4 Key Lessons from “A Message to Garcia”

Do the thing...

One of the most published articles in history, “A Message to Garcia” (by Elbert Hubbard) highlights several great challenges and lessons of life. There are four key lessons that I would like to discuss:  three of those lessons are key points from the author and the fourth is one that will assist you as you LEAD FROM YOUR CURRENT POSITION®

My First Day in the Devil Brigade (504th Parachute Infantry Regiment)

I was introduced to “A Message to Garcia” very early in my career. In fact, I was given the article the day I reported to my first active duty unit. At the conclusion of my introductory meeting with my Brigade Commander (then Colonel Peter J. Boylan, Commander of the 1st Brigade, 82d Airborne Division), he simply handed me the article and asked that I write a two-page summary of what the article meant to me and to bring it back to the Brigade Staff Duty Officer the next morning. I saluted and departed.

This was the beginning of a busy and memorable day, since I was a Infantry Second Lieutenant reporting to my first unit. Next I would meet with my Battalion and Company Commanders. I was told I would be assigned as Alpha Company’s First Platoon Leader and that I would meet my Platoon Sergeant and Platoon the next morning.

Later that evening, I sat down to read “A Message to Garcia” and contemplate my assignment: the two-page summary. I was moved by the article and it’s theme: Be Proactive. Additionally, I was struck by the fact that it was a First Lieutenant Andrew Summers Rowan that would “do the thing” and later be awarded our Nation’s second highest honor for his actions: the Distinguished Service Cross. I promptly wrote my response.

Since the copy of the article I was given was barely legible (it was a multigenerational copy and making another copy would have been illegible), I went out and bought a typewriter. This was before the personal computer revolution. That evening, I typed a new version of the article. I would make copies and give them to my new Platoon Sergeant and Squad Leaders the next morning with the exact same assignment (after turning my assignment in at the Brigade Headquarters).

I would later use this assignment for the rest of my career with each organization that I was assigned to. It became a leadership litmus test of sorts, meaning that it gave me insight into the professional maturity of the writer. Very similar to the idea that Elbert Hubbard mentions in the article about summoning a clerk to write a memorandum concerning the life of Corregio, how the person completed the task and what they wrote told me a lot about them. As a minimum, it gave me a opportunity to discuss key aspects of leadership with my Soldiers.

4 Key Lessons from “A Message to Garcia”

Be proactive… Do the thing. The majority of the time, the conditions in our circle of influence are ripe for our action and contribution.

[Tweet “The conditions in our circle of influence are ripe for our action and contribution. #LFYCP”]

Be response-able. Victor Frankl’s life and writings teach us that we have a great deal of freedom, even in the most awful of circumstances. Between STIMULUS and RESPONSE is a huge responsibility for us: the FREEDOM TO CHOOSE. It is our values & virtues, not the conditions surrounding us, that should guide our choices.

[Tweet “It’s our values & virtues, not the conditions, that should guide our choices. #LFYCP”]

Take the initiative. There are several levels of initiative where your judgment and discretion will guide you, but I believe that you will find very few times that there is a real barrier preventing you from being able to simply “do the thing.”

[Tweet “Very few times is there a real barrier preventing you from being able to “do the thing.” #LFYCP”]

What can I contribute to the environment so others can flourish? Using the framework of Lead From Your Current Position® (Self-Development, Partnership, and Service) and my definition of leadership, can you identify what actions are needed around you? Will you look for them in the future?

[Tweet “What can I contribute to the environment so others can flourish? #LFYCP”]

Did Hubbard put the matter too strongly? Possibly… but today, like 1899, the points he highlights still seem to ring true. Regardless, I hope you can use “A Message to Garcia” to enhance your proactivity and ability to contribute to others.

If you would like, you can read:

I’m grateful to Major General (Retired) Peter J. Boylan for introducing me to “A Message to Garcia”, modeling leadership, and creating an environment where I could flourish.

DISCUSSION QUESTION:  What can I improve in my myself (my being) to enhance my proactivity?

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