[June 28, 2017] I was fortunate to attend one of the U.S. military’s General Officer courses a number of years ago and to develop a number of friendships that endure to this day. Called CAPSTONE, the four week course covers a number of major issues affecting national security.1 One lesson the course repeatedly reinforced was that leadership means always being ready.
“Never get ready, always be ready.” – Frankie Perez, American musician
Semper Paratus is a Latin phrase meaning “always ready.” It is the official motto and marching song of the U.S. Coast Guard. One of my best and most unique friends from CAPSTONE was a Coast Guard Flag officer who spent more time rescuing people in trouble on the shores of the U.S. than he could remember. His personal philosophy of success was based on his time as a young child in the Boy Scouts … their motto, be prepared.
One of the keys to effective leadership is never assume anything. Mistakes in leadership are derived from those who make unfounded inferences such as people will behave in predictable ways and what we see is what is real. As my career progressed, I realized that preparation – eliminating the need to make assumptions – was the single most important key to success. No one, no matter how good you are, smart, sophisticated, lucky, or rich, can perform well without careful preparation.
An example of preparation showing its value and not assuming anything occurred during one of our visits to the country of Columbia while in the CAPSTONE course. Columbia sits on the western border of Venezuela and the government of Venezuela encourages and actively supports the production and transportation of cocaine to the U.S. Five U.S. Flag officers visited the border between the two countries; a hostile area known for illegal trafficking and fights between the Columbian military and Venezuelan army supporting drug runners.
While moving to the border we were escorted by a 100-man military protective force and on site by a light Infantry battalion. They were taking no chances that any one of the U.S. Flag officers would be killed or wounded during that visit. Did they over-prepare? Frankly, there is no such thing as over preparation in this kind of operation.
There are several techniques to thorough preparation. One is for the leader to “visualize” things in their minds. To do this, be personally present … go on any reconnaissance and conduct exercises to gain a better understanding. Another technique is to instill preparedness in others that work for you. This means creating a culture where others also value preparation and rational thinking.
Good leadership can mean many things but preparation will always be the key to success.
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- Conducted by the U.S. National Defense University, CAPSTONE is a General and Flag Officer Course created in 1982 with participation on a voluntary basis. The course objective is to make these individuals more effective in planning and employing US forces in joint and combined operations. For more information, see their website here: http://capstone.ndu.edu/