U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Organizational Dynamics (2013) 42, 8—16; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.orgdyn.2012.12.002


To be a 21st century leader you must have two things: competence and character. I have met a lot of leaders who were very, very competent, but they didn’t have character... and I’ve seen a lot of leaders who had superb character but lacked competence. . .you must have both!

In May 1991, having recently returned from commanding the triumphant coalition forces in Desert Storm, and just days before his retirement after 35 years of honorable service, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf (‘‘Stormin Norman’’) addressed the corps of cadets at West Point for the last time, to impress upon those emerging leaders the key leadership lessons from his career. The excerpt from his speech in the epitaph above reflects his core message, which was powerful in its simplicity — leaders must have both character and competence — and either by itself is deficient. Followers and organizational stakeholders must not only possess trust that the leader has the necessary skills and abilities to functionally lead the group or organization, but also faith that the leader will use those capabilities not to serve himself or herself, but to serve the interests of others in ways that are honorable and aligned with the values and mores of the organization. Together these two forms of trust/faith give the leader credibility. Character is thus requisite to the leader’s ability to influence others and to align the organization and inspire success toward socially valued outcomes.