Retired Brigadier General Rick Porter shared lessons he learned playing football at Presbyterian College and serving more than 30 years in the military during the annual Vance Lecture on Business Ethics at Presbyterian College.
The event took place in Edmunds Hall on the PC campus.
Porter shared quips from legendary PC football coach Cally Gault, including, “Ninety percent of football is half mental.” He shared serious lessons, too, like Gault’s one training rule.
“We're all standing there,” Porter said, “expecting to be told we can't drink, we can't do drugs, we have to attend a hundred percent of our classes, can't miss classes, can't smoke. You can't wear mustaches, can't wear beards, all those things.”
Porter said, “Coach Gault told us, ‘I have but one training rule, and it's this: Don't do anything your mama wouldn't want you to do’.”
Porter said the rule was so genuine the football players remembered it every weekend and long after the season ended. One of Porter’s college roommates, Chuck Jordan, went on to become the head football coach at Conway High School. Jordan passes on the advice to his team.
“Always be kind. Do your laundry. And call your mama.”
Porter said that Dr. Dean Thompson, the Mary Henry and de Saussure Davis Edmunds Professor of English at PC, has offered the same advice to students over the years. Porter’s son, Cam ’15, was in Thompson’s class a few years ago and serves in the Army now.
“My son, Cam, was going to Afghanistan, and his troops asked him, ‘Lieutenant, do you have any advice for us?’
“He said, ‘Always be kind. Do your laundry. And call your mama.’”
Porter said it’s a simple bit of advice for anyone, whether a serviceman or woman or a civilian.
Porter learned the importance of clear communication from General Robert B. Abrams.
“He always said, ‘Let me be perfectly clear’,” Porter said. “He was the master communicator.”
Porter said that in any organization, you must have a clear vision and clear communication and that all too often leaders sometimes make the mistake of not being clear about their intentions. When they’re not clear, others are left to interpret what the leader wants.
“General Abrams was just the opposite,” Porter added. “You knew exactly what he was talking about.”
Abrams was a good listener, too, according to Porter. If subordinates had questions about what he meant, he would ask them to “brief back” his intent.
“Abrams was a masterful leader,” Porter said. “You were never confused about his intent. You were never confused about his guidance.”
General Daniel B. Allyn taught him that “leadership is about competence and character.”
“Focus on character, and competence will follow,” Porter said.
In his role as G1, U.S. Army Forces Command, he says he essentially serves as the HR director 210,000 soldiers.
“Every time a commander is relieved, or suspended, it comes across my desk,” Porter said.
Porter noted the brigade-level colonel commander and lieutenant colonel battalion commander are two of the most cherished positions in the Army. Seventy-five brigade-level colonel commanders and 400 lieutenant colonel battalion commanders serve in the U.S. Army Forces Command today.
There is always a handful of commanders that are suspended or relieved out of command, according to Porter.
“And it's never about competence. It's always about character,” he said.
Porter served with General Peter J. Schoomaker three times in his career. In 2003, Porter served with Schoomaker when he was the Chief of Staff of the Army.
“General Schoomaker would say, ‘Don’t confuse enthusiasm with capability,’” Porter said.
He then told the story of Operation Eagle Claw, a failed mission in 1980. Many officers knew they weren’t prepared for the mission, but no one had the moral courage to tell the national leadership.
“We weren't ready. We weren't trained. There was a lot of political pressure on, and the enthusiasm overcame the correct decision,” he said. “Somebody didn't have the moral courage to say, ‘Hey, we need more time … we can’t do it.’”
Schoomaker kept a picture near on his desk to remind him daily not to confuse enthusiasm with capability.
General Henry H. Shelton, retired chairman of the Chief Joints of Staff, had an amusing, but sincere mantra: “The higher you climb up the flagpole, the more your butt shows.”
Shelton was referring to how much others watch and scrutinize those who climb the ladder in any organization, Porter said.
“When they see you do something wrong, and they're watching a lot closer than ever before, they will report it,” he said. “And it will be somebody in your organization who didn't get promoted, or who didn't get hired, or you rendered an evaluation that was less than desirable.”
Whether you’re in the military or the corporate world, you should maintain a high level of ethics at all times throughout your career.
Porter called General Charles C. Campbell a “man of deep faith and the most inspirational leader I’ve ever worked for.”
Porter said that Campbell often recited a scripture in Galatians which says, “Do not tire of doing good, you will reap the harvest if you do not become faint of heart.” Campbell believed in the verse so much he included it in his retirement speech.
“Our soldiers are deployed around the world doing good, helping other people, helping people abroad, and doing good protecting our freedoms,” he said.
Whether serving in the military or working a 9 to 5 job, you should strive to help others.
Porter said General Colin L. Powell taught him that leadership is about building trust.
“If you build trust in an organization, if you build a team that you have trust going up, down, and laterally, that team will do anything for you,” Porter said.
He recalled a time when a sergeant approached then-Lieutenant Powell early in his career about being a good leader.
“The sergeant said, ‘Lieutenant, you'll know when you're a good leader when people follow you … if only out of curiosity,’" Porter said. “What he was saying is, ‘They trust you.’”
And, according to Porter, you can earn others’ trust by giving them a pure purpose and mission and by giving them the resources to accomplish it.
“You build trust by demonstrating you’re going to be selfless and not selfish in your service,” he said.