Schwarzkopf Known as Straight-Talking Leader

7:25 AM, Dec 28, 2012   |    comments
December 1990: Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander of U.S. Forces in Saudi Arabia, talks with Gen. Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. (Photo: BOB SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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This commentary by Kevin Maney of Gannett News Service was published on March 6, 1991.

To most Americans, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf is a hero. But to hundreds of thousands of Baby Boom managers in companies around the country, the man is no less than an awe-inspiring god. He is their liberator.

See, Schwarzkopf is the manager Boomers wish they could be.

It's a pent-up thing, released in great, audible wooshes, like when straight-on Schwarzkopf said at the Iraqi cease-fire talks, "I'm not here to give them anything. I'm here to tell them exactly what we expect them to do."

Boomer managers would love to be so direct. But they can't. They've suffered too many years at the hands of the One-Minute Manager. They're supposed to be sensitive consensus-builders. Say something positive along with the negative. Give the workplace a hug.

Stormin' Norman never read that book. To him, there's only one way to do things: his way. Don't expect him to be nice, just expect him to be honest. In-yer-face honest. Give the workplace a kick in the pants.

I think the revolution has begun. All those TVs tuned in to all those Schwarzkopf press conferences in all those Boomer managers' homes. They saw his style. They saw him fire back at the reporter who asked if the Iraqis were actually an easy opponent: "Have you ever been in a minefield?"

"No," the reporter said.

"All there's got to be is one mine, and that's intense," Schwarzkopf growled.

Schwarzkopf made the reporter feel stupid. At first, Boomer managers winced and thought, you're not supposed to do that. Don't be destructive. Then came the realization: The reporter WAS stupid. He DESERVED that. Grrrrr.

Look for it to start in little ways around the office. Boomers are about to start tossing their enlightened management books in the trash. There's a new bible in town, and it's not even written yet: Schwarzkopf's Guide to Muddy-Boot Management.

Till now, Boomer managers thought they had to say to employees, "You did a very nice job on last month's marketing report for Doggie-Guard pet underarm deodorant, and now we have to work to get this report on Bullwinkle Mousse up to that standard."

Schwarzkopf managers would say: "What is this crap? Fix it!"

Boomer managers thought they could make employees feel included by always asking, "Well, what do YOU think?"

Schwarzkopf managers would wonder why someone would even CARE if employees felt included. It's a heck of a lot easier to say, "Here's what I think, and that's what counts!"

Boomer managers want subordinates to like them.

Schwarzkopf managers want subordinates to obey them - and like it.

Of course, the temptation is to over-simplify the Schwarzkopf management style and say that it's all hard-edged totalitarianism. Not true. You have to work hard to make the troops believe in you.

As Schwarzkopf said of the Iraqi conscripts: "A soldier doesn't fight very hard for a leader who is going to shoot him on a whim."

So, no - you Boomer managers can't start bringing AK-47s to work. But wear a crisp set of desert fatigues to your next staff meeting. That might stir things up.

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