“A Message to Garcia” is an article written by Elbert Hubbard in 1899 that is still heavily referenced in the military and private sector today. It is a story of a lieutenant tasked with a seemingly impossible mission who carried out his orders with no guidance. The story became a rallying cry for military leaders and corporate executives alike. Frank and Ian dive into the facts and myths about this article, and how the lessons might still apply today.
Also in this episode:
- What it means if a manager tells you to “get the message to Garcia”
- The uncommon nature of the story’s protagonist
- How valuable are autonomous people in business?
- How to find people like this in the interview process
- How to demonstrate you have these characteristics in a job search
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Listen to the podcast here:
A Message To Garcia
Taking the message to Garcia. What does it mean to me? I was a recruit at Parris Island. When you’re a recruit, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole. You’re a piece of shit under all and certain conditions but a lot of times, the drill instructors who were one step below Jesus Christ Himself in the hierarchy would tell you to do something. You don’t have a conversation with a drill instructor. You have to request permission to speak and then you have to speak in the third person. A lot of times, that was not what they were after. They gave you something to do and they wanted you to do it, shut up, and don’t ask any stupid questions. You’re stupid because you’re a marine recruit in Parris Island.
I remember one incident where this guy, Dan. He was such a bag smasher. He was like, “McCarthy, get on that goddamn gear locker and I want the whole thing squared away.” This was early on in the adventure. I squared away. Did he want me to inventory it? Did he want me to restock it? I was in there and I thought it looked amazing. I started to ask him a question. There was an inspection involved not by him but by somebody else that was coming into the unit to inspect it. He grabbed me by the throat and he’s like, “Take the fucking message to Garcia.” I was like, “Okay.” I got in that gear locker and shut the door. I was like, “Who the hell is Garcia and why am I taking him a message?”Prison is an example of a socialist paradise. Equality prevails, everything is supplied, and competition is eliminated. Click To Tweet
Three minutes later, this other guy named Sergeant ￼Collishaw came in and knocked over all three shelves and completely wrecked my gear locker. I didn’t even know if that was choreographed. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I didn’t learn what it was yet but then oftentimes, somebody would get tasked with something and they would be told to take the message to Garcia. There were rules that everybody knew. When the drill instructors wanted you to do something and they wanted you to break rules, they would say, “Take the message to Garcia.” That means, “Take care of what needs to be done and hide the bodies.”
One of the things when I’m saying, “Take the message to Garcia,” I don’t want to know how you do it because clearly, I’ve been briefed on what we’re allowed to do and what we’re not allowed to do. The reason doesn’t make it possible and we’ve been told to make it possible so take the message to Garcia. The other way is the same thing but not hide the bodies but it’s like, “This is not a time for mentorship. This is not a time for you to ask me sixteen questions. This is a time for you to take what I gave you and go away. Let’s play a game called Go Away. Take the message to Garcia.” Those are the two ways, you’re either hiding bodies or this is not a conversation going to take care of this. We don’t need to discuss it. It’s pretty simple, so now go away.
Fast forward, I never got the story on who Garcia was. My career went pretty well as a Marine. Eventually, it took them 25 years to figure out how to get rid of me but when I was an aspiring Private First Class and Lance Corporal, I was told that I was going to go to a promotion board and I needed to be familiar with the comment on the reading list. I’m like, “That’s an actual thing? There’s an actual message to Garcia.” I read it and I thought, “This is one amazing, unbelievably sarcastic diatribe about taking initiative that I believe I will pass on for the rest of my life.” Here we are years later and I tell somebody to take the message to Garcia probably every three days or so.
Ian, you son of a bitch.
We are going to talk about A Message to Garcia.
The question I would like to ask is, how early is it to tell your kids to take a message to Garcia? My son pissed his pants in his crib. I’m like, “Can I have this message when I get home?”
I would start using the terminology as early as possible. I wouldn’t count on it resonating with him until he’s probably 13 or 14 but I would start using it now in hopes that it comes a little earlier than I did for my kids, the message to Garcia.
Season it. Plant the seed.
For our readers that have no idea what the hell we’re talking about, A Message to Garcia is an essay. It’s about a 2.5 page fantastically sarcastic essay written in 1899 that is prevalent in the military and also in the corporate world. Corporate executives use this term. Frank brought it into my world, which was brought to his world by his homie, Murph, who was a good friend of his since childhood. Maybe talk about how Murph brought it to you since I’m a derivative.
Our cold open is our buddy Murph explaining a little bit about what A Message to Garcia meant to him. Murph, his arc and story, which is relevant, was a natural-born leader. He was one of our team captains in high school football. He wanted to go the military route out of high school, so he enlisted and went to Parris Island. He was an enlisted Marine. If you don’t know anything about that, it’s the bottom of the rung. They bark at you and you have to survive and figure it out. He was exposed to A Message to Garcia there. Because he’s a leader and he’s talented with people, he was moved from enlisted and they had him go to the Naval Academy, which is no small feat. He then went back in as an officer.
A Message to Garcia is something that he was exposed to probably in 1992 or 1993 when he was quite young. He exposed me to it in the late ‘90s, early 2000s when I was managing. I was frustrated talking about building houses and project managing. He goes, “You got to read A Message to Garcia. You’ve got to tell people to go deliver the message to Garcia.” When I read something from Mark Twain or something that’s 120 something years old, I don’t get it. It’s hard for me to understand it. I got the general gist but it’s written in a somewhat different way. As I got older, I embraced it. We’ll talk about the arc of the article. That’s how it came to me, it’s from a lifetime friend who understands the frustrations of managing people and who was in the military. This was pretty common.
Before we get much further, what is Murph’s full real name?
Can I tell a funny story?
What is Murph’s name?
Murph’s name is Murph. It’s a nickname that came about in high school. His last name is McCarthy but in high school, what they would do is they put a piece of tape on the exterior of your helmet and that would be your name. That’s how they knew who you were. McCarthy was on a piece of tape but Murph led with his head. His piece of the tape got beat up fast and by the time the head coach knew who he was it didn’t say McCarthy anymore and you would never ask anyone for another piece of tape. Back then you wouldn’t have said, “I’m going to get a message to Garcia.” Get the piece of tape, get the marker, and put it on your helmet. You left it alone in fear of pissing off your high school football coach. McCarthy became Murph in high school.
The coach, when he would see the tape, would see Murph.
The rest of it was gone. The funniest thing about this story is we went to weightlifting and the coach would go down the roll. It was a summer session. You’re supposed to go there. It’s part of the school. You’re enrolled in summer school. He’s going to his class every single day and our gym teacher or coach didn’t read anyone’s names and he took the role. Murph comes home from school one day and his dad’s like, “What are you doing?” He’s like, “I had my day. I went to work out. I did this and went do that.”
His dad’s like, “I’m going to ask you again, what did you do today?” He goes through the whole thing, “I went to school. I weight lifted.” His dad goes, “I’ve got this letter here. It says that you haven’t been there for one day. What the hell?” He’s like, “That can’t be right.” Murph goes in the next day and goes and talks to our head football coach and he goes, “Coach, you’re marking me absent.” The coach goes, “What’s your name?” He’s like, “McCarthy.” The coach goes, “Why the hell have I been calling you Murph?”
The beauty of all this is Frank has never called him by McCarthy. It’s Murph when he talks about his friend Murph. I’ve met Murph multiple times. All I called him was Murph. He goes by Murph by everyone around him. Everyone calls him Murph. That’s it. Told that story for years after meeting Murph that his name wasn’t Murph.
Everybody knows him as Murph. If you go anywhere in the military, anything around Annapolis, anything, it’s like, “I went to high school and Murph.” “You know Murph?” Murph is world-famous. Murph is funny. One of our friends who went to Michigan mimicked him. He was in a bar and the guy’s like, “My name is Murph.” They’re like, “Holy crap. We know this other guy who used to mimic you.” He’s world-famous.
Frank shared this with me in a similar fashion. He caught me on a bad day where, as a manager, I’m grumbling about people not doing their jobs. Do I have to spoon-feed everything? He’s like, “I’m going to send you something that Murph sent me.” I remember reading it and it was written in such a tone that is smartass and sarcastic that I fell in love with it immediately because it hits at an undertone that many managers feel, which is, “I hired you. Do your job. Quit coming back and asking me questions.” I was probably 35 when I read this thing and I remember thinking, “Some old man must have written this.” It’s written like a, “Get off of my lawn,” type of old dude grumbling about kids these days. It’s hilarious. I looked it up and the dude was 43 when he wrote it.
He was an old soul, Ian.
Frank and I, who think we are much younger than we are. A pretty interesting fact, Elbert Hubbard is the guy that wrote it. Hubbard was born in 1850-something. He was a writer and a journalist. He did other things. He was in business. Interestingly enough, he considered himself an anarchist and a socialist. After he wrote A Message to Garcia, he was mocked by the socialist press. They called him a sellout. He didn’t mean for it to come across that way but it’s a decidedly pro-business memo. Fascinatingly enough, business articles were written that this was this pro-business champion, Elbert Hubbard, who had been a self-proclaimed anarchist and socialist, who was kicked out of socialist circles.
What’s interesting is he turned on the Socialist Party after this because they all kicked him out, so he leaned in all on it to where he got to a point where he said things like prisons are an example of a socialist paradise where equality prevails, everything is supplied and competition is eliminated. I don’t think he meant for that to happen when he wrote A Message to Garcia. It so happens that every businessman in the country who read it was like, “Yes, someone finally gets it,” but they didn’t look up the fact that this guy wrote for a socialist magazine most of the time.
What is hysterical about this, as we talked about the protagonists in our episode about The Limelight Effect, was the psychologist who is the most famous for something. His piece of work that he worked his entire career to justify it wasn’t that great and Hubbard’s the same way. His biggest piece of work was in contrast to everything that he deeply believes in.
There’s so much irony in this guy’s life. One of the things that Hubbard wrote was a piece about the married couple on the Titanic that went down together. The wife was offered a spot on one of the lifeboats and didn’t take it and instead decided to go down with her husband. They died in the room. They were found in the room later. Three years after writing that, he went on a boat trip with his wife, the RMS Lusitania. That boat was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat. This happened in 1915.Sometimes, when you get a narrative in your head, it becomes something you live out. Click To Tweet
Someone on the boat, who escaped, later wrote about seeing Hubbard and his wife standing on the deck, arm in arm, and passed them by and was like, “Are you coming?” Hubbard was like, “It looks like they got us. It’s worse than I thought.” He saw him and his wife go into a room and close the door behind him and that’s how they died. Talk about irony, he died the exact way of that married couple on the Titanic that he had written about. He had written about what heroes they were and how they had a glorious death and died the same way. I find that piece of this little story to be fascinating.
I find it interesting that sometimes you get a narrative in your head and the narrative gets stuck in your head and it becomes a manifest destiny if you will. It becomes something that you live out. What’s hysterical to me, A Message to Garcia has become manifest destiny. It’s the same thing. People bark at people having no idea what it means, why it means something, or what it is. We’re going to get into that deeper as we progress through this. It’s the same thing.
My wife is a linguist. What 33she has taught me is when you communicate with people from different cultures or have different languages, you can’t use jargon. Jargon is an abbreviation. Instead of calling something $1, we call it a buck. As an example, the Brits call it a quid. People don’t know what that is in shorthand and many instances because it’s jargon. What you realize is A Message to Garcia is that. It’s been planted in people’s heads but, in a lot of instances, they don’t know what it is and we’re going to define that. If you want to not dictate and bark at someone, you can’t use jargon or things that are predestined. You have to define it.
It’s funny, Frank, as you’re saying this, I can’t get through an episode without using a baseball analogy. When you have two strikes in baseball, coaches often yell, “Shove in.” What that means is to get a little closer to the plate, so the outside corner pitch doesn’t beat you. There’s a lot of times a kid will stand there and look at the outside corner on strike three. Coaches yell, “Shove in.” For all of us coaches, the last time we played was high school baseball so we had already played another ten years than my little guys had played.
For the first two seasons of the Muckdogs, every time there are two strikes, you’d hear all of our coaches saying, “Shove in.” You hear parents yelling, “Shove in.” You hear it on the video. One time at practice, I said, “Do you guys ever hear us saying, ‘Shove in?’” All the kids nodded their heads and I said, “What does Shove in mean?” They all stare at me, look at me, and they’re like, “That means swing hard.” “Make sure you swing the next pitch because it could be strike three.” “That means load.” “That means don’t get beat by the curve.”
None of them had any idea that meant to get closer to the plate but we hadn’t stopped to think about a bunch of 8 and 9-year-olds who might not understand some jargon that we had spent our life being around watching and playing baseball. It’s the same with Murph, people are yelling, “Go get a message to Garcia.” For years, he’s like, “Alright. I’m going to do that.” As he’s getting ready to retire, he’s like, “There’s an actual essay about that? Shit. Give me that I want to read it.”
It’s like confronting your high school football coach who doesn’t call you the right name. In a lot of instances, we don’t want to look like idiots. Because of that, we assume we know. In many instances, we are assuming the absolute wrong thing.
The same thing would have happened to Murph if he would have said, “My name’s not Murph,” when he got yelled at for not blocking hard enough because the coach has already pissed as would have happened if he would have said, “What do you mean clean out my locker? What does that mean?” To his drill instructor yelling, “Get a message to Garcia.” He didn’t say anything. The irony in that is hilarious. How he got his name Murph is the same kid that went and cleaned his locker and didn’t know what A Message to Garcia was. In both cases, he didn’t question. A large part because high school football coaches are similar to drill instructors, there is no question. Even if what I said was ignorant and lacking context or instruction, don’t question me. Do what I’m saying.
It’s funny because you and I were talking about what I’m dealing with a 2.5-year-old and a 1-month-old. It’s a shit sandwich every single day at my house. It’s a carnival. It’s funny because I am willing to put up with my kid acting a certain way. He’s my kid and he is young but I would never allow him to do that to you, “Respect Mr. Matthews.” Those are things that we do. What we teach our children is respect for others. They question their parents but they don’t question other adults and because they’re willing to not question other adults in some instances, “Shove in,” you say, “Okay.” You don’t want to be rude and you don’t want to ask for clarity because you don’t want to think you’re dumb or you don’t want them to think that you’re not following the direction so you don’t say anything.
One of the best things that I’ve learned as an adult is how to come out and say, “I don’t know what you mean.” I’ve never been in the military. I probably would have done terrible there but in Corporate America, one of the things that were commented to me often is, “Frank will ask questions. Frank isn’t afraid to say he doesn’t know.” Because of that, I got further. I don’t know what you mean. I don’t know what that term means. I’m not sure. I don’t know. I did all the other work. I wasn’t showing up. At the same time, I was showing up with good questions and that’s the difference between the corporate world and the military. What we’re going to get into the broader context and the punchline of this is you need some level of guidance and some initiative. What’s the sweet spot?
There’s got to be some balance. We’re in the real estate industry. The real estate industry is loaded with jargon and loaded with acronyms. Look at a mortgage, Frank. It’s like its own language. You’re talking about FHA. What’s your DTI? What’s your LTV?
Ages of disclosures. It’s all kinds of stuff.
It’s brutal. We had to always be cognizant of that when we brought in new people. The problem is when you use a term that is insider information and you say it in a group, the reason why people don’t raise their hand is that in their head, they’re thinking, “Everyone else knows what that means but me. I’m the idiot here.” Murph didn’t say, “What’s A Message to Garcia,” because he assumed everyone else in the military knew what that meant and he was an idiot if he was the one asking. He should know those things. The truth is, a lot of times, that’s not the case if you say, “Can I stop you for a second. You said something. I didn’t know anything that you were talking about.”
It’s the same with my kids. They think every other of the twelve kids on this baseball team know what shove in means, “Me, I’m, the fool. I’m not about to raise my hand and say, ‘What’s that mean?’ Now, you’ve said it so many times to me and I’m nodding my head.” After it’s happened a few times, there’s zero chance you’re going to bring it out. It’s almost like you’ve been living a lie that you didn’t understand for so long.
We’ve gone into this. I’m putting you on the spot but I bet you’ll nail it. The way that you explain the difference between a feature and a benefit. Do you remember how you’ve done that before?
Yes. The feature is what? The benefit is so what?
That’s a lot of what we’re talking about here. What’s the difference between those two? We’re doing something different in our company now with the way we do our daily calls and we’re going department by department. The departments are giving a bunch of spewing. People are going to gloss over and it doesn’t come out to, what’s the benefit? What’s the so what? Why? If we’re going to get more organized and have a PO system and we’re going to focus on the cost per foot of our construction, what’s the benefit to the people in the company?
The benefit is we can pay a little bit more to buy an asset. It can create a deal where there isn’t a deal now. We can drive some margin. We might be able to promote somebody. There are all these little things but if you say, “We’re focused on this.” People don’t ask the follow-up question of why? What’s the benefit? What’s in it for me? That’s part of the conditioning that little kids certainly don’t have but even as adults, sometimes we nod our heads and we’re like, “Oh.” When you look at it, you’re like, “Is that person full shit or is there a reason for this? What are we marching into?”
Let’s talk about who Garcia is and who was getting the message. Let’s start with the historical accuracy of what the story is. The conflict between Spain and America is in the late 1800s. Cuba is getting pushed and pulled through this whole conflict. Eastern Cuba, Rebel Forces pushing back, the US Army trying to partner with them. There was a 41-year-old First Lieutenant by the name of Andrew Rowan. He was selected by the US Army to find General Garcia, the Commander of the Rebel Forces. Posing as a civilian, he got on a boat to Jamaica and got some help to get connected with the Cuban revolutionaries. He found a way to get ashore on a boat to get to Cuba, which was not possible for other American citizens at the time.
Supposedly, it took him eight days on horseback through the jungle, without a map, through the mountains. He finally finds this rebel. A rebel commander is not going to be posting his address. If you’re a rebel, they’re trying to kill you and find you, so you are hiding. Here’s a US Army Lieutenant posing as a civilian, riding around on a horseback through Cuba. When you think about the jungles of Cuba, you think about snakes, wild animals, the government is looking for you, and the military is looking for rebels wherever they can. There’s no map and no idea how to find Garcia but it was important for the US to communicate with Garcia and to see what was going on the ground floor with the rebels.
He finds Garcia. Garcia gives him a bunch of information. He gets the intel that he needs and he was supposed to stay with Garcia and communicate what was going on the ground floor. Here’s where it breaks a little bit from the message. What ended up happening is Garcia and Rowan both wanted to get some publicity out of this. He only stayed with him a little while and took another five-day horseback journey out back up through the North this time, found a little boat, got off, got on a steamer, and made their way back to Florida.Everyone needs some level of guidance and initiative. Click To Tweet
Rowan became a bit of a celebrity in America. What he did was break orders, which is wild. This whole story of A Message to Garcia of this guy who took orders and did what he was told. Rowan broke orders. He was supposed to stay with Garcia. Instead, he risked the entire mission to get off the island, get back, and break the news to the newspapers in America about what a hero he was that he had done all of these things. The more irony of this whole thing is the Message to Garcia, the myth of it is do what you’re told, find a way to get it done, and don’t ask questions. That’s what he did because he didn’t have a map. He couldn’t communicate with the US government and the army. He had a horse and he had to find Garcia. That’s the fascinating part of this.
What became of it is it’s a fable of doing what you’re told, following the chain of command, not asking questions, and putting the mission before yourself. What’s beautiful is it’s left out the second part of the story. As soon as he finished the mission, he broke all of his orders, self-promoted, broke it to the newspapers, and it would have got them court-martialed. The problem is the papers had already released it. In the American public’s view, Rowan was a hero. It got out and the Associated Press made this huge deal about it where he became this Buffalo Bill figure and they had no choice but to promote him and make an even bigger deal of this guy, Rowan. That’s the facts of the story.
Often, it’s the sizzle and it’s not the steak. What you remember long–term can often change. I want to have some fun with this. The most powerful person in the free world in 1899 took two weeks to get correspondence to and from a critical person in a war. Nowadays, we can do that in seconds and it’s probably a little garbled. There’s a little bit of fuzz or there’s a bad cell connection and we bitch about the fact that it’s not perfect conditions but it took two weeks back then. It shows you how disconnected the world was. Even in those times, you had to do things. It was two weeks between correspondences, so I thought that was interesting.
I got this from Murph. I reached out to Murph. I got some cool things from him, takeaways. This is what we should come into. There are two major takeaways when someone in the military hears, “Take the message to Garcia.” The first one is to take care of what you have to take care of and hide the bodies. Is that what we’re dealing with? Use the nuclear option. I don’t care. Get it done and bury everything else. The other side of it is if it comes up, it’s like, “This is not a moment for mentorship.” That was a direct quote, which I love. This is a moment of, “I’m going to give you direct action. You take it and go do it.”
In reality, nobody followed these rules and it’s a fable or a parable from the Bible. Who knows what the truth is? What was written down became something else and took on a life of its own and now it’s a lesson. Those are two of the major takeaways of, do I scorch the earth and say, “Screw it?” Think about that business? Am I willing to throw anything at this problem to get this piece of results? Do I have to rally the troops and pull people along and do our best but at the same time, not break all the rules?
This all comes out in the Associated Press and Rowan becomes a hero. Hubbard published his essay in the March 1899 issue of The Philistine.
It’s an awesome name for publication.
It’s a beautiful magazine. It went as viral as things could go back in 1899. It became a rallying cry for corporate executives. If you’ve not read it, google PDF Message to Garcia. It’s 2.5 pages. I find it to be compelling writing. The reason why it’s compelling is good writers write as if they know their readers. The reader that he’s trying to get to as a business owner, a manager, a corporate executive, a coach, a military Lieutenant, a leader of some kind in the military. It resonates with anyone who’s led people and at least had one lazy bastard who reported to you. Everyone always has one at the time who is not listening to you and you’re frustrated with and this resonates with anyone who’s ever had that.
The way I would say his audience is anybody who relies on the achievements of others to accomplish. All the things that you said a second ago, that is who this message is. If you’re a doer and a maker and you build something, this probably doesn’t resonate. If you work outside of yourself and achieve through others, this message is written for you.
Frank, I’m going to go ahead and read some of the juicy parts of the memo. I’m not going to read the whole memo but I’ll read you some bullets and direct quotes. McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia. Rowan took the letter and did not ask where he was at, “By the eternal, there is a man whose form should be cast and deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college in the land.” This hyperbole is unbelievable. By the eternal and yegads is something that you and I should say more.
We need to bring that back. The guy was 41 when he was writing this. It feels like he had a staff or a cane and he’s screaming.
He’s grumpy. “It is not book learning that young men need nor instruction about this or that but a stiffening of the vertebrae, which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies, do the thing, carry a Message to Garcia.”
Let’s have some fun with that. We talked about the similarities between people in the military and football coaches. Your football coaches said to you, “Stiffen the vertebrae.” “Get a sack up,” is another one they would have used in the ‘90s.
“Get a pair of balls.” That’s what my coach says.
That’s it. Stiffen the vertebrae is to be tough. “Get in there and pop your head in there.” That’s what they’re saying. In 1899, It was a lot less delicate world.
Hubbard goes on to describe the state of the American worker, “Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention. Dowdy indifference and halfhearted works seem the rule.” What a beautiful way with words of describing lazy bastards.
I need to give this to Sack. There’s no way he’s reading this but I need to mail him this letter.
Mail him the letter. This sounds like Jim ￼Sackler. There’s no doubt.
I’ll send it to him via carrier pigeon.
This is the attorney that Frank and I use. “You, reader, put this matter to a test. You are sitting now in your office and six clerks are within your call. Summon any one and make this request, ‘Please look in the encyclopedia make a brief memo for me concerning the life of Correggio?’ Will the clerk quietly say, ‘Yes sir,’ and go do the task? In your life, he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following, ‘Who was he? Which encyclopedia? Where is the encyclopedia? Was I hired for that? Don’t you mean Bismarck? What’s the matter with Charlie doing it? Is he dead? Is there any hurry? What do you want to know for?’”
You left out the best one, “Shan’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?”
Shan’t awfully sounds like, “Shat,” which makes me laugh more than shan’t.
Highbrow on this podcast.
This is Hubbard’s way of saying this is how most people are responding. No one does what they’re asked to do for an honest living. He goes on to say, “How valuable the person is, who will get a message to Garcia. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best. Those who can carry a message to Garcia. My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the boss is away, as well as when he is home. The man, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive without asking any idiotic questions. Civilization is one long anxious search for such individuals. Anything such a man asks will be granted. His kind is so rare that no employer can afford to let them go. The world cries out for such. He is needed and needed badly, the man who can carry a message to Garcia.” That is our cliff notes version of a 2.5-page memo that has become shorthand for doing the damn job in the military and certain aspects of the corporate culture.Often, it's the sizzle, not the steak. What you remember long-term can often change. Click To Tweet
When you read that out loud, what do you think of? Who are those people? Is it everybody in an organization? Is it certain people? I think of it very specifically, but I’ll ask you first. Who is that person in the organization?
They’re normally the person that I want to promote. There’s a quote that I just always love which is, “If you want something done right, give it to the busiest person in the office.” I love that quote because I’ve always felt like I was the busiest person in the office but I could always handle one more thing if asked. It also makes me think of the line, you interview every day for the next job, and by the time someone gets promoted they’ve already been doing the job for a while. When I hear that, I think there are very few people that are like this. On a regular basis, they do something that pleasantly surprises you.
You go to tell them to do something and they’re like, “I did that a couple of weeks ago. I’m way ahead of that. You want to see what I put? I built a spreadsheet for that. I already have a tool that I’ve been using.” Quietly under the table, they’re ahead of you most of the time. The other thing I think about is, they’re worth their weight in gold. They’re the worst person you could possibly lose in your organization because they’re thinking ahead of you most of the time.
There are two different people that I see that embody this role. My organization’s mid to high 30s at this point from an employee count. We’ve got different people who play this role in different departments. There’re a few people who play this role across the company that you can give a bunch of different tasks to. To Ian’s point, there’s usually a riser. There’s a young person who’s in the organization who’s reliable inside of their job and they’re going to get promoted. That’s awesome. Ian and I have embodied that at different points in our lives. We’ve gotten promoted. People embody that in my company, they get promoted.
There is also the person who you might not think of that’s like this as well. We had a production manager, Ryan Holmes. He was in that role for 13 or 14 years when he worked with me when I was running a division. He was a reliable person. He was great at doing that job. As long as he wanted that job, he would have it because he would just get stuff done. Instead of having a huge upward arc, this person was very happy in the role they were in. They were incredibly reliable. They could get things done. They could also mentor, teach, and coach. If push came to shove, you knew you can call this person and they would get it done.
I think depending on where you are in your career, if you are a career person, and you’re thinking, “I want a job and I want to be here.” If you have a skillset where you could be called upon and you deliver always, you will always be employed. If you are someone who wants to be promoted, if you have that same skillset inside of your lane and you’re great at something, you will find yourself getting promoted because you are so relied upon there. To Ian’s point, the busiest person is people who have more capacity. That’s what I’ve always seen.
When I started with GE, it was a two-year leadership program and there were four six-month rotations you were supposed to go on. I was supposed to be in a different city. I would move cities every time. Talk about corporate excess. It’s a lot of money. I don’t think we can do that in a world of COVID and everything else but it was going to be Atlanta, Houston, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Four different six-month stops. For the most part, most of these stops were shadowing. They weren’t even productive sessions. It was like a two-year MBA of being around the business and if you’re around the business, you are going to learn. I thought that was ridiculous.
I spent 1.5 months where I probably visited with 30 salespeople around the country. I had an unlimited budget to fly wherever I want and go see customers. I remember thinking, “I can’t do this for two years. I can’t sit and watch for two years while other people sell.” I came back to Atlanta after visiting so many people and I talked to one of the local sales reps and I said, “Do you have a list of customers you’re not calling on that you wish you were?” He was like, “Of course. There’re always people I wish I was getting to.” I’m like, “Would you mind if I called on them? I’ll give you credit for any of it. I’m not on a commission.” He’s like, “Sure.” He gave me this binder or book and I started calling on people.
This is two months into working for the company. My boss had no idea I was doing it but I would do it when I had free time. I started getting the local sales guy appointments and then he started getting some orders out of it. One day, five months later, when I was getting ready for the end of my rotation, that sales rep went to the manager and said, “How do we keep him in Atlanta?” He was like, “It doesn’t work that way. Next, he’s going to Indiana then Chicago. That’s part of his rotation.” They’re like, “We don’t want to lose him. He’s helped us build up a customer base of new customers.” My manager was like, “What are you talking about?” He goes, “Do you know how many customers Ian’s got us into? Do you know how many customers he calls a week?”
My manager had no idea I was doing any of this because I was doing it to practice for myself. Part of me felt like I was a waste of money. That I wasn’t productive but I was cold calling. It was the best because I had nothing to lose. No one knew I was doing it so the first 100 that said, “Go to hell,” or didn’t call back. It was like, “No one knows I’m doing this. I’m not on a commission.” That’s an example of getting a message to Garcia. I was doing something without being told to do it that was productive and could help my manager’s team. He was so blown away by it. He was so appreciative that I was out there doing it and made a name for myself as someone with the initiative because the other twenty kids on the leadership program shadowed. That’s all they did. They did what they’re told and nothing more, nothing additional.
Most of the people who are reading this are either managers or business owners. How do you find people? You want people like this on your team. You want people who take initiative and Ian’s story is the essence of what the message to Garcia is all about. It’s someone who doesn’t need to do something that feels the need to do it because they’re compelled. My internship story, I thought the coolest thing about it is when I left to go back to college and labor replaced me with two people. I felt pretty good about that. I use that in job interviews and told people, they’re like, “Are you any good at this?” I’m like, “I don’t know but when I went back to college, they replaced me with two people.”
How do you promote yourself in an interview and show those things? How do you get a story out of somebody that shows the essence of, this person will roll up their sleeves and do what it takes? That’s what I heard in your story, Ian. It’s so important to find that with people that come to work for me or an organization. You want to build your lineup. The Garcia guy, his name comes up a lot, but it’s Rowan who’s the hero of the story. You got to find the Rowan’s. How do you find someone that goes and does it?
You have to also realize when it’s time for Rowan to get a new opportunity. If Rowan’s been doing the same thing over and over and getting tired of constantly pulling miracles out of their rear end, it might be time for something new and fresh or they can be challenged in a different way. That’s up to you as a manager and a leader but finding those kinds of people is critical. Unearthing those stories is critical and then giving them the ability and the runway to flourish.
A number of things you asked that in a question, Frank, so I’ll try to answer it a little bit from a perspective of hiring and finding. It’s the same as if you are trying to promote yourself and finding a job. I like to find people by saying, “Tell me about something you’ve created.” It might be a side gig that you started for yourself. It might be a side business that you did, even if it didn’t make a lot of money but you started something locally. You started a school newspaper that didn’t exist before you came along or a website or a blog or you found a way to make money on eBay. I love stories about people that worked for small business owners who trusted them with the shops.
I’m thinking of a kid we hired in Richmond who worked for a small business owner who owned a tool shop. He had a tool shop and a garden equipment place. Over time he grew to trust this high school kid to open the shop and close it at night. He would take week-long vacations and trust him to run the shop while he was gone. To me, that’s a message to Garcia. If I feel so comfortable with you as a high school kid or I can take a vacation with my wife and you’re running the shop and making all the decisions while I’m gone. That’s customer rebates and customers frustrated. That’s calling to get a warranty issue fixed. Getting the stock shelved. That’s not calling me 40 times a day and he ended up being an incredible hire. He was like that when he came to work for us. He was a message to Garcia kind of kid.
When did you have a boss who trusted you and gave you full autonomy to run the business and certain areas of the business? Even if it was a landscaping business or something where he just gave you a certain segment of his customer base. Those are all areas where if you’re looking to hire, look for stories like that. Where you took initiative, you took something on, or you own something. Tell me about a time where you created something in your company and you weren’t asked to do it and you had no direction. You might come up and say, “I told my boss we need some interns and I created an internship program. I went and hired them. I led them and I put the program together. It’s still around today.” Those are things I look for as a hiring manager and those are things that if you were trying to find a better career, that you should highlight if you’ve done some of those things.My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the boss is away, as well as when he is home. Click To Tweet
I agree. As an interviewer, if I can do it, you can do it, but how do you get people to tell you these things? Because there are certain people who are going to volunteer them and there’re certain people who don’t know if, in an interview, they should. I’ve got a couple of methods where I drive at it, but how do you drive those stories out of people if they’re not volunteering them?
“Tell me something that your manager trusted you with that he didn’t trust the rest of the team with.” I love that. Take your Outback Steakhouse experience. I will guarantee you that the manager of your restaurants gave you much more rope to go do things and make decisions after working with you for a few summers than he did on your first week. You were a great employee at Outback and we have talked about Outback in every episode, but you were trusted even as a kid to do some things that the other kids weren’t trusted to do. It might’ve been inventory, finances, locking, and closing the doors. There were certain things that you were given responsibility for. I like to ask questions like, “Tell me about responsibilities you had, that your peers were not given the same responsibility or the same trust.” If you can’t answer that, you’re probably not a person that gets a message to Garcia. If you can’t answer that in any place you’ve ever worked.
I’ll ask, “Where did you find yourself with opportunity or with chances or being entrusted with things that others in your role weren’t?” Back to Outback, we were given the keys early in the morning at sixteen years old. That wasn’t normal. We were asked to do things after hours to help the store which wasn’t normal. We were easily given responsibilities. If I think of myself in the role of the project manager and a costing manager, I didn’t do much costing. I did a ton of college recruiting. They knew I was good at that. They gave me 3 or 4 things that I would work on until like 10:00 PM, 11:00 PM, 12:00 AM sometimes. I would get those things done and then I would hit the road or do it from the hotel room on the college campuses.
Those are little things, but what you want to pull out of someone sitting in front of you is where they were distinguished? Where did they have an opportunity? Where did someone lean on them? Where did you act older than you are? You can pull these stories from a hundred places. My wife is an awesome example of this. Her sister was going off to college and was incredibly nervous and had her mom with her. The same weekend, my wife went to New York City, flew there, took a subway, and just had an address and did it alone. That’s someone that you can say, “Go figure this out,” and she figured it out. Could you get a couple of stories out of people like that? Once you know that you think you’ve got this in somebody, when do you demonstrate, “I do trust you, go handle this.” That’s the arc.
Also, “Tell me about something that was broken that your manager asked you to fix with little direction.” That’s a great question to ask. I think about myself at NVR, for about five years, almost every year I was given a new office that was broken, almost every single year. It got to be a running joke where I would say to my manager, “Are you going to keep complaining about this office or you want me to get down there and fix it?” After so much complaining you complain, I would say, “Do you want me to go down to Charlotte and fix it or do you want to keep complaining to me?” He wouldn’t get in my hair. He would say, “Just go fix it. Whatever resources you need. I’m sure you’ll make good decisions.” Once that was fixed, it was like, “You’re going to go fix Florida?” “I’ll go fix Florida.” “What about Baltimore? Can you fix Baltimore?” You have to be able to articulate that. You’ve got to a place with your manager where your manager says, “Please go fix.”
Let’s pivot this to the other side of the equation. Let’s say you are a manager and you have someone with you that is capable of doing these things. You must give them the opportunity to do it over and over again or they will get bored and they will quit. It’s easier to manage someone who doesn’t have this skill set. It’s easier to keep them under your thumb and to keep managing them and keep following up but if you’ve got someone who takes the reins and runs with them, you need to continue to give that person opportunity.
You have to be very mindful of, “How do I not allow this person to get stale or stagnant? How do I give this person more opportunity? How do I give them more rope? How do I continue to entice them and engage them?” That’s the PhD level of management. You realize, “These are the group of people currently who need a lot of management. This is the person who needs less than I need to manage each group differently.”
It’s fascinating you’re talking about this cause I’m thinking about myself as you’re talking. I kept getting a new office but by the time at the end of NVR when I left, there were no more offices to give me. Every office reported to me. I had regionals under me. It was like, “Solved.” I got good regionals. They’re handling it and I got good offices. There were no more offices to give me and I was bored out of my mind. I’m hanging around here to collect big paychecks and I’m not interested.
That point you just mentioned, if you have someone good at fixing things you have to keep giving them new things to go solve. It’s all Pavlov’s dog for me. I had gotten used to every year there’s something new. Some new challenge and then all of a sudden, nothing new. There’s nothing broken for me to keep going and fixing. That was my time to leave. That’s the way that worked. The pros of this when you read it, if you’re taking away the good in it and you get cut through the sarcasm, what Hubbard’s talking about is you want to be a resourceful person. You want to be an autonomous person. You don’t want to burden your manager with a bunch of meaningless questions. Questions that you could go find on your own with a Google search or by reading the actual policies already in place or talking to someone underneath your manager who may be as closer to it. You want people with an unwavering commitment to the mission.
I have another story that I used to tell on this. Florida was a broken office that I had to get involved in. On top of it, as soon as I got involved, we lost 2 of our 4 salespeople. Our four weren’t good and two left. One of them I had to fire because he was signing loan applications for customers. He was committing fraud. I had to go down there and fire him and he had the biggest pipeline of customers. I came back and we had a loan officer in Richmond who was super talented and not that busy. A perfect example. She had told us before that she wanted to go to Florida one day. She wanted to move there with her husband. I came down, I got on the phone with her, I said, “I need help. I need you to go to Florida. I need you to fix it. I need you to clear everything up that you can. I need you to do it without me being there because I’m also managing a whole bunch of other offices. I’m not going to be able to give you a lot of direction. Go down there, get involved, fix it.”
That’s what she did. She went down there. I would check in with her once a week. I knew she was going through this shit. I knew it was terrible for her and she wouldn’t burden me with that. I would talk to her be like, “Are you okay?” She’d be like, “It’s a lot.” She took on 100 customers. She had to make the divisions happier. Six months later, she got me a bridge where we hired three more salespeople. We have a process in place. She won them over. She came back to Richmond. We promoted her a month later in Richmond to a management job. I always talked about that with her, that she was that person that took very little guidance. She knew me well. She knew what I wanted to get done there but she didn’t need me to hold her hand the whole time.
On the opposite of that spectrum, my sister bought a ride home while Ian was still in charge of the mortgage. She called me up very frustrated. She’s like, “My loan officer hasn’t called me back. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to disappoint Ian. I don’t want him to see that I’m going outside. How do I handle this?” I waited until Ian had a couple of cocktails.
You waited until I flew out to California to hang out with you to tell me this.
It was like 11:00 PM Eastern time. Ian stepped away, a friend of mine and I both looked at my sister like, “I feel like that loan’s going to take care of itself.”
She got a daily update on what was going on after that.
She got a pretty good rate. Having people like that is critical in your business and it’s also important to feed it. You need to realize that. In a bigger culture or a bigger company, like Ian with NVR, Ian had the autonomy to be able to move someone to a different market. You get to test them out, see if they’re any good, give them an opportunity. It feels like a quasi-promotion without it. In a small business, I’m dealing with this, I’m rewriting someone’s role. I’m rewriting what the role is because the person’s done the jobs and they’re rowing. If I don’t want to lose them, I’ve got to think through, “How do I set this up where I can keep a talented person engaged and continue to give them challenges and not burden them with some of this other stuff?” That comes down to being a good leader.
I would challenge you, dear reader. If you have someone who works for you, who you’re afraid you’re going to lose, figure out how not to. Figure out how to utilize their skills, challenge them, empower them, and how to give them these things. Ian, you were on a rope at NVR. I ready to go. We were both there but if there was some other job where there were hurdles and challenges, if they would have given that to you maybe 1.5 years earlier like, “We’re going to utilize your skillset. We can keep it fresh. We can give you something new.” You might not have checked out. You may have had the ability to say, “I would like to try this challenge.” You might have still but the chances are more likely you wouldn’t have.
If you have a Rowan understand that he needs to feel ownership and needs to put their stamp on something. They need autonomy. They don’t need you telling them how to do something. They just need to know your what. What do you want? What do you want to accomplish? They need to be able to feel creative. Someone who gets a message to Garcia, the reason they’re not coming back to you is because they’re confident in themselves and they don’t think your way is the best way. They believe in themselves enough to go through it. There are some cons of this message as well. Obviously, it’s sarcastic. I would always talk with Millennials about this and a lot of them would be put off by some of the language and the way it was talked about.
It was written in 1899 so obviously, it’s going to be written in a condescending approach but there are risks to people who blindly accept a mission without asking any questions. I certainly didn’t like someone working for me that if they didn’t believe in what I asked them to do wouldn’t stop and say, “I’ve got some questions to ask here. There’re some unintended consequences, Ian, that you’re not thinking about of what you’re asking me to do.” By all means, I want someone to do that. The message to Garcia can be construed as, “Don’t ever ask questions. Leadership is always right. You’re always wrong.” That’s a little bit of the military mindset that some people just wanted to be heard and didn’t care what was right. When you say that the mission is all that matters and completing it is all that matters without thinking about unintended consequences and pushing back a little bit. It can be dangerous for an organization cause that’s when you get into groupthink and groupthink is miserable on an organization.
I don’t think that this works blindly in the 21st century, in corporate America, or in the private sector. I think in the military it still works. In communist Russia or communist China, it probably still works or socialists, now they’re calling themselves. The moral of the story is, with hierarchy and demand and managing people in a way that you do not want them to think it works. What you want is you want to teach. Here’s the best thing you can possibly do with an employee. Give them very clear directives. “Here’s what your job description is. Here’s what I expect. I’m going to train you, show you what to do. If you display confidence or competence, I’m going to let you do it.” That person takes it further and does things that anticipate your needs. That is the dream sequence.
Even in the military, they want adaptive agile leaders. You think about this, I can see why this would resonate. You’ve got someone in Afghanistan, you’re cut off on communications. You need people that can get something done. The military also wants you to push back and say, “Is this really the mission we should be doing? Should we be going to this house? Do we need to be in that hotspot?” That saves lives. A commander who’s in some command posts in America and is not there telling you to do something and is not boots on the ground, might not understand that this could get a bunch of people killed. I think the military would want someone who pushes back a little bit and says, “You might not have all the information. Let me share something. Is this really what we should be doing?” It’s the same in business. I know I never want to be the emperor with no clothes that no one’s telling me this is a dumb idea. I’m sure you’re probably the same way as well.
For sure. I would like to think I’m open-minded and can listen to these things. On the con side, I would just think you got to be careful to expect people to march blindly or act blindly and just march forward yourself. It’s not 21st-century thinking. It isn’t sustainable in today’s market. It took fourteen days to get a message there. We could send a text message and you’d have it in 40 seconds now. It’s a little bit different, but the theme is this. The other thing I’ll close with as we get into this is, this became required reading for Ian and me both and then we had people who work with us read it. There was a period of my life where I was pissed off and I had the right people working here and I left. I was angry about something not getting done and I left the message to Garcia.
I left a bunch of them in an area that was kind of public. This is before Corona with people coming in the office all the time. It just sat there and nobody picked it up. I mentioned it, but nobody really picked it up and read it. I ended up getting into a conversation with somebody who was supposed to help steer the group and set the tone. This person doesn’t work here anymore. I was like, “I love that article. I love the message of just go get it done.” Her reply to me was, “I could see you liking that but my name’s on the door and I got to pick who gets to be on the seats and who doesn’t.” I like people who hold others accountable for that. I liked the theme of that. I like to know that the lowest person on the totem pole can be relied on just like the people at the top. I feel like if you have an organization that’s built that way, you have people that don’t let each other down and you build a real team and a culture.If you want something done right, give it to the busiest person in the office. Click To Tweet
That’s a fantastic wrap-up. I’m very proud of you for that wrap and thank you to Murph. This was your episode.
It was so fun to talk to him about this and get prepped. Fun stuff. He had all kinds of parenting nuggets that maybe we’ll use at another point in time.
Murph should make a regular stop on this podcast. I think our readers would enjoy a regular stop-in from the old Murph.
One of the lines that I wanted to get in here that I was remiss in doing is from Michael Clayton. It’s like, “You have a niche.” That’s the kind of guy who fits in with Rowan.
Beautiful. Way to get a message to Garcia, Frank.
We did a good job here.
We delivered. Not on horseback, but we made it happen.