With the recent talk of normalizing relations with Cuba, I am reminded of the popular, and even famous in some military circles, essay that was ultimately made into two movies, a book and translated in thirty-seven languages. During the Spanish-American War in 1898, President McKinley needed to reach the leader of the insurgency in Cuba, General Calixto Iniguez Garcia in an effort to secure his cooperation with the United States. The problem was, no one knew where Garcia was. An American officer, Lieutenant Andrew Rowan (West Point Class of 1881) was given a letter with the simple directive, “Carry a Message to Garcia”. Off Rowan went to successfully complete a simply stated mission of vital importance to his country. So what do we take from this story of Mission, Accountability and Leadership? Let’s take a look at each one and see what we can glean from Rowan’s example.

One of the biggest challenges of 21st Century businesses is ensuring every stakeholder in the business is focused in the same direction. In other words, does the business have a clear Mission and does everyone understand the Mission in the same context. “Carry a message to Garcia” was a simple, yet very dangerous, mission Rowan fully understood, both in scope and context.

People often confuse Accountability with Responsibility in carrying out their daily business duties. In short, accountability is an attitude that drives the responsible behaviors leading to desired results. Rowan did not question whether or not it was his job to carry the message nor did he waste time asking for details he himself could determine. He was fully accountable to the desired result and would do whatever he needed to do to succeed!

The business and academic press are full of research and opinions on the difference between Leadership and Management. I believe Rowan’s example illustrates the essence of Leadership on several levels. His superiors entrusted him with a letter from the President of the United States. How many of your current associates and/or suppliers would you trust with such responsibility if the success of your business hung in the balance? If not, ask yourself why your expectations are what they are and how you might develop more “Rowans” in your business. How many of your associates and/or suppliers would respond to a risky mission or directive by simply carrying it out with your complete trust? Again, if none or a few, what are you doing as a leader to ensure you do?

21st Century business is risky and, yes, sometimes dangerous! A Sense of Mission, an Attitude of Accountability and a true sense of what being a 21st Century Leader entails can mitigate many of these risks and ensure you and your business enjoy sustainable success?

Who will carry your message to Garcia?

Lieutenant Rowan’s personal account of the mission can be found by clicking here

Lead Well!