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★★★★ General Admission | Leadership Insights from General Petraeus' Seminar at USC

- "There are times that you have to acknowledge a grindingly difficult situation."

- "Assume that people want to be the best they can be, even if not universally true."

- "Life is a competitive endeavor, Embrace it."

Photo by Anirudh Koul

The Show

Do you remember going out and waiting in line for a general admission show? You'd get into the venue and become part of a sea of people. Some folks head to the concession stands, some mosey towards the seats in the back, and a bunch rush to the stage for a chance to be in the front row.

Perhaps you came to this event in a group. Consider for a moment the role you play in getting your friends to (wherever it is) you're trying to go. Do you go with the flow — passively joining along? Or do you make an active effort to help steer the group? Making a declaration, and attempting to persuade your friends to follow suit.

You could end up watching the show from a shaded seat near the back, or standing shoulder to shoulder in a mosh pit. How do you express your input to peers? Do you?


The Seminar

Things kicked off last Friday with USCVA Student President Chris Alora welcoming the General back to (virtual) campus. Since his fellowship with USC, General Petraeus has filled leadership roles at Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia among many other distinguished universities. He applauded (our) veteran culture at USC, and the developing pipeline that gets vets (t)here from community college.

He offered a challenge to (my alma mater) USC Dornsife, to offer yellow ribbon program funding for both undergrad, and graduate studies — like many of the other schools on campus. Fight on?

Most of the audience was comprised of USC ROTC Students. Their collective question, and overall theme of the meeting was oriented around the General's advice for a brand new Second Lieutenant — though this insight can (and should) be universally applied.

Peer Leadership is the hardest. It requires persuasion.

He shared some experiences gained as a West Point Cadet, and the difficulties involved with being a leader at the bottom rung of the totem pole. "Peer Leadership is the hardest. It requires persuasion." Once you make your way up the ladder a bit, the hierarchy (the trademark organizational style of the military) is established and things don't require quite as much finesse. It's hard in the beginning.

Photo by 26th Yankee Brigade

The General's Advice:

On Priorities

Identify your top 5 priorities, and live by them. "It's hard to get them right, you'll have to refine." But, it separates success from failure.

He referenced a certain entertainment titan that managed to dethrone Blockbuster by clearly identifying priorities, working towards them, and adapting with the market. Netflix used to snail mail DVDs, now they produce and stream their own award winning content. They had the most clearly defined priorities and they won.

Much like the world of venture capital, everyone is seeking the most informed view about potential compared to risk. That's the aim of the game. He attributes much of his success to intellectual preparation, and focus.

On "Leadership Style"

Of course you want to lead from the front, but that's not all. You want to not only be the fastest and strongest, but you also want your team mates to be their fastest and strongest too. He said he often gets asked what his leadership style is. His answer is "whatever style brings out the best" in whoever he's working with.

On Competition

"Life is a competitive endeavor, this should be embraced." Not everyone is competitive. This serves as a bit of a filter, but "assume that people want to be the best they can be, even if it doesn't seem to be universally true."

On the flip-side of being highly competitive, "There are times that you have to acknowledge a grindingly difficult endeavor. Don't put lipstick on a pig." The General quoted Grant at the Battle of Shiloh.

A flustered Sherman said “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” A determined Grant, his mind already made up, responded, “Yes, lick ’em tomorrow, though.”

Hard situations arise. Vessels overflow. Look for them, and alleviate pressure where you can. Nobody is a superhero, but "take a seriousness in what you are doing." Act with deliberate intent.


The Reflection

The General closed with the importance of acting with deliberate intent. The reason it matters to take a seriousness in what you're doing. In the spirit of this advice, I deliberately sat and daydreamed for 10 minutes after the talk.

My mind made its way to my favorite setting — a concert. I imagined how AWESOME it's going to be to getting to attend them again. Shortly after this exciting high, I remembered the downside to this scene. The crowds. Big crowds are hard to navigate. They can be loud, stressful, and anxiety inducing in many cases. And that's just what I remember about them from before the pandemic...

Navigating through a crowd can also be fun. Mingling with new people, complimenting fellow band nerds on their cool shirts, etc. The factor that causes the stress for me is feeling like I need to get somewhere, and being unable to.

It's almost impossible to move through a concert crowd without intent. Especially if you're trying to move toward the stage. People will keep their back turned to you, and even go out of their way to block you in some cases. "Excuse me. Pardon. Sorry, I had to run to the bathroom, my friends are just right up there."

With a good plan, some communication, and deliberate intent — we can move not only ourselves, but groups of people from point A to point B, and even make new friends while we do it. It takes active listening, focus, and deliberation. Very few people passively float to the front row by mistake.

Photo by Tony Felgueiras

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