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A word to the wise on enforcing rules

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in Leaders & Managers

Part of being a leader is the ability to sort the important from the unimportant.

Case in point: U.S. Army generals’ tolerance of Harvey Gough, a colorful Texan whose patriotism and generosity are exceeded only by his tendency to flout the rules.

How colorful is he?

Gough, who for many years owned a hamburger joint in Dallas, had placed in front of his eatery a statue of Vladimir Lenin that he’d spirited away from Ukraine and adorned with a plaque saying, “America won.”

He also once fended off armed robbers, using a .357 Magnum, to the relief of the governor who had stopped in for a burger.

Retired Gen. Julius Becton describes Gough as “part of the institution of the Army.” After 9/11, the flamboyant businessman had raised funds and flown 1,000 full-course steak dinners to the troops in Afghanistan. He cooked and served them himself—a trick he repeated this year for 4,000 troops at Fort Hood.

Gough also visited Iraq, despite a blunt request from Gen. Tommy Franks, who said, “Don’t come here. I don’t want you here. I don’t want you in the way. I don’t want you here at all.” In response, Gough produced a photograph of himself at the airport in Baghdad with a sign reading, “Hi, Tommy; I’m here.”

So it should come as no surprise that Gough invited himself to a ceremony and briefing when Becton assumed command of VII Corps.

Gough’s presence triggered an investigation. Someone pointed out that, despite his security clearance, Gough had no business at the briefing, which reviewed sensitive information.

After the investigation, Becton’s new boss, Gen. Fritz Kroesen, called him into his office. “I just got word from Washington that I am supposed to chew your ass,” Becton’s commanding officer informed him.

“Yes, sir,” Becton replied. And waited.

Finally, Kroesen asked, “What are you waiting for, Becton?”

“Yes, sir,” Becton said, saluted and walked out.

The lesson: Show wisdom. Enforce a rule only if it makes sense.

—Adapted from Becton: Autobiography of a soldier and public servant, Julius W. Becton Jr., Naval Institute Press.

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