The Bayonet

Tuesday, Mar. 18, 2014

Retired major general encourages humility

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Retired Maj. Gen. Craig Whelden, now the executive director of Marine Forces Pacific, spoke to a group of Soldiers while visiting Fort Benning Friday.

Whelden served for 30 years in the Army and for another seven as a consultant, during which time he said he learned the importance of learning to communicate on a common level.

“When you talk to somebody, whether you’re talking to a private or a four-star general, a civilian or somebody in uniform, someone who supports the military or hates the military, a foreign national in Afghanistan or Iraq or one of our allies or friends, one of the first things you should do is try to understand who it is that you’re communicating with and where they come from, so that you can communicate to them in terms that they understand,” he said.

Many of the Soldiers Whelden spoke to were students of either the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course or the Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course. He advised them to be prepared to be humble as they assume new commands throughout their military careers.

“I’ve known a number of leaders who wanted to put their personal stamp on an organization when they got there, and they went in and started changing everything,” he said. “The unit you take over may be operating pretty well because the person you’re replacing was very good or the Soldiers and NCOs in your organization are very good. It might be a train that’s moving down the tracks at full speed that you just need to get on and ride with it for a while and make your judgments a little later. Show a little humility. You may have great ideas, but it doesn’t mean that the organization you’re about to join isn’t working pretty well already.”

While he encouraged the Soldiers to maintain a humble attitude, he did take time to praise the efforts of Army Soldiers during the last 12 years.

“I can assure you that you’re sitting among just as great a generation as we had during World War II, and we’ve demonstrated that over the past 12 years,” Whelden said. “You are sitting on the shoulders and walking in the footprints of those who came before you. … and I know you’re not going to let them down.”

He said that in addition to not changing organizations, leaders must learn to manage each person’s individual strengths and weaknesses.

“I’ve known too many leaders who have gone into an organization and tried to reshape the organization to make everyone like themselves,” Whelden said. “There are many other kinds of people out there, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. You want to pull the strengths out of each of them, so you need to understand the makeup of people.”

During his Army career, Whelden served as garrison commander of an area support group in Germany, something he said helped him to learn how to manage civilian workers.

“I’ve seen over and over again lieutenant colonels and colonels who get their first exposure to the civilian workforce and fail because they’re out of their comfort zone,” he said. “They’re only to used to that uniform. The Army is bigger than just that uniform. You all need to understand that, and you’ll be exposed to that if you decide to make the Army a career.”

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