How does he know that? Because when Cohen was a cadet at West Point, he learned the story of Hoyt Vandenberg, who became a four-star general, director of central intelligence and chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. During World War II, Vandenberg often visited squadrons. On one of those visits, a gunner broke down, screaming that he couldn’t fly that day.
Vandenberg saw the disturbance and came running.
“Sergeant, you don’t have to go today,” he told the gunner. “This is not your day. This one is mine.”
The general climbed into the plane and flew the mission as the gunner. His actions electrified the distraught gunner, who completed his tour of duty.
Vandenberg was not a born leader, Cohen says. And how does he know?
Because shortly before graduating from West Point, Cohen chatted with Army Major Gen. Robert Danford, who knew Vandenberg at West Point.
“I’ll tell you something I bet you didn’t know about Gen. Vandenberg,” Danford said. “When I was commandant, he was a plebe going through his first year at the academy. He was at one point almost discharged.”
“Why?” Cohen asked.
Danford smiled. “Because of a lack of ability.”
—Adapted from The Art of the Leader, William A. Cohen, Prentice Hall.