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West Point's paradigm of leadership development

Cadet Zach Clark
Cadet Zachariah Clark is a junior at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Operating in more than 100 countries with profits in the billions, General Electric seems to manufacture just about everything for just about everyone. Under the innovative leadership of Jeff Immelt, GE is working towards creating a greener world and helping America's troubled economy. At the same time he is trying to fix a negative public perception of big corporations that stems from what he refers to as "a leadership challenge."

Mr. Immelt chose West Point as the location for his most recent address on leadership, which leads me to believe there are a few things West Point and business leaders can learn from each other. Business leaders like Mr. Immelt have much to offer West Point from their ideas on innovation and work-life balance. Likewise, West Point's perspectives on how to deliberately prepare individuals to lead in extremely complex environments might benefit business' leadership.

As Mr. Immelt said, "The role of a leader is to drive change." His statement seems a little ironic, given that it was made at an institution that prides itself in maintaining centuries-old traditions. The change he sought to highlight, however, was innovation.

Innovation is what makes us competitive as a nation and, as a future military leader, I see it as a valuable tool for managing and mitigating risk. One of Mr. Immelt's goals as GE's CEO is to inspire innovative change while empowering subordinates to participate in the problem-solving process. That kind of relationship between leaders and subordinates requires trust.

Business leaders can learn from the manner in which West Point teaches its students to build organizational trust--and why such trust is so important. Competent, self-aware, and transparent leaders communicate honestly in a culture that places a premium on mutual respect and individual worth. Trust is taught this way at West Point. We cadets graduate with the understanding that service to the nation is achieved by serving soldiers (and their families) first.

In his speech, Mr. Immelt also said his "best" leaders craft a balanced life in and out of the workplace. He prides himself in the fact that he has "one wife, one child and one company," and he seems to deftly balance his various roles. His observation resonates with me because he deftly balances his various roles. His brief time at West Point convinced me that he is a man who is emotionally stable, deals appropriately with stress, and enjoys personal development through intellectual stimulation.

His focus on balance resonated with me. I believe I have a future as an Army officer. But, I also have a future as a husband and father and leader in my local community. I have to find balance as I prepare to meet some of the challenges that face today's military, including strained marriages, emotional instability, and high levels of work-related stress. Just as work-life balance benefits Mr. Immelt and GE, it also inspires trust and respect throughout the organization. At West Point, I'm learning that achieving balance in my life is my responsibility.

West Point has produced great leaders for over 200 years and will continue to do so for one primary reason: The Academy deliberately develops students to become leaders of character. The 47-month experience as a cadet happens in a paradigm of structured development, personal responsibility, and accountability. That deliberate focus on leadership development something I believe business leaders can learn from West Point. Operating environments are dynamic for both business and military leaders, but my foundation in leadership development will allow me to embrace ambiguity and proactively lead change. Thank you for coming to West Point, Mr. Immelt. The most important thing that I learned from you is that we can learn something from each other.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

By Cadet Zach Clark

 |  December 15, 2009; 12:42 PM ET |  Category:  Leadership development Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Outstanding! Were that I had been able to articulate so well as a cadet. Great job!

Posted by: wbygodv | December 15, 2009 2:35 PM

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