Caring for VIPs

By | August 31, 2020

[August 31, 2020]  By early 2005, my unit had been in combat in Iraq for nearly a full year.1  One day, with little notice, our commander told us to prepare for a Congressional Delegation visit.  At first thought, we were incredulous.  What could a group of Congressmen do for us?  That was when we learned about the caring of VIPs and the importance of making things go well.

Like so many experienced leaders will tell you, there is often no middle ground; either you’ll look good or you’ll stink.  Nothing has caused me more consternation than accompanying a senior commander and the worry that the receiving unit will screw things up.  The value of a VIP visit should be easy to figure out, but like my combat unit in 2005, most don’t understand how much a VIP can help them.  Thus, the need to ensure the visit goes well.

A genuinely worthy VIP would never visit without the ability to bring something to the table.  VIPs provide value, but, like all humans, if they are treated poorly or clumsily, they may not give what they possess.  Nearly every junior officer, capable as they are, rarely regard VIP visits more than a nuisance.  I can understand that thinking; I was one of them.

Never underestimate a VIP visit; what they can do for you, or, conversely, what they can do to harm you.  Here are a few notes from U.S. Army General Aubrey “Red” Newman on the care and feeding of VIPs:

  • Standards vary significantly for the care of VIPs. To overdo, it is just as bad taste as poor hospitality.
  • The best way to handle the VIP situation is with courtesy, military efficiency, and proper protocol. Put the right officer in charge.
  • Visiting VIPs come to see the situation, and to help. Thus they are happy to receive well-considered requests for aid in their fields.  They should be welcomed as friends at court with influence and power.
  • Most VIPs are inspectors too. Thus, a VIP who meets sloppy house-keeping arrangements for himself, and whose visit is fouled up administratively, will think overall standards are lacking.
  • Finally, though men in ranks don’t seem to realize this, visiting VIPs are the soldier’s friends.

The Congressmen visiting our unit asked what we thought was the greatest concern of the soldier on the battlefield.  We told them that using peacetime rules to fight an enemy was unsound policy and counterproductive to conduct any war.  For other reasons, the visit was marred by a lack of preparation and some good-old bad luck.  We never heard from these Congressmen again, and nothing ever changed regarding the conduct of the war from the U.S. Congress.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “Caring for VIPs

  1. Jerome Smith

    Exceptional article on a much needed topic. If you can’t take care of a VIP, then you can’t take care of your company.

  2. Nick Lighthouse

    Excellent article, Gen. Satterfield, this is something that you cannot find in the “manual for leadership” anywhere. Well done!

  3. Janna Faulkner

    Right, when an organization, group, or team benefits by the visit of a VIP or group of VIPs, everyone wins in that org. Strong practical reasons for treating the VIP with a well-planned effort.

  4. JT Patterson

    The strongest argument for treating VIPs preferentially suggest that the organization stands to benefit when those with the most influence are assured the best possible experience.

  5. Randy Goodman

    Several considerations underlie the provision of special care to VIPs. Staff members may desire recognition by the VIP. Persons may experience feelings of respect, awe, and envy when confronted with a VIP’s accomplishments, power, or celebrity status. By remaining attentive to the desires of the VIP, some of their influence may come out way.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Good point Randy, especially regarding celebrities. We may wish to “be smiled upon” by them and thus gain favor in some informal way. Be care however with such newly found position. Remember that the VIP is there for all those in the organization, not for you.

  6. Danny Burkholder

    The VIP can be anyone by virtue of fame, position, or claim on the public interest. They will sustainably disrupt the normal course of business. They could be the President of the US, a famous actress, a local news personality, the chief of staff, a board member, etc. Treat them well. You will likely be chosen to “escort” a VIP if you are a junior leader. Take the responsibility seriously.

  7. Doug Smith

    On the battlefield, a junior leader can become a strategic leader merely by what he tells a VIP.

    1. Linux Man

      Good point. What we say echoes throughout organizations so take great care in what you say to who.

  8. Tom Bushmaster

    The arrival of any VIP (congressman, celebrity, famous person, high ranking person) to your work can prove disruptive and challenging. Persons of VIP status commonly received special treatment when they are present. Senior leaders may treat them more respectfully, see them more quickly, and pay more attention to them. Usually a senior military leader is linked up with the VIP to ensure they are not left alone to wonder throughout the workplace or are at risk to injury.

  9. Harry Donner

    Another wonderful article, Gen. Satterfield. Keep ‘em coming our way. ?

  10. Yusaf from Texas

    VIPs are something else to work with in this modern era. Today, every person, including the snowflake student, wants to be the big dog welding all sorts of power. That is why the students spend so much time on social media. They want people to see them, acknowledge their prowess, and their moral superiority. VIPs however can help. We just need to let them know how and why.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      Good comment. Yep, just let them know how and why. The big thing is explaining how they can help. If you have a good story and your team is consistent with the story, all should go well and you should gain at least a positive reputation.

  11. Walter H.

    I’d never heard of a Congressional Delegation before. I assume this is something not uncommon. My understanding from working in the military for a short time was that they generally just caused an uproar and nobody got anything out of them.

    1. Eric Coda

      I’m not so sure that is correct. Perhaps it is the level from which experienced the visit. Usually there is a positive pay off after the visit. One certainly doesn’t want to screw them up. These Congress people have a lot of informal power and is spread far and wide. Be polite, be professional, but be prepared to give them whatever they want.

    2. Scotty Bush

      Yes, more that just a hassle. By definition, they have power and are willing to use it to help (mostly) or to harm (rarely but only if they are treated poorly). Keep up the great work with your blog Gen. Satterfield. Thanks.

  12. Wendy Holmes

    Interesting article today, Gen. Satterfield. I’m glad someone is looking out for those who visit war zones.


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