General Martin Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey) is a retired Army general who served as the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs for four years during the Obama administration, and the author of No Time for Spectators: The Lessons That Mattered Most from West Point to The West Wing.
What We Discuss with General Martin Dempsey:
- Why learning how to follow is as much of a skill as leadership.
- That character is built over time based on a series of small decisions that we make during the uncertain moments when things don’t go our way.
- How someone who wanted to grow up and become a Supreme Court Justice detoured into a 45-year career in the military.
- How an assignment that seemed like a career-ending punishment led General Dempsey to take on his most purposeful, important role.
- How to be a trusted advisor — whether it’s to a CEO or the President.
- And much more…
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Life doesn’t always go as planned, but there’s one thing our guest General Martin Dempsey is sure of: it’s not a spectator sport. In his book No Time for Spectators: The Lessons That Mattered Most from West Point to The West Wing, General Dempsey gives us the ups and downs that spanned his 45 years in the military and the valuable insight gained while attending West Point and climbing the ranks to become a general and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Obama administration.
In this episode, we’ll talk about why learning how to follow is as important a skill as learning how to lead, the personal and difficult journey of character building, how General Dempsey spent almost half a century in the military in spite of his childhood aspiration to become a Supreme Court Justice, how to be a trusted advisor to the world’s most powerful people, and much more. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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THANKS, GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY!
If you enjoyed this session with General Martin Dempsey, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- No Time for Spectators: The Lessons That Mattered Most from West Point to The West Wing by Martin E. Dempsey
- General Martin Dempsey’s Website
- General Martin Dempsey at Twitter
- United States Naval Academy
- United States Military Academy West Point
- ROTC Programs | Today’s Military
- MAVNI Fact Sheet | US Department of Defense
- Here’s the Bottom Line on the Future of MAVNI: Many Foreign-Born Recruits May Soon Be Out | Miltary Times
- The Sixties Timeline | PBS
- The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki | Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
- Timeline | Since 911
- The Conflict in China’s African Investment | The Atlantic
- Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy | Mayo Clinic
- What Is Cancer? | National Cancer Institute
- Agent Orange Exposure | Veterans Affairs
- Why Are So Many Iraq, Afghanistan War Veterans Getting Cancer? | McClatchy Washington Bureau
- Congress Poised to Help Veterans Exposed to ‘Burn Pits’ Over Decades of War | The New York Times
- Kuwaiti Oil Fires – Top 10 Environmental Disasters | TIME
- Gen. George Casey | Bob Woodruff Foundation
- Gomer Pyle | Mayberry Wiki
- Barack Obama | The White House
- William J. Clinton | The White House
- Treasures of the White House: “Resolute” Desk | White House Historical Association
- The Return Of The Resolute | American Heritage
- National Treasure
- George W. Bush | The White House
- Obama’s Favorite Piece of White House Art? A Rug Made in Grand Rapids | MLive
- Oval Office History | White House Museum
- The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute
- Why the US is bombing ISIS in Iraq | Vox
- Keystone XL Pipeline: Why Is It So Disputed? | BBC News
- Official Website of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
- Dr. Robert M. Gates | US Department of Defense
- Be, Know, and Do | Association of the United States Army
- Relativism | Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Angelina Jolie Turns Spotlight on Syria | CNN
- UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie’s School Changes Lives in Afghanistan | UNHCR
- General Martin Dempsey Beautifully Sings “The Parting Glass” at His Retirement Ceremony (VIDEO) | Irish Central
Transcript for General Martin Dempsey - No Time for Spectators (Episode 351)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most brilliant people, and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave, and we want you to become a better thinker. If you're new to the show, we've got episodes of spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you're smart and you like to learn and improve, then you're going to be right at home here with us.
[00:00:36] In today's conversation, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey will discuss how learning how to follow is as much a skill as leadership and how character is made over time, mostly to ourselves based on a series of small decisions that we make individually. Character is not made in the easy moments where things tend to go our way. It's made in the uncertain moments that usually includes some measure of personal risk or professional risk for that matter. I had fun with this one, and even if you're not into leadership or military topics, I think you're going to enjoy this episode.
[00:01:08] And if you want to know how I manage to get all these great people in my orbit, it's about the network. I know you think, "Oh, he's got a big podcast. He can just call whoever he wants." It's always, always, always about the network. It's a reason I get guests that even popular nighttime or daytime TV talk show hosts don't get. It's because I'm hustling my butt off and using and leveraging my network, and I'm teaching you how to do that for free, not book guests but develop the network for personal or professional reasons. That's a free course. It's called Six-Minute Networking. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course in the newsletter, so come join us. You'll be in smart company where you belong. Now, here's General Martin Dempsey.
[00:01:50] I heard you initially wanted to join the Naval Academy, which I kind of found a little bit fun.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:01:55] No, no. not really. I mean, that's one way to put it. What happened was my uncle was a sailor in World War II. Of course, when he came back and we'd be watching the Army-Navy Game or something, and he always would be pushing the Naval Academy. So at one point when I was applying to colleges, he persuaded me to apply, which I did, but I thought I'd made it pretty clear I really didn't want to go there, but I would apply. Anyway, I didn't get in because I failed the vision test. And in those days, pre-LASIK surgery, half of the class had to have perfect vision. And so anyway, I got denied. But in the process of applying for the Naval Academy, I met some folks from West Point because I went up there to do my physical, it wasn't hard to get in in the military academies in 1969 and ‘70 for obvious reasons. Somebody who was supposed to go to West Point changed their mind on June 27th and I got a telegram, "Congratulations, we'll see you on the 1st of July." And I said to my mother, I said, "No, they won't." Long story short, she decided to cry and I ended up spending 45 years in the military.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:06] Mom cries, and a career is born!
General Martin Dempsey: [00:03:10] Yeah. That's pretty much it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:11] That's kind of funny. I mean, I would imagine you didn't want to go because I guess at that point Vietnam was making military service very unpopular. Is that kind of when you said “for obvious reasons?”
General Martin Dempsey: [00:03:21] Well, that was part of it, sure. I mean, you know, the War had gone badly. The nation had turned against not only to war but against those who were fighting it. And then secondly, I had already mapped out what I thought was a pretty credible path forward. I was going to go to Manhattan College in New York City and study pre-law and eventually become a Supreme Court justice. I don't know about that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:42] Yeah.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:03:42] But that was the plan and I was dating a young lady in high school who eventually became my wife. And so, it was just a little too disruptive for my taste.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:51] Yeah. I know you did this medical examiner at a base. I actually did my medical exam at a base in Germany. I think it's interesting because they said, "Hey, your vision is bad." And I went and got LASIK, which didn't exist back when you were doing it.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:04:04] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:04] So I was like, that close. But then I realized that getting into the Naval Academy was going to be a giant pain because you need these congressional nominations and all that stuff as you're well aware. And I just went, "You know. I don't know if I'm going to be cut out for this. What happens if I don't like it? I'm stuck in there." And then you have eight years of service afterwards. Like, what if I'm not cut out for this? So I went to Michigan instead and that was probably a good decision for somebody like me who can't focus on anything for more than five minutes. Well, that's not really true, but that's what I thought at the time.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:04:36] Yeah, you're right. And, now that we've got an All-Volunteer Force and we can be selective about who we bring in. We try to bring in people with different personality types and I think we're pretty successful at it. But you know, Big Blue is not a bad safety net for you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:52] Yeah. I think one of the main reasons that I didn't end up joining the service because I had a scholarship for the school from ROTC. One of the problems was -- and this sort of speaks to some stuff that's probably still plaguing, I would imagine the armed services is -- I was very interested in taking Russian and Arabic and they said, "No, we need engineers." And I said, "I really don't want to take engineering classes. I want to take Russian and Arabic." And they said, "None of those places are causing any problems for us right now, so forget it. You're going to be a nuclear engineer." And I said, "These guys don't have my best interest in mind, and I'm not even convinced they know what it's going to cause a problem for the country in a few years." And then, you know, September 11th I think happened a few weeks after that, or a few months after that. And I was like, "Well, I think we know where this is going."
General Martin Dempsey: [00:05:35] Yeah, how ironic.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:37] Russian and Arabic, that was what I was aiming at.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:05:39] We were scrambling in the first decade of the century to get the Russian and especially Arabic speakers. In fact, you may know this, there's an acronym called MAVNI. It stands for Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest. And so what we did is we went out to try to find some men and women who were born in that region, in the Middle East who were fluent in Arabic, and then bring them in as linguists and translators. So, I mean, it is ironic that we go from "No, thank you" to "Oh my God, where are we going to find them?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:10] Right, right. I mean, I'm not a native speaker, so maybe that would have been different, but yeah. How good would I have gotten over the last decade and a half or 20 years or however long? Yes, it's been 20 years.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:06:19] Yeah. It has.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:20] So you went to Army for track. I know that it was Vietnam time. I would imagine. Were you worried about that a little, thinking like, "I'm going to end up going there," or was it kind of already in the bag that this was over?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:06:30] No, it wasn't in the bag at all, but nor was I worried about it. I would describe myself as a -- I remember now, this was the end of the '60s and so --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:40] Right.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:06:40] You know, music and pop culture and racism and drug use. You can look back and think that Vietnam dominated that period, but it only dominated it kind of episodically. Things like the Tet Offensive, things like Kent State would cause it to, as they say in journalism, get above the fold. Other than that, though, I was probably as oblivious as any 18-year-old could possibly be. But I went there and I told the story in the book about when it kind of dawned on me that, "Holy mackerel, this could actually be real." And then I had to kind of struggle with myself about what I wanted to do from that point forward. When I went to West Point, it was a great school, good values, a lot of discipline -- which was probably why my mother wanted me to go there -- but Vietnam didn't really play a factor at all for me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:31] I heard your kids talked to you into staying in the service. That seems unusual because usually, kids don't want to move every two years.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:07:38] Yeah. Well, what I've learned is that through the years is that you think you know what's best for yourself. And then my mother persuades me to go to West Point and obviously it turned out well. As I tell the story in the book, there was a time in the middle of my career where I began to feel really guilty about moving my children and my wife all over the place all the time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:00] Yeah.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:08:00] And so I decided, by that time I had 20 years, I would retire. I'll make the story shorter for the purposes of the podcast, but you know, my wife and my children, first of all, chastise me for thinking I could make such an important decision by myself. And then secondly convinced me that they were going to be fine and that they thought that it was a good fit for me, not just for the first 20 years, but even more for the next 20 years. And then the last kind of episode when I thought I should end my career as I had cancer in 2010. Although the doctor said we have an 80 percent chance that we'll be able to beat this, I still didn't like the idea of a 20 percent chance that we wouldn't be at it. And so you look inside and you say, look, I've been at this now for now -- by then I'm at it for like 30 years. And I'm thinking, you know, maybe just, maybe I ought to go and see if I could shave a few points, actually a lot of points off of my golf game. And then, you know, the doctors, my family, the parish priest, all kind of supported me and once again, convinced me that I should do whatever I could still do in the Army. And so that whole introduction in the book is really about accepting the fact that you may not always know what's best for you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:20] I think a lot of people have trouble accepting that. I don't know if it's generational, but there's kind of this feeling now that if you're not driving every element of your life as a young person, that you're somehow leaving something on the table. Or you're getting FOMO, fear of missing out, because you're not joining the next thing or doing the next thing or riding the next wave. When I think a lot/most everything that happened to me by accident was maybe I had a hand in like starting the process, but then the end of the process was an accident that turned out to be great. For example, I was an exchange student and of course, that was something that I chose to do. But then I got placed in the former East Germany and I said, "Oh, this is going to be garbage. I'm in this dumb former communist place." And then at the end of that year, I realized I was the only exchange student in the whole country who could speak German the way that I could, except for one or two other people who'd been studying for 10 years because nobody spoke English at that point in the East. I got a whole feeling for post-communist societies the way that Soviet Union's influenced their satellite states, what secret police were all about. And all these kids in West Germany just had kind of like. A German spin on what they were doing in the United States, and that was pretty much it.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:10:25] Yeah, that's such a great point. This book could have been a thousand pages long because -- well, I'm 68 years old, so there's plenty of stories and I'm Irish, which is really a bad combination. But anyway, one of the stories I left out though, it was very similar to that. I just became a brigadier general. It was 2001 and I was an armor officer. The dream of every armor officer who makes generals to go be an assistant division commander because that's usually the tried and true path to becoming a two-star division commander. So I wanted to do that. And when I got my orders. It turned out I was being sent to Saudi Arabia for two years to manage a program building the Saudi Arabian National Guard, by the way, in a company tour, which meant I was going to bring my wife. And when I found out I was at work and I thought, "How in the world am I going to go home and tell my wife we're going to Saudi Arabia for two years?" About the time I was really struggling with why this was happening to me. You know, the usual, I'm being left behind.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:23] Right.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:11:24] FOMO. I was going to miss out on all the really cool stuff. I got a call from the Chief of Staff of the Army, a guy named General Rick Shinseki, one of the finest leaders I've ever known. And you said, "Hey, look, let me tell you why I'm sending you there." He had several reasons. The last one was fascinating though. He said, "You know, Marty." By the way, I was getting this phone call from him in the spring of 2001 so it's pre-9/11. He said, "You're going over there because we don't have much of a bench of people that understand the Middle East." Then he said, "I just have an itch thing, that we're going to have some challenges in the Middle East." And lo and behold, I become one of the Army's experts on interacting with senior leaders in the Middle East, and here I am.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:05] Yeah, wow, and all of that stems from what looked at the time like I don't know what you'd call it, maybe being put out to pasture.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:12:13] Yeah, farmed out, absolutely.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:14] Yeah. "I had to take care of these Yahtzee national guards guys who are going to shoot the gun over the back of their heads." You see that stuff on the news, right?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:12:22] I have, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:22] Yeah. So like the guys that run the other way or the guys that forget to bring their ammunition with them on duty or tour or something like that.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:12:30] It turned out to be a wonderful tour of duty, but there were moments when it was like The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. By the way, I ended up doing the same job as the three-star five years later in Iraq. And by the way, that was the job that was actually going to decide whether the United States would ever go home again or not. Because at the time, if we're doing all the heavy lifting on security and they're not -- first of all, human nature, they're going to be happy to let us do it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:59] Sure.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:12:59] So we really needed to get them to take over the job. But anyway, all that is to say that this book, which could have been -- that's one of the stories that didn't make it out of the cutting room.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:08] Yeah, I can see that. I mean, going back to the security arrangement, it seems like, and I could be wrong here, I'm also 40, so the Soviet Union was pretty much done and dusted by the time I was double digits in age. But it seems like the Soviet Union, they wanted to do all the security for their satellite states. I mean, they had local partners obviously. Those guys were working, but it seems like they were largely under Soviet command. But we're kind of doing the opposite, where we're like, "No, no, no, no. We want you to do like 99 percent of this. Listen to our suggestions and experience, but we want you to do the rest." Whereas it seems like the Soviet Union just wanted to do 80 percent and then have the other people on the ground kind of be the face of the thing. Right?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:13:47] Yeah, which is very similar to what the Chinese are doing, for example, all over Africa. It's one way to do it. You know, even hearkening back to the last, actually two centuries ago now, in the Imperial Era, when the European nations, they would come into places like Africa. They would essentially run the country and then they would generally pick a tribe in these countries in Africa. And then Middle East, by the way, are very ethnically mixed, there were multiple tribes. And so what in the Imperial Era would happen was the Brits or the Belgisch or the French would pick a tribe and then educate them to take over. But in so doing, you alienate the other tribes --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:27] Right.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:14:28] -- which is why for another century, after the end of imperialism, we had real big, huge problems on the African continent. We actually had studied history and decided that model, you know, picking a particular group, running the thing for an extended period of time, and then turning it over to a particular group ran contrary to our values of democratic principles. Not trying to establish a Jeffersonian democracy because that's not going to happen.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:55] Right.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:14:55] We were hopeful that we could give them a glimpse of democratic principles. Has it worked? It's slow going. I mean, it just is, but I think we have the proper and the more compassionate ultimately model, and I think the more effective model, but it's a model that takes far longer to implement.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:15] It seems a little bit, well, we can get to that later, but it does seem a little scary/I don't want to use the word hopeless, but that's kind of the first one that comes to mind. I think a lot of people feel that way and we can dive more into that in a bit --
General Martin Dempsey: [00:15:26] Okay.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:26] -- toward the end of the show. But I find it interesting that when it rains, it pours, especially for you, or at least that's the way that it was written in the book. I mean, you had throat cancer -- and by the way, that whole thing about them pulling all your molars first so that they don't give you trouble later sounds excruciating and horrible. That must have just been part of the worst of the treatment. I can't imagine getting all your teeth pulled.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:15:46] Well, psychologically, but not physically. Actually, I had a wonderful team and I had a terrific dental oncologist and they anesthetized me. I came out of it. And as I tell the story in the book, going into -- it was a biopsy. He said, "If we determined that this is in fact cancer, we're going to put a feeding tube in and pull all of your molars." I said, "Oh, well, okay."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:12] "Say that one more time. I'm not sure I heard you."
General Martin Dempsey: [00:16:14] Yeah, that's really what I did. It was shocking. But when I woke up, the first thing I did is I put my hand on my stomach to see if I had a feeding tube there. And as soon as I did, I knew that the rest of it was what it was. But honestly, I didn't suffer physically from that at all. Now, ironically, after I beat cancer, and one of the things that happened is that if you've been radiated like that, your jaw can't oxygenate. And so what happened was the gum began to pull away from the jaw, exposing the jaw, which is not a healthy situation. So I thought, "Oh, now what?" But I had another great doctor who said, "Let's try hyperbaric oxygen." I don't know if you know what that is.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:54] No.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:16:54] It's a big acrylic tube.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:56] Yeah.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:16:56] They slide you in and they put you under pressure. It was invented to help people recover from the bends, divers.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:02] Yeah, sure.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:17:03] Anyway, you sit in there for 30 minutes at a time for some time, I think I went through 30 sessions. And I said, "Why am I doing this?" And they said, "Well, because if this will oxygenate the part of your body that is failing to oxygenate right now. And we have a very good chance that it'll close up," and it did. And so I honestly have no residual effects of having had cancer other than I wake up every morning remembering that I had cancer.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:30] What do you mean?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:17:31] Well, I'm sure that you have listeners who have had cancer. Once your body betrays you -- that's really the way you feel about it. "Why did you do this to me?" And by the way, every cancer survivor always asks -- one of the very first questions you asked your doctors, "How did I get this? And every doctor answers the same way. "Well, we're not exactly sure how you got it. You know, there are some lifestyle things that might've contributed, but every cancer is different than every other cancer." Honestly, the one thing you learn is that your cancer is -- it may be typed. Mine was throat cancer, but it's not the same as necessarily to someone else who had throat cancer. Now, by the way, that's why artificial intelligence is such an exciting breakthrough in terms of not just in computational things, but in the ability to look over data at a pace and at a size that no human being could. So we're really excited that AI is going to help with cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:30] If I were in your shoes at that point, I would have gone, "Did I breathe in too many gas fumes in Saudi Arabia or where we breathe it in the Iraqi burning oil fields or whatever was going on?" Like what was it for the two weeks that you tried smoking or something like you don't even know. You just drive me crazy.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:18:45] No, you don't. And burn pits -- I mean, the Veteran’s Administration is always cautious about declaring something as a result of an environmental exposure because they want to have the science behind it, but truthfully, sometimes they're too slow in coming to that conclusion. Like with Agent Orange, I think there actually has already been a declaration about burn pits and Desert Storm in particular, when you burn human waste in a cutoff 55-gallon drum because you’ve got nothing else to do with it. And if you're in where that smoke is distributed, you know, I mean, just kind of intuitive, but that's not a good thing. But you're right. You know, when Saddam burned off the oil fields and we were in our base camp or bivouacked, I suppose 10 kilometers from there and the wind shifted. There were times when you couldn't see a hundred meters.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:34] Geez.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:19:34] So I'm sure there were environmental reasons, but I don't let myself dwell on that because --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:39] Sure. Yeah. No, I can imagine that. There's no sense. And that's the type of thing you'd probably bring into your work as well. I mean, you can't sit there and second guess why. Either the enemy is doing something or something has shifted a certain way. You have to react to it. You can always do the postmortem, later on, right?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:19:57] You know, you just said exactly the right things, Jordan, which is in the middle of a crisis is not the time to be trying to do the forensics of the crisis. I mean, what you do in the middle of a crisis is you try to get everyone off the bench, you know, hence the title of my book. You get everybody in the fight. You'd be inclusive as possible, as transparent and candid as possible. And then you also, at the same time, begin to see if there are opportunities to use the crisis to do something you couldn't have done otherwise. You know, they say never waste a crisis, and then when it's over, you've got plenty of time to beat yourself and others up over it.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:20:38] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show. We'll be right back.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:09] This episode is also sponsored by Notion. Notion is a great software for yourself or your team notion can replace many other tools that only have one purpose. Evernote, Google Docs. You can put notes, tasks, to-do lists, spreadsheets, projects, all-in-one. It's highly customizable so you can work the way that you want. It's fun to use really fast. It looks good to one place to organize all of your work and work the way that you actually want to work. It's like an all-in-one workspace for things like docs, collaboration, and notes, and you can have your own workspace in there at your own URL. It's all in an app/online. Wall Street Journal loves it, and you can try Notion for free and head over to notion.com/jordan. That's notion.com/jordan.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:26] Right when your cancer subsides, you're asked to be the Chief of Staff of the Army, and that seems like, I don't know if that's good for your recovery. Like, "No pressure, but hurry up and get better because you have to go and meet the President of the United States for the biggest job of your life." Right?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:23:41] Yeah. You know, my initial reaction to General George Casey sitting across the island in my kitchen -- and I'd already lost by that point about 25 pounds, on the way to losing 30. I was incredulous, really. I thought, "Do you even know what I'm going through?" But then, you know, I thought to myself, "I wonder if he's actually giving me a glimpse of what could be to help me get through what I'm going through." And by the way, I concluded afterwards, that's exactly what he was doing, which was really terrific of him and it says something about him as a leader. But as you say, I didn't think there was any -- first of all, I'd never met the President. Secondly, I put on my uniform having lost 30 pounds, and I looked like Gomer Pyle or something. No offense to Gomer Pyle, but I just looked awful. I was gray, I was skinny. I'm not that good-looking to begin with, so when you get this going on -- but the President was extraordinarily gracious. He'd obviously been briefed before I got there. It turned out to be a really positive experience.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:47] And this is Barack Obama, right?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:24:49] It was, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:50] Okay, so that people can sort of put -- I think a lot of people imagine these things as we tell these stories. I think that's pretty natural. So you mentioned that when you went into the Oval Office that every president redecorated the Oval Office in their own way. I had no idea about that. That's interesting. I guess it makes sense. I mean it's your office, after all, you might as well throw something in there.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:25:09] Yeah, I was lucky enough. I'd been in the oval when President Clinton was president because I accompanied the chairman at the time. I was a colonel, I was his special assistant. And he allowed me to accompany him to Oval Office meeting. By the way, which was unusual, but I got in there. It's pretty clear to me that they decorate the office to reflect the kind of president they want to be, by what pictures are in there, what statues are in there, the shape of the rug. Does it have language on it or just floral? And the only thing that stays from president to president is the HMS Resolute Desk, which is pretty cool.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:46] I didn't know the desk had a name. That's great.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:25:48] Well, it's from wood, from the HMS Resolute. It's actually --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:51] Oh, okay.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:25:52] You know, maybe they don't call it that. I think they do though.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:54] What is that ship though? That's not a US designation, right?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:25:57] Honestly, Jordan, if I'd known you were going to ask me that question, I'd have done the research and if it wouldn't be too rude, I'd reach over and google it. We'd know the answer in 20 seconds.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:05] Yeah. Let's find out right now. We can always edit out the sort of like silence of a --
General Martin Dempsey: [00:26:09] Okay.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:10] Okay. Mid-19th-century type of sailing vessel with three or more masts. So one of those three masts, big sailing ships. When you think pirate ship, it's one of those of the British Royal Navy, specially outfitted with heavy-duty construction for withstanding pressures of ice and freezing weather of Arctic exploration. Wow. Okay. Resolute became trapped in the Arctic ice. It was abandoned in 1854. Recovered several years later by an American whaler ship. She was returned to the British Government and Admiralty, presented later to Queen Victoria. But how the heck did we get it? Okay, I'm going to start --
General Martin Dempsey: [00:26:42] How did we get the wood for the desk?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:43] Yeah, I thought maybe we sank it in Boston Harbor or something like that.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:26:46] Yeah, that's what I was thinking.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:47] Oh, it was broken up in 1879 included a Resolute writing table used by Queen Victoria and subsequent monarchs and offices in Buckingham Palace. With an additional famous piece of the Resolute Desk, which was presented to the President of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 symbolizing British Royal Government's gratitude for American help and highlighting British-American reconciliation and friendship.
[00:27:11] Okay. So a completely different story than what I had imagined given to us as a gift, not taken from the crown in some kind of beef. All right. Well, there you have it.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:27:21] Beautiful desk.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:22] Yeah, I bet it is. I mean, the thing is it's got to be heavy duty. It probably weighs a ton.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:27:28] I never had the nerve to walk over and, "Excuse me," I said, "Mr. President, could you slide back? I want to try to lift this thing up." But it does look heavy. I mean, it's a huge desk.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:38] It got to have some cool tech built into it too, right? I mean, if it's in the Oval Office, it probably does all kinds of top-secret stuff. Maybe it's bulletproof, who knows?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:27:47] Well, you've seen those National Treasure movies, right? And --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:50] I'm sure, yeah.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:27:51] Yeah. So it's featured in several movies, actually. I don't know whether it's the actual desk itself that they allowed it to be photographed, but if not, it's a very close sectionally.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:01] You said that Obama had a rug in the office that was kind of the centerpiece of the place. I'm curious about the significance of that because you hint that the rug was very significant in the book and then you just drop it right there. And I thought, great way to leave us hanging.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:28:14] And I dropped it because I honestly don't remember what it said, but it was an oval. Of course, it was an oval rug and it was plainer than the other two rugs I've seen. And I'd also been in the Oval with President Bush. And when I walked in, it just struck me that it was a much simpler design, but then it had an inscription all the way around, you know, kind of on the circumference of it. And I don't remember whether it was a biblical verse or whether it was something from the constitution, but I remember being struck by how profound the words were, and I wish I could remember what the words were.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:52] I'm going to find that too. Obama's favorite piece of White House art, a rug made in Grand Rapids. Oh, Michigan, I guess. Oh, it's on a University of Michigan Website here. Here are some photos. Oh, it's huge.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:29:04] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:04] I guess the Oval Office is bigger than you think when you're watching it on TV. Right?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:29:09] It is bigger, but it shrinks. You know, when you walk in, especially for the first time, but really every time. You have this profound sense of history, and then the room fills up with people and it shrinks into your talking points, but when you first walk in there, it is quite imposing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:26] It says: No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. The welfare of each of us -- I got to turn my head around to just look at it -- the welfare of each of us is defendant fundamentally -- oh dependent probably -- fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Government of the people, by the people, for the people.
This rug is enormous, people, by the way. This thing is huge.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:29:58] So now, what that tells me, it's an accumulation of his favorite quotations.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:03] Right, yeah. So when you leave, I wonder if you just get to roll that thing up and take it home or has everything you buy -- that's taxpayer money, right? To decorate that.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:30:10] Yeah, I would expect it would end up in the presidential library.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:14] That must be a sight to see. There must be all kinds of stuff in there.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:30:18] Yeah, it's not built yet. He's building it on the south side of Chicago, but I haven't been to five or six of them. The most impressive, right now, is actually the Reagan Presidential Library out in Simi, California, where he's in the building. He's got the Air Force One that flew with him, his Air Force One. I mean, it's suspended from the ceiling. It gives you an idea of the size of the space.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:40] Isn't that like a 747?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:30:42] It is a 747.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:44] I don't know if I'd want to walk under a suspended 747.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:30:47] If you ever get a chance to though, it's really remarkable.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:49] Although I guess we've all been underneath the 747 that's not actually suspended by wires.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:30:54] Yeah, that's true or in one that's not suspended.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:56] Yeah, I won't get underneath one that's suspended by wires, but I'll get in one that's going to be just flying around in the sky. Yeah, there's no sense of logic here.
[00:31:05] You did mention in the book that you have responsibilities as an advisor to the president and I wrote some of these down. So advice only, no ultimatums. You have to say things even if you think they don't want to hear it. Would you discuss some of these responsibilities? Because I think these are great, even in a business or probably even in a marriage or a family.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:31:24] You know, that's such a good point, Jordan. And I teach a course at Duke in how to be a trusted advisor. It's really interesting because we were talking about our youth, our days when we were younger, and how we were ambitious and so optimistic and so confident. Not just Duke students, but I teach a lot of graduate students and they are really convinced that within weeks, maybe months of graduation, there'll be CEOs and congressmen and senators and, and of course some of them, maybe even many or most of them will be, but it's not going to happen in a couple of weeks. So what I try to persuade them is that you really want to learn about how to be a trusted advisor first, and then you will eventually have the knowledge, experience, and character to become a leader. And I think I've managed to persuade them over the course of a semester.
[00:32:15] And one of the things I do is I use my own experiences, I call it leading up because that's really what a trusted advisor does. He leads, but he's not leading down. He or she is leading laterally and up and it requires certain attributes. It requires candor. I mean, it requires the ability to communicate. It requires a sense of timing. You have to know -- I mean, I can tell you stories about working with President Obama where you know, I really wanted to get a particular military decision, whether it was troop levels in Iraq or Afghanistan or some deployment issue or a budget issue affecting the military. And in my early days as Chairman, I would just kind of go over and deploy my argument whenever I could get there. I mean, it was all a matter of chronological time. And then somebody said to me once, "You'd be better off if you had a sense of the other kind of time." And I said, "What's that?" And they said, "The right time." And I said, "Well, what do you mean by that?" And they said, and they used the two Greek words, Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is chronological time. Kairos is the right time. It's kind of like if I asked you, “Did you ask your wife to marry you anytime, or did you kind of pick the time?”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:27] Yeah.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:33:28] And so the answer was that this person was trying to lead me to was: understand what the person you're advising is going through before you press on something that he or she is just not ready for. And so timing becomes a real issue, and particularly the more senior the person that you're advising, because they have a lot of competing priorities.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:48] Yeah, I can imagine. It's just you're just one person in their ear at any given time. And you really have to pick everything from timing to delivery and the idea that, "It's advice only, no ultimatums" makes sense. But I'm wondering what the rationale behind that is. Because it seems you are almost in life-and-death conflicts, wartime situations, it seems like, yes, the President is the Commander In Chief, but they don't know more about this stuff than you do.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:34:15] No.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:15] They just don't.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:34:15] Well, so let me separate giving advice in a crisis or giving advice as part of the routine process of government. And let me start with the routine process of government. So if we thought as a military group that we needed -- I'm making these numbers up -- but if we thought we needed 5,000 more troops in Afghanistan and went to the president, said, "Mr. President, we need 5,000 more troops in Afghanistan," and he said -- and this is what he would do -- said, "Well, why is 5,000 the right number? You know, why isn't it 4,500 or why isn’t it 5,500?" That's why you need the time to provide the assessment and to do the analysis. I can only speak for President Obama, but as long as you went to President Obama with an argument that he could embrace with analysis and assessment, my experience was, more often than not, he would either meet your request or he would explain to you why he wasn't meeting it, and then give you an opportunity to mitigate the risk.
[00:35:14] And what I mean by that is, and here's why I say “Give options, not ultimatums,” if I had stormed in there, and said, "Mr. President, we need 5,000. And if it's not 5,000, we're going to lose the war in Afghanistan. We might as well just bring everybody home. And that's your choice." Well, I mean, that's not being an advisor. That's being someone who is a little too confident in what they believe. And so I always try to remember, and not to dilute my advice, but to make my advice to the President of the United States cognizant and attuned to everything else going on in the world, whether it's domestic or international. Now, that's in the normal course of things, but there were cases where I had to go to him and say --
[00:35:57] I'll give you an example. In 2014, you may or may not recall, but ISIS made a run from Mosul in Northwest Iraq toward Erbil in North Central Iraq, and we had a consulate in Erbil. And ISIS was moving fast. You know, the Iraqi Army had crumbled. The Kurds were putting up a bit of a fight, but the Kurds had arrayed themselves along the Zab River, and it was the last geographic feature that would slow ISIS down. If they got through the Zab River, they'd be in Erbil in a matter of a couple of hours. And so the choice I had to bring to the president was, there were just two choices, really. One, we use our air power to support the Kurds, and in so doing blunt the ISIS movement, or we’ll send cargo planes into Erbil and pull our personnel out. And I said to him, "Mr. President, you know, there are no other options to be assessed here because time has now become the principal factor that we have to deal with."
[00:36:59] And under those circumstances, you know, he didn't turn in and say, "Well, what about, you know, can we float something up the Zab?" You know, I mean, he didn't, but I had built enough confidence with and in him that when I did come with something where it almost had to have the feel of an ultimatum. But if I had done that, you know, every time -- because I became Chairman in '11 so this is now '14, so we've got three years of repetitions under our belt. Again, time is such a real factor. And the other thing is you have to be really willing to learn as a trusted advisor. And again, I did from '11 to '15. I was a much different chairman in '15 than I was in '11.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:43] You'd also said if you bring a problem, recommend a solution. This has probably been talked about before in business books, but I really liked this. Articulate risks with each option as well. And I think this is really good for young and older people to know in their careers because even in the small team that I manage for this show, sometimes when somebody is new or working with us for the first time, they'll say, "Hey, here's a bunch of problems." And I can always tell who's going to be a better fit for the team or a better contractor when they say, "Here are a few problems. Here are a few options on how to solve that problem. For now, I've done this one based on my judgment, but I can always go back and do these other ones if you think one of these other solutions is better." And the people that aren't a good fit go, "Well, I stopped working on this project and there are three ways to solve this or there are no other ways to solve this. I stopped working on it because I ran into this problem." And then I've got to kind of go and retrace their steps and figure it out. At some point during that process, I go, "Why do I need this person again? What is this person doing around here? Can I find somebody else who's got some common sense who can figure this out?"
[00:38:42] General Martin Dempsey: [00:38:42] I couldn't agree more. I mean, President Obama used to tell us collectively or collaboratively, the National Security Council, the first thing was just that. He said, "You can count on me to have read all the briefing material to try to bring myself up to speed before I walk into this meeting. So in the meeting, what I need from you all is two things. First of all, you have to be here. Don't be distracted. This is the meeting. Don't think you'll just keep your cards close to your vest and then the next meeting, you can show them. This is the meeting. Secondly, I need recommendations with the risks associated with them. And then the third thing is -- " and this one I thought was really clever -- "I want somebody in this meeting to surprise me. Help me think about this problem in a way that I may not have thought about it before." And he said, “Oftentimes it'll come from somebody whose expertise doesn't necessarily reside right in the topic we're discussing.”
[00:39:39] So this came as a result of a meeting we had on the Keystone Pipeline where I was kind of frankly daydreaming early on. This was when I was probably my first year as chairman. And it's a Keystone Pipeline meeting, I'm thinking to myself, why in the world, I'm not even sure why I'm here. I mean, a Keystone Pipeline is moving oil maybe, and maybe there are environmental and economic issues, but I don't see anything for me here as a military person. But anyway, he caught me daydreaming and he said, "Look, I need people like you who are not kind of consumed by this issue to listen in this meeting. And if you hear something does make sense, tell us. Or if you see a connection that maybe we're too close but we can't see, tell us." And I thought you know what? I'm never coming to another meeting unprepared and I did.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:23] I can't imagine getting busted daydreaming in a meeting with the President of the United States.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:40:27] Yeah, pretty much.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:29] I guess it happens everywhere. Right?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:40:30] Oh, sure, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:32] That's really funny somehow. So you get offered the job to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which before that you were the Chief of Staff of the Army, right?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:40:41] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:41] But you didn't want the job, you didn't want the Joint Chief’s job. Why?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:40:46] Probably the simplest answer to that question is that the responsibilities of the two roles. So the Chief of Staff of the Army is the individual man -- someday woman, I'm hoping -- that is responsible for organizing, training, equipping, developing, and accounting for the professionalism of roughly -- if you add guard and reserves -- 800,000 men and women and then their families. Let me make this distinction.
[00:41:15] So what the Chief of Staff of the Army does is build an army. You're an architect. The chairman is responsible for meeting the needs of the combatant commanders around the world, you know Pacific Europe, Middle East, consistent with the President and Secretary of Defense has guidance. And he largely consumes the force. So he takes all of the readiness that the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of Naval Operations, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Commandant of the Marine Corps, they build this organization, they train it, and then they say to the combatant commanders, "Okay, you know, we've got this much readiness. What do you need?" And by the way, the need always exceeds the available inventory. And so the chairman becomes kind of an arbiter, but you're in the business of consuming the joint force. You know what I mean?
[00:42:02] Secondly, as the chairman, you're largely a public figure, and I didn't necessarily aspire to be a public figure. Third thing is you spend a lot of your time trying to harmonize the desires of the White House with the suspicions of the Congress, and I didn't necessarily want to put my face into that wood chipper, but I did 45 times to be exact. 45 different times I testified. It turned out to be a wonderfully rewarding job at the time when offered it, I thought, "You know what? I'm happy being the Chief of Staff for the Army and let's just leave it at that."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:35] I thought it was interesting that you said, "I don't want the job," and they said, "That's why you're perfect for the job." Are there people who are just gunning for these jobs because it's potentially a political stepping stone or something?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:42:46] I don't know. As you recall from the book, it was Secretary Bob Gates who said that to me, and so my inclination is to believe that he was potentially dealing with a couple of people who really wanted the job, but he never said that to me. All he said to me was, "Okay, you don't want it. Good. We found one. You're in."
Jason DeFillippo: [00:43:07] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show. We'll be right back after this.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:41] This episode is also sponsored in part by NetSuite. There's enough uncertainty to go around right now, I think. NetSuite reduces it by giving you the visibility and control you need in your business. So NetSuite is like a giant dashboard of dashboards. It's the king of all dashboards. It is the queen bee -- okay, I'm done. But there's a lot of dashboards that you can put into one with NetSuite. You need the right numbers. You need them, right now. It's a cloud business system that has financials, cash flow, payroll, inventory, all-in-one place. Clear visibility and total control over your business. You get the flexibility to work from anywhere with immediate clarity on critical information right at your fingertips. It even works on your phone. You don't have to guess. You don't have to reconcile stuff. You can make smarter decisions with confidence because you've got crystal clear visibility into your numbers. 20,000 companies trust NetSuite to stay in control. You could be one of them. Jason, tell them where they can get a free guide to managing business uncertainty.
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[00:46:50] Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps us on the air. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, so you can check out those amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. And don't forget the worksheet for today's episode. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you're listening to us on the Overcast player, please click that little star next to the episode. We really appreciate it. And now back to the show.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:17] Very few people turn down promotions, right? Especially in something at your level, or at least that's the impression that I would have as an outsider.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:47:25] I don't want to make it sound too noble. I mean, there really is no promotion involved. You know, the four-stars are all paid the same. And I mean, the chairman is, in fact, the senior military officer in all of the Armed Forces by protocol. But there's no benefit that really comes from that product, except where you sit at ceremonies, you know? But I will tell you this, I think that another one of the things I learned about the relationship between leaders and followers or leaders and advisors, is that I learned a lot about how to use my influence more than authority. I didn't have much authority as the chairman. I had more authority, far more as the Chief of Staff of the Army. As the chairman, I had very little direct authority. It all runs through the SecDef and the President, but I had enormous influence. And so I learned how to use influence more than authority.
[00:48:15] By the way, my instinct is that the best decisions we make as a country, as corporations, as academic institutions, professional sports league is when you can use influence and bring people together and behind an idea rather than just say, "Look, it's my way or the highway."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:31] So you're saying bringing people together through persuasion, selling them on your idea, getting their buy-in instead of saying, "If you don't do this, you're going to be digging holes in the backyard for 13 years."
General Martin Dempsey: [00:48:40] Yeah, absolutely.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:41] I mean, that makes sense, right? Getting people to want to do something because they're part of the idea rather than if they don't do it, they're going to end up in trouble or never getting promoted.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:48:50] And the other thing, one of my lasting memories of having been the chairman and being on the National Security Council and sitting in meetings in the White House two or three times a week, was that in a very encouraging way, to me, the best ideas usually carry the argument. If you come armed with good data, a good narrative, you're confident in it, you can lay out the risks and rewards, the opportunity costs, you know, all of that, generally speaking, people are going to line up behind you as opposed to walking in and saying, "Here's how this feels to me." "Well, that's really interesting, General, but we're not all that worried about how you feel about things here, right now."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:30] I know you took these jobs like five months apart and you have to move from one house to another.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:49:36] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:36] And the house was like a hundred yards away. Your wife must have been so annoyed by this.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:49:41] That is really a good way to put it. We'd moved 22 times, so it wasn't like she didn't know how to do that but --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:48] Everything was still probably in boxes.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:49:50] She thought, as I did, that when you move into the chief's house, you're there for four years and then you retire. So she had in mind that this was our last house as during our military career. And there's a tradition, I mentioned in the book, that it's kind of folklore that you should never hang the last curtain in a house when you're in the military. Because as soon as you do, somebody is going to tell you it's time to move again." And just by pure luck or bad luck, she had just finished working with a terrific Air Force best by the name of Debbie Besconza to make some curtains for the house, make it her own. She wanted to make it and they had just finished putting up the last of the curtains and I staggered into the ambush and said, "Hey, by the way, I think we're moving down the street."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:33] Right. "Looks great, ladies. You think these will fit that house over there?"
General Martin Dempsey: [00:50:36] That's exactly what happened by the way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:40] They must've been like -- it just daggers at that point, right?
General Martin Dempsey: [00:50:43] Yeah, pretty much.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:44] Yeah. Yeah. Oh, man. You say in the book also learning how to follow is as much a skill as leadership, which is funny because it almost sounds like one of those demotivational posters, you know, that you see on the wall where it's like jokingly says like, "The first day of the rest of your life in this office." Or like, "You'll be in a bigger cubicle in 10 years," or something like that. But learning how to follow is as much a skill as leadership. Tell us about why that's the case.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:51:10] Well, because, as I say in the book, I think the best leaders that I've been around are also the best followers. They also know what it means to follow, so they know what the impact of their leadership is on those who follow. This is really why I wanted to write the book, Jordan, is that I wanted to write a book, not just about leadership. You know, one of the things you'll see in the kind of the universe of books about business and industry and sports is there are so many books about leadership. Actually, most books are about management -- how do you make things more efficient? And then there's a menu of books about leadership. There are almost no books about followership because exactly the reason you say it sounds like the most boring topic ever conceived, but I wanted to get at it.
[00:51:58] So the way I tried to get at it in this book, as you've seen, kind of the paradigm I used, is that I'm not talking about leadership or followership. I'm talking about the relationship between them, what are the common expectations that we should have of each other in order to produce productive, positive relationships in the workplace, whether it's military or business or academia. And so that's the way I went about it, to try to convince people that we've all got responsibilities to each other if you want this thing to work out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:28] Character is something that you focus on quite a bit in the book. You say character is made over time, mostly to ourselves, based on a series of small decisions that we make. Can you unpack this a little bit? Because I think this is really important. I think now, especially, I don't know if this is a conscious thing, but it's almost like people think character doesn't matter unless other people can see it, right? It's like it has to happen on Instagram or it just doesn't matter -- or MSNBC or whatever.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:52:54] Yeah, and by the way, that's literally 180 degrees out. It almost doesn't matter what you see. The Army's got a phrase they use to describe how we try to develop those who volunteer to serve, and it's called Be, Know, Do. We want you to be, we want you to know, and we want you to do. That's a little abstract for me. So when I teach, I talk to these young men and women about the fact that through your whole life, you've got three buckets that you have to keep filling.
[00:53:23] One is knowledge. You can't stop learning. As soon as you stop learning, you stopped leading. Experience, you know, back to your point, you may start out in a little four by four cubicle. But that's an experience that you shouldn't ignore. You should actually know what that is. So there's knowledge, experience, and then the other bucket is character. And if you don't keep trying to fill that bucket through your life by making good decisions that are kind of values-based, then you're not going to be the kind of leader we need you to be. You’ve got to have the knowledge and the experience and the character. Character really does matter because at the end of the day, this relationship I'm talking about between leader and character kind of assumes a level of trust. And that trust is only possible among people who live lives of character.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:10] How do we build character over time? You have a set of principles here. One of which is choose the harder right over the easier wrong. That one seems kind of self-explanatory.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:54:19] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:20] Never tell a half-truth when the whole truth can be won. I wasn't sure if that was O-N-E or W-O-N actually, because I listened to the audiobook.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:54:28] Yeah, W.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:30] Tell us about that because I feel like that's so common now in the media from leadership, from management. I mean, we see it now during this corona. Or management, it's like, "Oh yeah, you know, this is just a temporary blip." and then you find some leaked document where they're like, "We're never hiring these people back."
General Martin Dempsey: [00:54:47] Yeah. I'm reluctant to apply it to any particular episode that we're currently going through.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:53] Sure.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:54:54] Although you know, those who experienced it should actually apply it to these episodes. They should make decisions about that level of trust based on what they learn about each other. You learn a lot about each other in a crisis. But more importantly, this idea of developing character is -- it feels, to me anyway -- as a lifelong experience, whether you're someone who's following or someone who's leading, you're always confronted with issues of character, always.
[00:55:21] Parents are constantly confronted with issues of character and how to develop it in their children, and I'm not going to suggest that I got it right 100 percent of the time. I mean, I think that might be so intimidating that you'd kind of give up early on, but I do think that, as I said, knowledge, experience, character, I think character’s got to be part of the equation all the time. But if people find themselves kind of parking it as though they've already got it and they're dealing with just issues related to knowledge and experience, then they're not going to be the kind of people who build positive, productive relationships. They're just not.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:01] You say character is not made in the easy moments when things go our way. It's made in the uncertain moments that usually include some measure of personal risk. And I'm paraphrasing here --
General Martin Dempsey: [00:56:10] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:11] And that's the point. We have risks, but we do the right thing anyway. I don't know if you've made this, if you created this, or if this is from some ancient Greek teaching, but it sounds really good. The creation of character is to allow our aspirational selves to confront our actual selves and influence our behavior so that our actions match our words. That is really profound, maybe is the right word. I really liked that a lot.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:56:37] Yeah. Thanks. I've never seen that written any place although obviously, I'm not oblivious to the possibility that there is some ancient Greek out there who had that same thought. Which by the way, it brings me to another point, I do a lot of tweeting and it's at least what my intention is, that it's to get people to think about leadership, but also how to just be a good, productive partner in any relationship. It's fun for me to go back and try to find a quote from Aeschylus or Plato or Socrates or Shakespeare, William Butler Yeats, Maya Angelou, and what you quickly realize is that it's a rare occasion when we're going through something new. I mean, the circumstances are probably new. Like, you know, I mean, we'd never had a pandemic of this magnitude before, but the way people are reacting to it is not new. And I would suggest as part of that knowledge bucket I talked about, I always look for things that -- I have a saying, again it's probably not my own, but I'll take credit for it if you allow me to -- that history doesn't repeat, but it rhymes. We shouldn't be content to commit the mistakes of history because we were ignorant of them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:48] Yeah. Yeah. I agree with you there. Another element in which we agree strongly is you'd note in the book that we now shrug off character defects and faults among high profile people -- kind of with a shrug, really, especially if the person is accomplished or has a lot of accolades. And we should stop doing this. And it makes me angry when I see people setting a poor example for others. So they maybe have a big platform and they're using it to set up poor examples of sports players who say, "I never asked to be put on a pedestal. I never asked to be a role model for kids." So they go out and they drink and drive and they beat up their girlfriend or something like that. We should be judged on how we accomplish things, not just that we accomplish things.
General Martin Dempsey: [00:58:30] Yeah. I mean, you can live your life that way, but what I'm suggesting, in this book and in my Twitter account and in my classrooms is that we can't let ourselves be guilty of absolute relativism. And what I mean by relativism is, you know, if you allow yourself to ignore that little voice in your conscience, that little voice in your ear, I call it the moral compass --if you say, "Well, yeah, I know that this kind of doesn't feel right in terms of my understanding of integrity. But look how much good we're going to do with it." And then you persuade yourself that you can slide. You know, before we started, you had me slide that little audio bar, you know, from 55 percent to 80 percent so you slide your bar from 50 percent to 70 percent and now all of a sudden because you've allowed yourself to be guilty of relativism, now, next time, you may slide it to 75percent or 80 percent. And the next thing you know, character doesn't matter. And so I don't know anybody that I would say probably has never done anything that rubbed uncomfortably against their beliefs, their values, their character.
[00:59:39] But most people that I enjoyed being around, that I've enjoyed being led by, and that I enjoy having to follow me, we'll correct it. If they get from 40 to 50 percent on that sliding scale, they'll say, "Whoa, wait a minute. I'm getting a little too far here," and they'll slide it the other way and try to get it back to 25 percent. That's kind of the way I think about character is that it's just got to be part of the conversation. Sometimes you're going to listen to it more strongly than others, but it's always got to be part of the conversation.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:08] I know you had a meeting with, speaking of celebrities and others, you had a meeting with -- was it Angelina Jolie about refugees and migration? I'm curious how that is because my perception as someone who's obviously never had that type of meeting is that a lot of these celebrity spokespeople, and I'm pretty sure that this is an erroneous conception that a lot of us have, but that these celebrity spokespeople for these issues, they're not experts in this. They're just lending their name to a cause. They're doing it because it looks good. But you described your meeting in a way that made it sound like she really did know what she was talking about and was also very persuasive and not just kind of a pretty face attached to the cause of migration and refugees.
General Martin Dempsey: [01:00:46] Yeah, I was very impressed because -- I mean, look, my first, as I'm walking in, I told you the story. Half of the Pentagon had assembled that side of my office because somebody had leaked the fact that she was coming. And when I walked into the office, I was half expecting to be attacked by Lara Croft. I didn't know whether I should have somebody make sure she wasn't armed. But when we sat down and began talking about what -- Oh, by the way, what you wanted to talk about is she was the Special Envoy -- I can't remember the exact title, but she was a Special UN Envoy and she was intending to recommend to the United Nations and the various charities and nonprofits that we're going to help to build a school in the outskirts of Kabul. And she basically wanted to know whether I thought it was secure enough for her to do that. And also to get my advice on how to think about allowing the school to be populated because she was very alert to the different tribal and ethnic groups, you know, the Pashtuns, the Uzbeks, and she understood all that. It was as though I was having a conversation with someone who had served for us in Afghanistan. So I can't speak for all celebrities who align themselves with issues, but I can say that she was very much attuned to the challenges and eager to be part of the solution.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:07] In closing here, I know you keep photos and items in your office to remind you of fallen soldiers, and there's a sign that says, "Make it matter." On that same note as a civilian, it's really hard to see why some of the sacrifices we're making, let's say in the Middle East, really matter, if I'm honest, right? Does what we're doing over there matter? How do we get out of there responsively out of Afghanistan and Iraq? I mean, looking at how it worked out for the Soviets, so it just seems like, "Man, was this just a giant mistake or what?"
General Martin Dempsey: [01:02:36] Yeah. I mean, that's such a profound question that I don't try to do it justice and briefly.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:41] Right, like 90-second version. Not really, but yeah, I know this is hard.
General Martin Dempsey: [01:02:45] Yeah, I know. But there are people here in Duke University who are doing their doctoral degrees on that subject.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:51] Right.
General Martin Dempsey: [01:02:51] But here's what I'd say. Compare us to say, compare the United States to China and Russia. China and Russia's National Security Strategies are both built on spheres of influence. And frankly, if we're honest, they generally try to exploit the countries and the populations with whom they interact, whether it's for natural resources or political influence. You know, contrast that with us. We have 53 allies and partners around the world. So we have actually structured our wellbeing as part of a larger community of like-minded nations, 53 of them. Secondly, we have national security interests all over the world because we're the world's global power. And at least in my judgment, you can't say we have interest all over the world, and then decide to stay home and hope those interests are met. And so what we do is --
[01:03:46] So let's take the Middle East. People cynically say it's all about the oil. Well, you know, maybe at one time it was. I don't remember when it was, but maybe at one time, it was about our access to oil or our allies' access to oil. But now I think it's far more about making sure that terrorism doesn't take root in some less governance place. It's trying to make sure that the tensions that exist in the region don't boil over and in so doing affect our allies and partners. It's freedom of navigation, it's access to markets. It's a whole bunch of things, that the American people should say, "Well, you know what? Maybe we do have a role to play in the Middle East." Now, if you agree with me that we have a role to play, then the debate begins to take shape about how big should that role be. I do think we're overinvested in the Middle East right now. But I have only come to that conclusion since 2014 when we've seen China and Russia begin to become more assertive, and Iran and North Korea. But you know, the first decade of the century was all about terrorism. And if it's all about terrorism, then you do invest in the place where it generally emanates from, which is the Middle East.
[01:04:54] Now, I think we're in a place, as this has evolved, where we've got to influence the peaceful rise of China, we've got to make sure that Russia doesn't become too revanchist in Europe. And at the same time, we've got issues in our Southern hemisphere and we've got issues as we well know now with a global pandemic. That won't be the last one we see in our lifetime probably. So we've got competing priorities. I think though, that the way to deal with those is to acknowledge the competition and not decide that it's an a la carte menu. You know, I'll take China and Iran and the hell with the rest of them. You can't do that if you're us. So we got to figure out how to meet our needs, adapt, and not be overinvested in any one place so that we can -- and importantly, we've got to stay true to our allies and partners.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:43] General Dempsey, thank you very much for coming on the show today.
General Martin Dempsey: [01:05:45] My pleasure, Jordan, and thanks for all the really cool electronic gear here.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:49] Oh yeah, yeah. You're welcome.
[01:05:53] Thanks to general Dempsey for coming on the show. The book title is No Time for Spectators: The Lessons That Mattered Most from West Point to the West Wing. It's a good read, I mean, look, it's always cool to talk to a General, an Admiral. What can I say? It doesn't get old. I mean, these are people who have done and seen and experienced a lot, and there's just kind of no replacement for that. What I thought was really fun about this little humblebrag here, he never went on Kimmel. He turned him down. David Letterman, he turned him down. Jimmy Fallon, he turned him down. Comes on The Jordan Harbinger Show, nice. All right, I'm done. I know I'm insufferable. Sorry about that folks. Links to the book will be in the show notes. Of course, if you buy books, please do support the show by using our links. We've got those little Amazon links in there. They work in every country. We've got some systems set up, so if you're in Germany or the UK or Australia, you can still click our genius link on the show notes and it will help support the show. Also in the show notes, there are worksheets for each episode. We've got a worksheet here for General Dempsey. You can review everything you've learned from General Dempsey. And we now have transcripts for each episode. Those can be found in the show notes as well.
[01:06:57] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course. That's always free at jordanharbinger.com/course. Don't do it later, do it now. Dig the well before you get thirsty. Build that network before you need it, even if it feels like starting from scratch. I guarantee you, you are not starting from actual scratch. Stagnation comes about when you procrastinate, and there's a rhyme in there that I didn't bother with this time. But you know what I mean? Come on. Ignore this at your own peril. It helped me a lot. I guarantee you it'll help you or your money back -- it's a free course, jordanharbinger.com/course. It's going to be free forever, but that doesn't mean you should postpone. Go do it. Dang it. I don't want to hear about how you got laid off and you didn't do it.
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[01:08:21] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. This episode is produced by Jen Harbinger, engineered by Jase Sanderson, show notes and worksheets by Bob Fogarty, music by Evan Viola. I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own, and I'm a lawyer, but not your lawyer. I'm definitely not a general, that's why I had one on the show, not a doctor, not a therapist, pretty underqualified if you add all those things together. Do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. That's my point. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. Know someone in a leadership position, share this episode. Know somebody who wants to be in a leadership position, share this episode. Hopefully, you find something useful in every episode, so please do share the show with those you love. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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