By Michelle SchneiderOctober 1, 2019
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey visited the U.S. Military Academy on Friday as a guest speaker for the West Point Humanities Center's Fourth Annual Zengerle Family Lecture in the Robinson Auditorium.
The Zengerle Family Lecture Series was established to invite major figures to the academy each year in order to share diverse perspectives that will challenge cadets to think about the human dimensions of leadership, education, culture, and warfare.
Dempsey was the first graduate of West Point to speak at the Zengerle Lecture Series. He was recently named Honorary Knight of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, one of Time magazine's 100 most influential world leaders and a West Point Distinguished Graduate.
The purpose of Dempsey's lecture was to inspire and encourage cadets to learn how to live up to the standards that West Point serves to build in them. He consistently emphasized the importance of being the kind of leader that cares about other people.
"You have to figure out for yourself that you are in competition for the trust and confidence of those who follow you," Dempsey said. "You need to be the prominent voice in that competition, and one of the ways you can do that is by living a felt life - you have to be in tune with yourself and extraordinarily in tune with those you are leading."
During the lecture, Gen. Dempsey presented his own personal touch to the slides with quotes that are meaningful to him accompanied by powerful images on the screen. One photograph helped Dempsey teach his message to cadets that leaders in combat must demonstrate selflessness for the benefit of their teams.
The picture showed a valiant marine running through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Okinawa to resupply machine guns and was taken by a combat photographer from a foxhole. It showcased what Dempsey described as an unimaginable combination of courage and fear that is service in combat.
Dempsey drew upon war stories from history and his own past to give cadets the vivid and realistic perspective needed to take leadership in combat more seriously. This information was beneficial for cadets because his experience can serve as a role model for others while preventing casualties of war in the future.
"As a leader, we cannot just sit here and admire the fact that we are taking causalities. So, we had a leadership conference and found that we were becoming too routine. Insurgents figured out their routes and placed a land mine, so we started making policies and reinforcing things, but I wanted to get personally involved," Dempsey shared. "I flew to a (forward operating base) and I watched a patrol do their thing, and I grabbed the squad leader and brought him over to the side and asked, 'What were you doing just before you got here?'"
After Dempsey finished his story, he talked about how a team of defense must rely on each other rather than be self-serving. He shared that building effective teams requires a leader to care about their followers and understand their challenges whether it's their health or family issues. He said that when people confide in you, teams can be built upon the foundations of respect and trust.
Of the many leadership qualities discussed by Gen. Dempsey, he reiterated trustworthiness, approachability and empathy toward other Soldiers. The most important trait he wanted cadets to remember is being a good human being.
"We follow a lot of doctrinal models of what leadership needs to look like, and I think that personal testaments like he made today is important for us to understand that there is more to leadership than just following a model and adopting specific values that are assigned to you," Class of 2021 Cadet Tony Blanco said.
"General Dempsey is a very authentic leader. He doesn't try to dictate philosophies in a way that seems textbook oriented. He puts into the terms of a general goodness that can ensue all sorts of different kinds of leadership styles," Blanco said.
Dempsey said during the lecture that the Army is a profession, not a job or an occupation, and encourages people to become leaders of consequence to avoid their standards from slipping.
Dempsey also emphasized the line, "making it matter," which relates to both the extraordinary things people may accomplish in their life or simply performing a small act of thoughtfulness that goes unnoticed.
"History is going to find you. It won't find all of you, just some of you. It found me and I wasn't looking for it. You never know which one it is or how many of you, and since you don't know, you're all candidates," Dempsey said. "Here is my thought on 'making it matter.' It's about being there for someone, helping someone, and if you can go through life and make something matter, you're going to make a big difference."