Leadership Lessons From West Point

LeadershipIt’s no secret that West Point, the nation’s top military academy, excels at fostering teamwork, strategic thinking and leadership skills—all capabilities prized by the corporate world. So when Chief Executive heard about a new executive education program housed within the West Point campus, we took our team there to check it out.

“The program is built around the belief that the principles taught to West Point cadets—focus, duty, honor and drive—are applicable to business,” explained Dr. Nicole Shea, executive director of the Eisenhower Leadership Center at Highland Falls, N.Y., near West Point, in welcoming us. And indeed, our day began with classroom presentations by two former military officers—retired Colonel Dr. Jack Beach and retired Lieutenant Colonel Dr. James Modlin—both of whom had gone on from military service to lengthy careers as Fortune 500 executives.

Modlin offered insights on leading innovation, while Beach schooled our group on the psychology of leadership. Both faculty members supported their points with compelling lessons from military history.

After lunch overlooking the Hudson River, we changed into outdoor gear, divided ourselves into three teams and were briefed on the series of field exercises we were about to undertake by military training guru Lieutenant Colonel Hank Keirsey—who, tellingly, also serves as an advisor for the video game “Call of Duty.” If you’ve never spent an afternoon rappelling down a series of steep hills into a riverbed, jumping from rock to rock lugging a 30-pound boulder a mile upstream and hiking with it to the top of a mountain, it might be hard to understand how that could be a fun and effective exercise in team building. Yet all three of our teams emerged from the exercise oddly energized and with a new appreciation for our colleagues’ collective talents and abilities. So you’ll just have to take our word for it—or head to Eisenhower Leadership Center and find out for yourselves.

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