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Be honest: Don’t try to fake it

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Before taking command of the U.S. Army’s VII Corps in West Germany in 1978, Lt. Gen. Julius Becton needed to brush up on his German.

Commanding officers in Europe were required to speak the local language, at least haltingly.

Becton’s college studies in German, though, had focused on reading and writing, so now he put in three weeks of training to work up a little fluency.

His real lesson came later.

Expected to give part of his speech in German, Becton “practiced and practiced and finally had it down pat.” The speech went well. So well, in fact, that the media swarmed him, firing off questions in German. Becton was stuck.

“This episode taught me a lesson I have never forgotten,” he says. “Never try to be something that you are not.”

—Adapted from Becton: Autobiography of a Soldier and Public Servant, Julius W. Becton Jr., Naval Institute Press.

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