Setting a clear agenda is not always easy. Practice until you can do it consistently and successfully. Write down the steps you need to take to improve patient service and quality care in your office. Prioritize those steps and start achieving them!

Let people know where they stand
False praise and a failure to address shortcomings are not only detrimental to the individual involved but also do a disservice to the good employees who easily recognize your failure to be candid. The feedback you give people should reflect reality.

Fix what’s broken—now
Otherwise you will be doomed to fix not only what is broken but also the many other problems that may result from your delay. Problems do not go away of their own accord. Neglecting problems allows them to fester until the task of fixing them seems overwhelming. Fixing them as they occur is much easier.

Do not repaint the flagpole
Avoid “make-work” tasks. If you set clear goals, your staff will know when you are asking them to do unimportant things, and they will be less inclined to commit themselves to the real goals. If a task is not related to achieving your goals, ask yourself if it is really necessary. If not, why do it?

Set high standards
Employees tend to live up to the expectations of their supervisors. If you set high but reasonable standards, most employees will strive to achieve them. If you expect employees to do only what is necessary and only when you watch them, then you will spend a lot of time watching your employees.

Lay out the concept, but let your people execute it
One person cannot do the job for 20. You must learn to teach, coach, and delegate. Managers who micromanage often stand in the way of good employees. Make sure you have the right people in the right position, then let them accomplish their jobs.

People come to work to succeed
Most people do not wake up in the morning thinking “what a great day it is to do a mediocre job at work.” The drive to be successful in what we do is a fairly common human trait. Give your staff the tools and training they need to be successful. Celebrate their successes with them and let them know that their successes are as important to you as your own.

Never lie
Eventually, the truth will come out, and you will lose credibility. Once that happens, your ability to lead will be compromised. All your actions and statements will be questioned. You may need to say, “I cannot discuss that right now” or “I don’t know.” At times, holding information in confidence is appropriate. Lying is not appropriate.

When in charge, take command
If you are in a position of leadership, then lead. Sometimes that means taking the risk of being wrong and taking action without the benefit of complete information. The best course of action is to decide, monitor, and take corrective action as necessary. A failure to make decisions or to take action in a timely manner leaves the outcome to fate—and fate generally does not look kindly on the meek.

Always do what is right
As hard as it may be to do what is right, doing the wrong thing will have significant, long-term consequences. If your employees believe that you will always act with integrity and honor, you will have their respect and loyalty, even if they disagree with you.

These 11 concepts show that leadership does not come from position or authority. Leadership is the ability to influence people to do the right thing by doing the right things. Expect no less from yourself. Expect no less from your managers.

Dale A. Reigle is the chief executive officer for Rocky Mountain Orthopaedic Associates.

This article reprinted with permission from the Summer 2008 newsletter of the American Association of Orthopaedic Executives.