Good leadership means ‘never walking by a mistake’


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Retired Army four-star Gen. Ann Dunwoody signed copies of her book, “A Higher Standard,” at a Florida Tech event organized by fellow alumni Sept. 2. Photo by Linda Wiggins

She wrote the book to set the record straight.

That’s what the Army’s first four-star female general told members of the audience at a Florida Institute of Technology event to launch their alumna’s written account of “breaking the brass ceiling.”

“People ask me how it happened and they assume I’ll tell how I scratched and fought my way to the top, leaving shattered male egos in my wake,” retired Army Commanding Gen. Ann Dunwoody told the Sept. 2 sold-out dinner crowd filled with community leaders and the nation’s highest-ranking retired and current officers, including her husband of 25 years, retired USAF Col. Craig Brotchie of the Special Operations Command. The couple have two sons, Bryan and Scott.

“While of course there is resistance to females in military authority positions, my method was about making believers out of nonbelievers. Rather than get into gossip and innuendo, I always believed in taking the high road and focused on leadership. That’s what this book is about, leadership methods that work,” Dunwoody said. “People have to believe in what you are asking them to do.”

The crux of “A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America’s First Four-Star General,” is about “never walking by a mistake.”

“Leaders I served with exceeded the standards. In the Army, lives depend on it. You never walk by a mistake, because if you do, you just lowered the standard. Failing to enforce those standards can be a slippery slope.”

This goes for anyone, she said, whether people spend their work day on Facebook or surfing the web and management lets it slide internally, or whether companies cover up their mistakes rather than publicly facing them head on externally. She used General Motors’ faulty ignition switch as a prime example for business leaders in the room, and then she hit closer to home for her military peers.

“What if the VA had highlighted its backlog of service requests instead of spending its energy and resources on covering it up?” she posed. Results would have been forthcoming from day one, she added.

She hopes that her story will inspire others to take up U.S. military service as a career that she found thrilling for 38 years, from her recruitment in 1974 to her advancement to commanding general in 2008 after nomination by President George W. Bush. Today, less than 30 percent of Americans qualify for entry, due to poor fitness levels and other reasons. The sports and outdoors-loving self-described tomboy considers herself a coach in fitness and life.

“I knew that if I could get 69,000 people to believe they are vital to the mission, show them how they fit into the grand scheme of things, there just isn’t anything we can’t accomplish together,” Dunwoody said of her final mission commanding the Army’s $60 billion global supply chain in support of Iraq and Afghanistan action.

Her final words of advice were for everyone, she said.

“Dream big, try to make a difference and don’t let naysayers dissuade you from your goals.”

For more information or to purchase the book, go to any book store or amazon.com.