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Pace Speaks on Leadership at Chicago Grad School

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

CHICAGO, May 18, 2007 – Leadership is not taught, it is learned by example, the nation’s top military officer told students and alumni today at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gives a keynote address May 18 to the University of Chicago School of Business 55th Annual Management Conference in Chicago. Photo by Staff Sgt D. Myles Cullen, USAF

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“I don’t think you can teach leadership,” Marine Gen. Peter Pace told about 1,000 people attending a luncheon during the school’s 55th annual management conference. “I think you can emulate and listen and learn and talk.”

Pace knows whereof he speaks. During his nearly 40 years of service, he has served at every level of military command. In September 2005, he became the first Marine to be appointed as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this position, he serves as the principal military advisor to the president, the defense secretary and the National Security Council.

Pace advised the younger members of the audience to be very careful, and precise in where they choose to work. He noted that advice may sound a bit peculiar coming from someone who has spent his career in the U.S. Marine Corps working exactly where he was told to go work.

“But the truth of the matter," he explained, is that … (I realized) that about 25 percent has to do with hard work on my part. About 75 percent has to do with the good luck of being immersed with groups of leaders – especially when I was young – who through their example taught me more than I could ever have learned in the academic environment.”

Pace advised those who can choose where they want to work “to take time, to get out on the Internet, to go visit the companies and talk to the folks who work there.”

“If you want to make widgets, by all means make widgets,” he said, “but there is probably more than one company who make widgets, and you want to get into the company where the leaders are the kind of individuals who think and talk and act and lead the way that you would like to be led.”

Pace also offered the maxim: Grow where you are planted. “Once you’re in the company you want to work for,” he said, “… if you will apply yourself and work hard at that job and do a good job, I guarantee you will get promoted.

“Put simply,” he said, “there are more good jobs than there are good people.”

Pace also advised new leaders to “make decisions,” noting that he had learned that lesson in Vietnam.

“We went on our first company-sized patrol – 150 to 200 guys,” he recalled. “My platoon had the lead of this long column of individuals. We got to a decision point in the road and I called back to my company commander and said, ‘Do you want me to go left or go do you want me to go right?’ He said, ‘Go left.’

“A little while later, I called back again and said, ‘Do you want me to go left or to go right?’ He said, ‘Go right.’ A little bit later I called again, and if you take out the curse words, he didn’t say anything. But the message was very clear. It was, ‘Lieutenant, you’re there for a reason. Make decisions.’”

From then on, Pace said, he promised himself that if he ever got in trouble again, “it would be for doing something, not for waiting for something to happen. And that has made all the difference.”

If you have an organization that waits for a leader to make a decision, “you’ll probably get 10 things done pretty well,” he said. “If everybody in that organization knows that you’re supposed to make decisions, you’ll probably get 100 things done, 90 of them pretty darn well. And I’ll take cleaning up the last 10 percent in order to get 90 done.”

Pace said he has come to admire courage, both on the battlefield and in the conference room. He first learned the value of battlefield courage, but later in life, he said he has come to appreciate the courage of those who maintain of their convictions in the conference room.

“When the discussion is going toward one kind of solution, and somebody around that table says, ‘I see it differently, and here’s why,” that takes enormous courage,” Pace stressed.

“In combat, if you’re wrong, you die,” he said. “In the atmosphere (of the conference room,) if you’re wrong, you have to live with it. That’s a very different kind of threat and a very different kind of courage to overcome.”

However, organizations that encourage people to speak their minds, he noted, will respect those who express independent thought – even if they don’t agree.

Pace also advised students and managers to “check their moral compass.”

In the business world there are enormous pressures to do things, he said, recommending that leaders take the time to know who they are so they’ll know when their moral compass is being tested and they’ll do the right thing.

Moral challenges arise when they’re least expected, Pace noted. “If you have a solid foundation, and if you’ve thought through who you are at the beginning of the day and who you want to be at the end of the day, then the probability of you appreciating the person in the mirror the next morning is much higher.”

“It all boils down to personal integrity,” Pace concluded. “You start out in the business world with your name and your personal integrity. Nobody can take either one of them away from you.

But people can forfeit their integrity, he added. “I cannot think of a sadder moment in a life than to be a very successful business person and to have lost one’s integrity in the process of being ‘successful.’”

Pace gave the students one final bit of advice: “Take care of those in your charge.”

“I am a walking, living example, that you don’t have to be the world’s smartest person to be successful,” he said. “What I have learned along the way, in retrospect, is that by trying to take care of those in my charge, they have taken care of me.”

People who know their leader truly cares, he said, “will always freely give more than anybody could ever demand. It’s simply a matter of getting out … and talking to the folks you work with, beside, and for and above, and just be available.

“In the course of discussions, things that people need will become evident,” Pace said. “If you can take action on those needs without them having to ask, you will create the climate inside which great trust and friendship can develop and it energizes an organization better than anything I know.”

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Gen. Peter Pace, USMC

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