WEST POINT, N.Y. (March 30, 2012) -- Gen. Robert W. Cone, commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, was the guest speaker Friday at the Distinguished Leader Series, hosted by the West Point Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership.

The message he presented to about 50 cadets and faculty focused on mentorship and its significance to Army leaders. Cone, a graduate of the Class of 1979, said that as a second lieutenant stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, intellectual curiosity drove him to seek out those influential leaders.

"Back then, before email, I would write letters to people and ask them questions," Cone said of his time in the 2nd Armored Division. "As a result of this, I had networks of people who would help me as a young officer."

One of his proudest accomplishments as an Army officer came from leading a cavalry squadron -- 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Cone said 13 lieutenants from that unit are now battalion commanders, five captains became brigade commanders and two majors are now general officers.

"It's about mentoring and finding a mentor," Cone said. "Invest in those relationships. Mentorship is a reciprocal social exchange relationship. Don't think someone will assign you a mentor. It will never work."

Teaching is not a career-ender either, Cone said, though many leaders don't want to spend the time away from troops. Cone returned to West Point in 1987 to teach sociology and leadership as both instructor and assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. The years here, he said, helped prepare him for future assignments in the Army.

"The kinds of things you do in graduate schools and the kinds of opportunities you have as faculty here make a huge difference in the future," he said. "I've found that after teaching at this department, it's all about teaching. Anything that we do in the Army is really a matter of making sure your subordinates have the fundamental skills necessary to accomplish the task."

He also spoke of the challenges cadets will face after graduation as they enter the Army as newly commissioned second lieutenants. As the top leader developer for the U.S. Army, Cone told cadets they must always strive to be better, because as future Army leaders they will be making life-and-death decisions that will affect more than just themselves.

"For 33 years I've taken it as a fact that leadership is a privilege, not a right," he said. "Leading America's sons and daughters is the greatest privilege you will ever have. The day you put on your uniform and think you deserve the rank that you have is the day you need to get out of the Army. Believe me, that's how I get up every day."

Having that mindset ensures leaders take responsibility for their actions and provide Soldiers with the proper guidance, training and education needed to succeed. The great Soldiers and leaders Cone has known in his career have been through the most difficult situations and find that "extra gear" to pull through. A great leader, he said, is not entitled to have a bad day.

The art of being in charge, Cone said, has much to do with building relationships with senior noncommissioned officers.

"They are the backbone of the Army and they make things happen," Cone said. "It's the art of interacting with other human beings and forming relationships with your platoon sergeants; determining what your role is, what his or her role is and then figuring out how to execute those duties."

Cone also took questions from cadets on topics ranging from the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program and what they'll experience early on as platoon commanders. Cone recommended transparency to them.

"You may think it is pretty transparent here right now, but everything you do, your Soldiers are watching," Cone said. "I'm telling you, you have to be as good as you are. If you're focused on all the right values, all the time, then you'll have no problem."

Cone said Soldiers are looking for intrusive leaders -- ones who know their troops and can push them beyond minimal performance standards.

"They join the Army to be something bigger than themselves, but when they get in the Army they have all these opportunities they don't take advantage of," Cone said. "Our Soldiers need to have leaders involved in their lives. They're what you make them; make them successful."

Also during his West Point visit, Cone was presented the BS&L Distinguished Former Faculty Award, recorded an interview at the Center of Oral History and observed a negotiation exercise at Trophy Point involving more than 100 cadets and invited guests attending the 3rd annual West Point Negotiation Conference.