New York police officer Daniel Rodriguez sings the national anthem at the opening general session, which featured General Norman Schwarzkopf.
BOCA RATON, FL — Not often does one get the opportunity to hear General H. Norman Schwarzkopf in person. The same can be said of business guru Tom Peters, former Burger King ceo and now international speaker Barry Gibbons, U.S. Olympic gold medal wrestler Rulon Gardner, and syndicated columnist George Will.

Over the course of five days, more than 1,600 attendees of the 2002 Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) convention had the good fortune to listen and learn from these five speakers — not to mention many educational seminars stuffed in between.

“Taking Leadership to the Next Level” was the convention’s theme, and it certainly delivered.


A combination of music, words, visual remembrance, and special effects transformed the association’s traditional opening session into an inspiring celebration of the American spirit. It started with a musical tribute, Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” followed by a vibrant rendition of the national anthem by New York police officer Daniel Rodriguez.

Then Gen. Schwarzkopf was introduced by MCAA president Smitty G. Belcher. Schwarzkopf’s presentation was on leadership, a subject about which “everyone at this meeting is familiar,” he said.

“I really don’t believe in the concept of the born leader,” said Schwarzkopf. “The circumstances of your birth do not have anything whatsoever to do with your success as a leader.…There are no born leaders. Leaders start out as ordinary people who are put into extraordinary circumstances. And because they were able to rise to the challenge, they are forever fortunate to be called a great leader. But the circumstances of their birth had nothing whatsoever to do with it.”

To prove his point, Schwarzkopf talked about his two dogs, a 91-lb German shepherd named Ortho and an 18-lb wirehaired dachshund named Griz. The smaller dog is the leader in the Schwarzkopf household. “He never looked in the mirror,” joked Schwarzkopf. “Griz thinks he’s a 90-lb German shepherd.

“You are what you perceive yourself to be. That is what is important. So the first step in leadership is perceiving yourself to be a leader. If you do that, then you are well on your way to be a leader.”

He noted that being a manager does not necessarily mean you are a leader. “Leaders lead people,” he stressed. “Leadership is to inspire people to willingly do that what they would normally not do. That’s the challenge of leadership.”

Competency may be needed to provide leadership, but Schwarzkopf zeroed in on the need for character. “Leadership involves a sense of duty,” he said. “Leader-ship involves a value system. Leadership certainly involves integrity. Leadership even involves morality.”

Schwarzkopf noted a recent survey, which disclosed that 75% of workers today said they lie to their bosses. “That’s scary,” he said. “But what’s more scary is their reason for lying. Their answer? ‘Because our bosses lie to us all the time.’…The ethical climate of any organization is established by the leadership. Leader-ship has to lead by example. Therefore, whether they like it or not, they live in glass houses.

“People will pick their leaders and hope that their leaders are better human beings than they are.”

Leaders, he said, also “recognize a need for action, and then they make things happen. And then they take responsibility.…It’s not always easy.”

Schwarzkopf concluded that there are two rules to leadership, calling them Rule 13 and Rule 14. “The first is Rule 13: When placed in command, take charge,” he said. “Remember I said, ‘Why are leaders respected?’ They are respected because they recognize a need for action. They make things happen and they take responsibility.

“Rule 14: Do what’s right. Notice I didn’t say, do what you think makes you look good. I said, do what’s right. Here we are, right back to this character thing.

“Those are the two rules of 21st century leadership. I promise you, if you live your leadership role according to those two rules, you will be a great leader in the 21st century.”

Business guru Tom Peters said people development is what leadership is all about today.


Business management guru Tom Peters shared the 50 needed attributes of business leadership today, all designed to help contractors and owners survive in these fast-paced times. (For entire list, see page 21.)

He began his presentation by recalling the words of AOL founder Steve Case, who predicted, “There will be more confusion in the business world in the next decade than in any decade in history. And the current pace of change will only accelerate.”

“And he said that before the events of September 11,” said Peters, who walked amongst the crowd throughout most of his presentation. “The way human beings work together in the white-collar world is going to change pretty damn dramatically. It’s already starting to happen.”

Peters noted that Northern California is setting the pace of today’s business world, “because it has unleashed more entrepreneurial energy than any place on the face of the planet Earth outside of China.

“We have encouraged the crazies to be crazy,” is how Peters put it. “In a world that is rapidly changing as this one is, for those of you with gray hair — and I am one of you — we are fundamentally useless. The point being, with this Internet stuff and so on, we are discovering — or attempting to discover — an entirely new model for the way the world does its work.”

Even though Peters said he could do without a Palm Pilot, for instance, “the reality is, my 16-year-old son needs one.”

“Dads, why not turn your company over to your kids and enjoy your time at Boca Raton?” he asked. “We gray-hairs are useless. They are discovering new models for the way the world works, and it’s young people who can understand them. I may not know the next 15 technological trends, but I can tell you that the smart building of 2010 or 2020 is not the smart building of today.”

In regard to leadership, he noted that General Electric ceo Jack Welch never had a vision. However, what separates him from the rest is that he had “that magic, and that magic was the development of people.

“That’s what this thing [leadership] is all about,” he said. “It’s about people development. Who the hell cares if Coach X or Coach Y can do Xs and Os better than somebody else? It’s totally irrelevant if you don’t have a Kurt Warner or a Marshall Faulk backing you. So let’s not kid ourselves.”

Peters said that he has two Life magazine covers in his office: a 1933 cover showing Franklin Roosevelt, and a 1940 cover featuring Winston Churchill. He noted that neither leader was great in every aspect of life (“One of the worst economists that God has ever put on this Earth,” is how he described Roosevelt ), but each “made people excited.”

Roosevelt “made 150 million Americans believe that they could overcome fear,” said Peters. “As Britain was bombed, Mr. Churchill made 60 million Brits believe the sun would rise the next morning. That’s what leadership is all about.”

Barry Gibbons said leaders today have to be distinctive. "Your approach should be different than the rest," said the former ceo of Burger King.


Gibbons said leadership today is determined by new branding. Rather than being on par with the rest of the crowd, he said, leaders have to be distinctive.

“For 200 years, branding was all about the product,” he said. “Now it’s about pushing out a series of values. It’s not what you do or what you sell, but how you do it and how you deliver your services.”

Gibbons gave Peters some credit for his own definition of leadership. When he was ceo of Burger King, Gibbons asked Peters to come and inspire his executives. Before taking the stage, Peters informed Gibbons that he had visited a Burger King the night before. Gibbons feared the worst. Peters assured him that his visit was OK.

“And then [Peters] looked me in the eyes and said something that turned my approach to business upside down,” said Gibbons. “He said, ‘Ho-hum.’ Well, he didn’t actually. He said ‘Ho-something-hum.’ It involved an ‘f,’ but I can’t do that. I’ll call it ‘HFH.’

“We swim in an ocean of HFH today. Here’s the challenge for you: Start looking at what you do. Start concentrating on how you do it. Your approach should be different than the rest.”

The key, he said, is constantly reinventing yourself. “If you need to change, change. The key to reinvention is to do it before it is needed. You reinvent when you are at your peak.”

To start the reinventing process, he advised the audience to get inside their competitors’ heads. “You cannot work in a vacuum,” he said. “Figure them out. Try to find out where they are going. Learn from them.…Remember, nothing needs to be common. Nothing needs to be boring.”

Being distinctive, he said, takes guts. “You cannot be distinctive without taking risks,” he warned.

He said consumers today can be completely satisfied, very satisfied, satisfied, somewhat satisfied, or unsatisfied. As a business owner, you must try to provide customers with complete satisfaction. Anything else, he said, is neither acceptable nor distinctive.

Gibbons said employers need the help of employees. This means having trust in people, he said. “This takes courage, also,” he said. “But if you believe in people, they will believe in you. It’s a part of leadership.”

Gibbons concluded by wondering what brave soul was the first to milk a cow. “What the bloody hell was he thinking? It had to be a bet. And then he had to take it further by saying, ‘And whatever comes out, I’m going to drink it!’

“Start taking risks again,” he said. “Bring risk back into your business. It’s good for you.”


Prior to Gardner taking the stage, his gold medal Olympic performance over Russia’s three-time Olympic gold medallist Alexander Karelin was shown on screens inside the resort’s ballroom. The stunning victory earned Gardner another standing ovation as he walked onto the stage.

“I wanted to bring my gold medal to share with you, to show the hard work that I went through and the challenges I went through in my life,” he said. “But believing in myself, believing in my ability, just like MCAA, I believe in my dreams. I believe in the future that I can do anything I’d like to.”

Before leaving the stage, Olympic gold medal winner Rulon Gardner demonstrated some of his wrestling moves on outgoing MCAA president Smitty Belcher.
He encouraged the crowd to “never give up and never stop trying.” He provided the audience seven steps to be a better person, business owner, and leader:

1. Go back to the basics.
2. Turn negative into positive.
3. Aim high when you’re feeling low.
4. Enlist others.
5. Train hard.
6. Take care of business.
7. Don’t rest on your laurels.

“I use these seven steps to reach my goals, to make it to the Olympic team, to make it to the Olympic gold medal match, and then to go on and win the gold medal,” he said.

In regard to step 1, he said, “Back to the basics is the area where we develop character. Think about it. How did you accomplish something great in your life? By using character. Don’t think about what you accomplished, but how you accomplished it.”

In his dream to compete in the Olympics, Gardner said he built character by sticking to his plans. Growing up, he said had to overcome a learning disability, which pushed him even harder.

Naturally, Gardner came across people who thought he could never wrestle in the Olympics. That’s where step 2 comes into play. “Think about the people who told us we could not be successful. What did they tell us? ‘You can’t do it. You’re not good enough. You’re not smart enough.’ Did we listen to them? No. We turned that negative into a positive.”

Before graduating from high school, Gardner said the school counselor did not help him. He was told he would never go to college and would always work on his father’s Wyoming dairy farm. After earning an associate’s degree at a junior college in Idaho, he went to the University of Nebraska, but even then he was not given much support. According to Gardner, his advisor informed the wrestling coach that he would not last long at Nebraska “because he’s not good enough.”

“I took that challenge,” he said. “I turned that negative into a positive.”

Regarding step 3, he said, “It’s much easier to get into a downward spiral. You have to overcome the low points. You have to aim high. Challenge yourself every day.” The year 1979 defined his family, he said. Gardner’s brother died of a bone marrow disease and the family’s farm burned down. “My family did not give up. We aimed high when we felt low.”

When times are tough, that’s when you turn to step 4. Gardner said he enlisted the help of his parents, brothers and sisters, coaches, and teachers on his way to Sydney, Australia.

“When I got to Sydney, I had 16 family members with me,” he said. “I enlisted all the knowledge that they had. I used the support that they could give me. So no matter what I did in Sydney, if I won or lost, I would know that I did the best that I could.” Regarding step 5, there’s no getting around the necessity to train. “I trained 24 years of my life to make that Olympic team,” he said.

When defeats come, don’t let them affect you — turn to step 6. “I have to go out there and be prepared 100% every day,” said Gardner. “You have to take care of business and not let defeats put you down.”

Sidebar: Tom Peters’ Leadership 50

Here are the 50 qualities a business leader should have today, per Tom Peters:

1. Leadership is a mutual discovery process. Breaking that down, A) Leaders cede control (“It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know,’” said Peters) and B) Leaders try not to screw things up. (Peters quoted Peter Drucker, who said, “Ninety percent of what we call ‘management’ consists of making it difficult for people to get things done.”)
2. Great leaders on snorting steeds are important, but great developers (Type 1 leadership) are the bedrock of organizations that perform over the long haul. Breaking this down, he said great leading equals great mentoring.
3. Type 2 leadership is the power guru (“someone needs to take charge,” said Peters).
4. Find-the-business people (or Type 3 leadership). Peters called these people the “Inspired Profit Mechanic.”
5. Leaders make things happen.
6. Leaders are rarely or never the best performer.
7. Leaders show up. (“I need only one word: ‘Rudy,’” said Peters, referring to former New York mayor Rudy Giulliani.)
8. Leaders love the mess.
9. Leaders do!
10. The best leaders know when to wait.
11. Leaders are optimists.
12. Leaders are realists. They win through logistics.
13. Leaders focus.
14. Leaders set clear design specs.
15. Leaders send very clear signals about design specs.
16. Leaders trust in trust.
17. Leaders understand the ultimate power of relationships.
18. Leaders know women roar/women rule!
19. Leaders have to be innovative.
20. Leaders have to deliver.
21. Leaders honor the usurpers.
22. Leaders hang out with the freaks. (“If you are comfortable with your second-in-command, then you have a problem with your second-in-command,” explained Peters. “You need someone to challenge you.”)
23. Leaders make a lot of mistakes and make no bones about it. (“You must have a willingness to screw up, but then move on,” said Peters.)
24. Leaders make big mistakes.
25. Leaders create.
26. Leaders love new technology.
27. When it comes to talent, leaders always swing for the fences. (“Just remember this,” said Peters. “Some people are better than other people. And some people are a helluva lot better than other people.…That’s who you look for. Find them. Pay them. Keep them. Period.”)
28. Leaders don’t create followers; they create leaders.
29. Leaders win followers over.
30. Leaders believe in training.
31. Leaders manage their EBP (economic background proposition).
32. Leaders love rainbows. (Translation: Leaders need diversity. “Diversity defines the health and wealth of nations in a new century,” he said.)
33. Leaders show passion.
34. Leaders are dispensers of enthusiasm.
35. Leaders focus on the soft stuff.
36. Leaders know it’s all sales, all the time.
37. Leaders break a lot of china. (“If no one is mad at you, you are not changing the world,” said Peters.)
38. Leaders give respect.
39. Leaders say “Thank you.”
40. Leaders are graceful.
41. Leaders are curious.
42. Leadership is a performance.
43. Leaders are the brand.
44. Leaders have a great story.
45. Leaders must make change.
46. Leaders enjoy leading. Breaking this down, leaders know themselves and have mentors.
47. Leaders know, “It’s my fault.”
48. Leaders take breaks.
49. Leadership is the process of engaging people in creating a legacy of excellence.
50. Leaders know when to leave.

— Mark Skaer

Publication date: 03/18/2002