JMO Leadership Lessons from General Tommy Franks

General Tommy Franks was speaking recently at a Conference in Austin, TX on the topic of Leadership.  Typical of General Franks, he talked about leadership with a kind of common sense that today seems to be pretty uncommon. 

General Franks told a story of a young lieutenant who declared his intention to one day become a General himself.  The young LT asked General Franks if he could share the one thing the LT could do to advance his career and achieve this goal.  General Franks told him, “Son, go out and buy two alarm clocks.”  The young officer, confused by the General’s answer, asked what he meant by two alarm clocks.  General Franks explained, “That’s right, if you can’t take responsibility for your own life and show up on time, you have no right leading anyone else. Don’t ever be late.”

General Franks also told the story of the best advice his father ever gave him as his father dropped the soon-to-be Private Franks off at the bus stop for boot camp in 1967 (Franks enlisted in the Army during Vietnam after dropping out of University of Texas). 

His father said, “Son, I have one piece of advice. Be feisty.”  Young Franks replied that he already was feisty.  His dad said, “Son, I know you’re feisty, but I mean it as an acronym. F-e-i-s-t-y.” He then went on to spell it out:

* “F” is for focus. You need to get focused on what is important and stay focused.
* “E” is for energy. Bring all the energy you can muster to every situation.
* “I” is for integrity. This is your most important possession. Don’t ever compromise it.
* “S” is for solve the problem. Don’t argue. Don’t make excuses. Just solve the problem and get on with it.
* “T” is for take the blame when no one else will. Accept responsibility and be accountable.
* “Y” is for “Yes, I do windows.” Don’t ever say, “That’s not my job.” Do whatever the boss asks and do it with enthusiasm.

Being in the recruiting business as long as we have, and talking with leading corporations about what it takes to be a successful leader, 90% of our conversations about leadership could be summed up in the acronym FEISTY.  In our opinion, too many people selectively or partly practice being FEISTY.  That’s right – they do some of it when others are watching or in one part of their lives (i.e., “I’m so focused at work that I don’t have time to do professional development.”)  To be a senior leader in any organization and gain the trust of people who follow you, we believe you need to be FEISTY all the time and with all areas of your life- at work, on the job, personal health, reading and professional development, and personal relationships.  Being FEISTY all the time is hard work and requires a lot of intestinal fortitude, discipline and drive, but nothing worth anything in life is ever easy. 

So, make sure you’re FEISTY all day long in all your commitments, and if you’re apologizing 2 or 3 times a day for being late, maybe consider getting a second alarm clock.  Achieving your leadership potential is largely dependent on doing both.

Chuck Alvarez