I decided to interview my Father, a top executive in the corporate world, and ask him about his experiences at the United States Military Academy. I focused on asking him questions about the most helpful lessons he learned while at the Academy, and how they apply to everyday life.
1) What inspired you to apply to West Point?
When I visited, I loved military history and felt like I wanted to serve my country. At the time, one of the West Point mottos was “much of the history we teach was made by the people we taught.” My desire to become part of that history and tradition motivated me to seek an education at a place like the U.S. Military Academy.
2) What was your first impression of the United States Military Academy?
I was captivated by the symmetry and beauty of the campus, and inspired by the sense of honor and service that every aspect of the Academy seemed to evoke in me.
3) What was the hardest thing you had to deal with going into West Point?
At my high school, I was a big fish. All of a sudden, I was among a thousand other people who were equally or more capable than I. That reality, along with a very intense first year,which is intended to deliberately break down your self identity, was a difficult adjustment for me to make.
4) What did your first year at West Point teach you most?
To be diligent in the smallest of details. The fourth class system put emphasis in being able to do small activities to an excellent standard.
5) How did you see this during your academy experience?
One example, might be learning how to make a bed perfectly neat. Or shining brass doorknobs at four o'clock in the morning. Or maybe measuring your shoes and hangers to line up, making sure they were perfect for room inspection.
6) How do these simple tasks transfer into instilling excellence?
At first, that task seemed ridiculous and I wondered why anyone would need to brass the doorknob everyday to perfection. What purpose does that serve? After a few months in the fourth class system, however, I realized the task itself is never the end goal. It is always about the way you perform the task that is being trained. There are tons of other examples in any given day where small tasks were required to be done with perfection. Excellence, was always the intended outcome.
7) How do you think instilling excellence helps a young Cadet?
It instills a sense of pride in the work you do. It also created a standard by which you can expect all cadets to operate, therefore creating a consistent culture of excellence. For example, since everyone around us had the same standards, you could expect any cadet to carry their weight in any situation.
8) How did this transfer to your leadership skills as you became an upperclassman?
Having gone through the fourth class system, I had a better understanding of the importance of teamwork, prioritization, and doing everything to an excellent standard. Given that upperclassman basically run the Corps of Cadets, each of us was expected to do larger tasks and apply leadership skills to higher levels and train others to do everything to an excellent standard.
9) How did this specific training in West Point transfer into your military career?
Once I became a leader of soldiers in the regular army, I was responsible and required to lead missions with life or death consequences. Because of my training during these dangerous missions where people's lives were dependent on whether or not there was attention to detail in the planning, I quickly became thankful for that rigorous training that once seemed so pointless.
10) How do you use what you have learned through this training in your life today?
Part of the West Point mission is to inspire leaders of character to a lifetime of service. As I transitioned out of the military, I realized the same need for attention to detail and doing things in excellence was just as relevant in the corporate world. Companies are full of people with diverse backgrounds of varying standards. For an organization to be at its best, instilling that same sense of attention to detail and doing things with excellence is a critical component of success.
In conclusion, the interview with my Dad allowed me to better understand where some of his core values came from. I was able to understand the intentions of the rigorous training at West Point. My dad taught me the valuable lesson of treating everything I do with my best effort. I can now see the origin of some of the most important aspects of leadership and hard work, stemming from the things instilled in West Point cadets. These men and women are truly outstanding and I am appalled by their ability to overcome any obstacle.