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Top 6 Lessons from Military Leader Mark Hertling

Mark Hertling

The Riverside Military Academy auditorium was filled with 550 boys – boys ranging from Private First Class to Battalion Commander, young boys during some of their most critical developmental years, boys learning about leadership in their roles as Cadets every single day. Before them, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling took the mic.

Hertling is a graduate of West Point, earning the rank of Cadet Captain his senior year. He served for almost four decades in the U.S. Army, retiring as the Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army. During his final posting, he commanded over 60,000 soldiers and cared for over 100,000 civilian workers stationed throughout Europe.

He was a skilled trainer and a Soldier-focused leader and commander. He served or commanded at every level from Platoon to Field Army and he has led training at all of the Combat Training Centers in the U.S.

During his time in the Army, Hertling received many military honors including three awards of the Distinguished Service Medal, six awards of the Legion of Merit, five Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, and the Army Commendation Medal for Valor.

So, suffice it to say that he’s had a bit of experience leading.

During his speech to Riverside Military Academy, his message was simple and quite compelling: Real leaders build trust by always providing a moral and ethical example, and they show their personal courage through their words and actions.

The following are my top 6 take-aways from this inspiring speech:

  1. Build trust and then do all you can to keep it. Hertling emphasized how difficult it can be to establish trust and how easy it is to lose it. He said, “Trust is built in drops and it’s lost in buckets.” Every action has a consequence. If a leader does everything right for months and makes a bad decision that erodes trust, it can take a long time to re-build. Remember that your actions will have consequences, so make sure the consequences are positive and desirable ones. A lot is at stake.
  2. Know yourself. Great leaders possess self-awareness and they fully understand their own strengths, which they effectively leverage. They also understand their limitations and they work to improve them by being open to new ideas, advice and criticism.
  3. Describe yourself with action verbs. Some people rely on nouns to describe themselves. The best leaders use verbs. CEO, Vice President, Lieutenant, Boss, Head Coach…these are all nouns. Great leaders define themselves by what they do and how they do it: teach, listen, empathize, learn, develop, motivate, inspire, care. How do you describe your role?
  4. Demonstrate honesty and integrity in everything you do. Integrity is having a deep commitment to do the right things for the right reasons, regardless of the circumstances. Great leaders set the example and expect this from those they lead. They don’t settle for less.
  5. Demonstrate the experience, knowledge and competence to lead others. Strong leaders demonstrate a growth mindset and willingly learn from others. They continuously seek opportunities to expand their knowledge, open their minds and seek new experiences.
  6. Remain humble. Demonstrate confidence without arrogance. Research shows that leaders who consistently demonstrate humility have significantly higher employee engagement levels. Great leaders share their mistakes as teachable moments and admit to their own personal shortcomings. This makes them more relatable and, well… human. Ambiguity and uncertainty are quite common in today’s business, political and economic environments. When leaders humbly admit that they don’t have all the answers, they create space for others to step forward and offer solutions. These behaviors also lead to the perceptions of authenticity, credibility and trust.

The best leaders have learned the principles above through experience, open-mindedness and a desire to grow and learn.

A special thank you to Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling for his strong and effective leadership and for his dedication and service to our great country.