A Real Leader

Ron Karpinski  1997


General William DePuy died not long ago.  I first met him at Fort Ord, California, in the spring of 1976.  At the time, he was Commanding General of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.  He and his entourage had come to visit my unit, the 2d Battalion, 8th Field Artillery.

The general wanted to see for himself why our Personnel Actions Center performed so well while most others in the army failed miserably.  A recent change in policy had moved all administrative functions from company level to the battalion headquarters.  Many units were having trouble with the new concept.

Our small, cramped office had been converted from a dilapidated old "temporary" wooden barrack built during WWII and still in use thirty years after the war.  General DePuy spent an hour touring the layout, walking from room to room.  He shook each man's hand and asked about their job in the section.

He had a tiny physique, short and wiry.  Four shiny stars drooped down each round shoulder of his summer khaki shirt, as if about to slide right off and fall on the floor.  The man appeared almost frail; but, when he spoke, his bright blue eyes took on a fierce intensity, and everyone in the room felt the energy.

Among his chief tenets, he believed that every leader ought to know in detail the jobs of all those working below him.  When he asked my automation clerk to explain his job, the young man frowned and said, "Aw, sir, it's too complicated.  You wouldn't understand."

"Really?  Then let me explain it to you," said the general.  For the next ten minutes, General DePuy recited a step-by-step description of how to fill out a mark-sense form; and he knew the form number, too.  Next, he explained how the form worked its way through the system to the post computer center.  Then he explained how, on the following day, the clerk reviewed a printout to ensure that the transaction had processed properly.

By the time the general had finished, the young clerk's jaw dropped considerably.  He swallowed hard and said, "Gee, sir, you really do know!"

"Yes, son, I do," said the general. "It's my job to know your job."

After the general and his troupe had gone, the clerk turned to me and said, "What a guy!  He actually shook my hand!"

And that is the effect a real leader can have on a little guy slogging it out deep in the bowels of an organization.


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