Leadership lesson – A Message to Garcia

19 12 2006

I have just discovered the piece written by Elbert Hubbard in 1899, A Message to Garcia.

Inspirational and as relevant today as when it was written 107 years ago. A must read.

In 1495 words Elbert Hubbard has captured the essence of what being responsible is all about. A magnificent example of how independence, clear objectives and discipline can generate desired results.

Excerpt: “In all this Cuban business there is one man stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion.

When war broke out between Spain and the United States it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba – no one knew where. No mail nor telegraph message could reach him. The President must secure his cooperation, and quickly. What to do!

Some one said to the President, “There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”
Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia.

How “the fellow by the name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia – are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.

The point that I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?”

By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing“Carry a message to Garcia!”…….. Link

The majority of analysis I have found related to this piece focuses upon the employee. How we all wish to have individuals who do the job, who don’t require complex instructions, supervision and followup.

Disciplined individuals who are able to adapt to unfavorable circumstances and maintain their sense of mission. People who get the job done without whining, complaining, negotiating outcomes and deadlines.

Take a look at A Message to Garcia from the point of view of the leader, President McKinley. Faced with the need to notify Garcia in the jungles of Cuba, he trusted one man, Rowan, with the nearly impossible.

McKinley was satisfied that his instructions were clear, and did not give Rowan tips and tricks on how to get the mission completed. He was confident in Rowan’s abilities, or was prepared to accept failure. There were no committee meetings, no majority votes, no back-up army or alternative plans considered.

Here are some questions related to mangement and leadership to reflect upon.

  • Have you surrounded yourself with capable individuals, and trained them?
  • Do you trust that they have the capacity and abilities to do their job?
  • Do your people understand and embrace the mission and objectives of your organization?
  • Do they know you will support their actions and in order to reach that goal?
  • Have you enough confidence in them to let them carry the message to Garcia?

Related Links

Leadership – who do you want to lead

Are we killing team performance by over-communicating

What defines an exceptional leader

Motivation – Heroic Moments

Wikipedia: Elbert Green Hubbard

Quotations by Elbert Green Hubbard

A Message to Garcia



9 responses

18 01 2007
Chris joyce

I enjoyed your thoughts on the meaning of the “MTG” and the relevance to business and leadership today. Thanks. Chris

8 03 2007
Fred Myers

Hello, a friend of mine just recently used the phrase and acted like he knew it. He said that someone taught him about it. I sent him Rowan’s own story. We were force-fed the phrase as Plebes at Annapolis. You certainly knew what it meant. My friend and I are independent manufacturer’s reps in the marine industry. I personally haven’t worked in a company environment, however Peter has and someone mentored him awhile back. I like your application to the real business world. I do believe the world of business would be far more effective if its employees were taught right off the bat about taking a msg to Garcia. thanx, Fred Myers

13 08 2007
Barb White

If managers want to develop a team of self motivated, self directed members then Rowan is the ideal role model. Effective management means clarifying the results and expectations required (the What) and leaving the ‘how’ up to the team member.

27 11 2007
No shortcuts to being a great leader « Lee Iwan Accumulated Experience

[…] Leadership lesson – A Message to Garcia […]

6 11 2009
daniel w. jacobs

nice work my friend. Elbert Hubbard is one of my favorite authors, I’ve collected nearly all of his work, most in first editions.

Keep it up.


30 09 2013
Roberta maixner

I first met “A Message to Garcia” at about age 10 in my 6th grade reader and It made an impression on me. Years later, as an office manager, I remembered the essay and wondered where I could find a copy, but never got around to looking for it. About ten years ago I found a little book titled ” A Message to Garcia” in a souvenir shop in Hawaii. It was published in 1924 by the Thomas Y. Crowell Co in New York and was still in it’s dust cover. The price printed on the dust cover was $2.50, which is what the shop keeper charged me for it. There are two other essays in the book, “The Boy From Missouri Valley” and “Help Yourself By Helping The House”. A comment on the dust cover states “This celebrated and inspiring essay has gone around the world and been translated into every modern language”. I have just re-read it and re-llived the excitement of finding it so unexpectedly.

13 08 2018
Don Rice

Hardly a word written by Elbert Hubbard regarding Rowan’s trip to Cuba is true. McKinley did not have a message he wanted to send to Garcia and certainly never asked to have Rowan make the trip. The fact is, Rowan blew his mission and came close to being court-martialed. You might want to read my book on the subject: “Cast in Deathless Bronze: Andrew Rowan, the Spanish-American War, and the Origins of American Empire,” West Virginia University Press, 2016, 978-1943665-43-3.

2 08 2019
Marketing team Lead

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Leadership lesson – A Message to Garcia | Lee Iwan Accumulated Experience

28 07 2020
personal development leadership

personal development leadership

Leadership lesson – A Message to Garcia | Lee Iwan Accumulated Experience

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