Vice chief on leadership: Latch on to mentors
June 5, 2014
By David Vergun
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, June 5, 2014) -- An important aspect of leader development not learned in a classroom setting is the need to seek out good mentors, said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John F. Campbell.
"I'd encourage you to sit down and talk with someone about what's on your mind and what you should do and what path you should travel. That's pretty important. Not all organizations are worried about that. The Army is," he said, regarding the worth of mentors.
Campbell spoke at a meeting of the Asian American Government Executives Network here at the Doubletree Hotel, today. The AAGEN is a nonprofit supporting Asian-American and Pacific Islander leadership in government.
Although the audience was mostly civilian employees, Campbell said taking on mentors is just as applicable to them.
He applauded AAGEN's commitment to mentorship and relationship building, and encouraged attendees to take advantage of that offering.
Campbell also commended AAGEN's diversity efforts, which he said mirror the Army's own and that diversity will be especially important for the Army as it seeks world partners in its global regional alignment effort.
Having good mentors changed Campbell's own direction in life.
After joining the Army some 35 years ago, Campbell said his only plan was to complete his five-year commitment to serve and then get out.
But, during those years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he had a change of heart.
His mentors, mostly Vietnam veterans, including many non-commissioned officers, "were absolutely competent at their trade and displayed Army values, even as this nation recovered from Vietnam," he said, adding that he was blessed to be influenced by their "character, competence and commitment" and that motivated him to stay in.
Mentors don't always have to be someone you know on a personal basis though, he said, citing the 10 Medal of Honor recipients who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, each of whom had a great influence on him.
Another, he said, was Daniel Inouye, a Japanese-American who served in the Army during World War II, at a time when Japanese-Americans were often looked at with suspicion.
Inouye served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit Campbell called "the most decorated in American military history" which sustained the "highest casualty rate" of the war.
Campbell then went into detail about how Inouye led his men in battle against the Germans in Italy, destroying three enemy machine-gun nests, despite his own severe injuries.
Inouye's "men trusted him enough to follow him up that hill" into harm's way, he said, noting that was a "tribute to his character. You look for that in your leaders," civilian as well as military.
After Campbell's remarks, he opened up the floor for questions. One AAGEN member asked him about how his own parents influenced him in his formative years, especially his mother, who is from Japan.
Campbell then told how his mother worked hard all day at a number of small jobs and his father, who was an Air Force enlisted, worked at night job to help the family make ends meet.
His parents became his first mentors, he said, particularly his mom, who "instilled her values of hard work and preparation as being keys to success."
Before going to bed each night his parents "made sure my sister and I had done our homework. It was their way of instilling hard work in us," he said, adding that there are a "lot of things you can't control in life but one thing you can is self-accountability."
One of reasons Campbell said he had his sights set on going to West Point was because his parents couldn't afford to pay for his college and he wanted to take the burden off them.
LESSONS FROM MENTORS
Right before coming to the AAGEN event, Campbell said he put together a list of great leadership traits he learned over the years from his own mentors that he wanted to share.
Great leaders must:
• Have vision, the "ability to get their eyes off their shoelaces and see beyond day-to-day tasks and targets."
• Be "able to look beyond tomorrow and discern a world of possibilities and potential as they take their organizations to a higher level of excellence."
• Be driven by "a deep sense of conviction, strength of purpose and belief that reaches out to others and touches their hearts and makes them eager to follow."
• Have "self-confidence, not chest-thumping, strutting with egotism." Instead, they are "quiet and self-assured." That enables them to "stand in the shadow while others receive the attention and accolades."
• Be "able to make decisions, but also be able to delegate and trust others to make things happen, while holding them accountable."
• And, "possess courage, moral as well as physical. They must want to do what's right, not what is popular. They must be willing to stand alone and act when necessary."
These qualities "don't emerge overnight or just happen as you assume new responsibilities," he said. "You get them from experience and from being around mentors."
In closing, Campbell said everyone will experience "life's disappointments and failures," but the real measure of a person is how he or she reacts to a crisis.
And, Soldiers know a good leader and mentor when they see one, he added. "Soldiers don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
(For more ARNEWS stories, visit http://www.army.mil/ARNEWS, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArmyNewsService)