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

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