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General Tommy Franks on Leadership

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with General Tommy Franks (retired), former head of U. Central Command, a role that effectively put him in charge of all U. military operations in 25 countries, from Egypt to Central Asia. In his role, Franks acquired a reputation for no-nonsense, practical leadership and genuine care for those in his command.

As commander-in-chief of U. Central Command from 2000 through 2003, Franks faced and overcame some of America’s greatest challenges, from the attack on the USS Cole, to the devastation of September 11th, to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A highly decorated four-star general, Tommy Franks led a coalition of more than 60 nations — and 250,000 troops — to victory in Afghanistan and Iraq, winning respect and admiration at home and abroad. Franks has always been a student of leadership recognizing that the military environment presents some of the greatest challenges for leaders.

Acknowledging that, “no one hates war like a soldier hates war,” Franks – the “soldier’s soldier” – recognizes the challenges facing military leaders in motivating and encouraging their troops during these disturbing times. Franks illustrates how the challenges facing his military leaders are similar in many ways to the challenges we face in motivating our own “troops” in our companies and organizations. Likewise, leadership – in whatever arena – requires flexibility and confidence. As Franks likes to quote, “No plan ever survived first contact with the enemy.” As leaders, it’s not enough that we plan. Franks suggests that we must plan for “first contact” when our flexibility, creativity, and ability to regroup and redirect our troops is most important. In today’s chaotic marketplace, effective leaders demonstrate this flexibility along with conviction and confidence. Importantly, leadership isn’t about grandstanding or hype. Tommy Franks –unlike his predecessor, “Stormin’” Norman Schwartzkopf – has been called “reclusive” and “a quiet warrior”. However, Franks ISN’T shy; he simply doesn’t believe that showboating and flamboyant leadership is effective nor does it have a place at the top.

Effective leadership comes from seeing it like it is – from the front lines – and telling it like it is – from the heart. Tommy Franks recently authored American Soldier, (HarperCollins, Aug 2004) in which Franks retraces his journey from small-town boyhood to his role as one of history’s most effective commanders. Drawing on his own memories and newly declassified records, Franks offers the first true insider’s account of the war on terrorism. He speaks frankly of intelligence shortcomings and of the WMD threats that shaped each battle plan. And, while he writes candidly of the war’s aftermath, Franks shows that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq remain heroic victories – wars of liberation won by troops “unequalled,” he writes, “by anything in the annals of war.” The book – and the man – is more than simply a recounting of military history; it/he is a study of leadership at its best. Some Franks-isms include: • You don’t manage a group of soldiers up a hill under fire; you lead them. (Tommy Franks on the difference between management and leadership.) • During my months in combat, I’d come to understand that a soldier owes loyalty to his unit and to his boss. A leader must be able to count on the complete support of his subordinates.

…however, loyalty not only flows up the chain of command: it [must] flow down as well. • …being in charge doesn’t automatically mean you know what’s going on. • (Speaking to his officers) If a trooper comes to you with a problem, remember this: It’s your problem, and it’s my problem. We’re not going to lose good soldiers because we don’t give a rat’s ass about them as people. • In war, it is necessary that commanders be able to delay their emotions until they can afford them. • (Speaking to the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Look, you guys have a three-star who commands a service component for me, and represents the service expertise we need to put together a joint plan. It’s best to let those guys know your ideas. And then trust them to work for all of us to build a cohesive approach, rather than a patchwork of service interests. • I defer to no man in my love of troopers; I still consider myself a soldier. But it’s often been necessary in our nation’s history to fight for our freedoms, and it’s never been more necessary than today.

It seems to me that fighting terrorism has more to do with our kids and grandkids than with us. • Haul ass and bypass. (Strategy attributed to General George Patton recognizing that the ultimate objective of any campaign is the enemy’s center of gravity. This same strategy served as Franks’ basis for the invasion of Iraq.) • If we had to do it all over again – armed with what we know today – I’m sure some of the decisions would be different. I am not at all sure, however, that all the different decisions would be better. (Tommy Franks reflecting on postwar Iraq.) • Ain’t this a great country. (Tommy Franks reflecting on the opportunity afforded everyone in the U.


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