It was not a surprise that when I saw Ann Dunwoody, I was instantly impressed. Who would not be impressed with a four-star general? But after learning more about Gen. Dunwoody, I was also inspired.

I was at West Point for a leadership conference last October, and Gen. Ann Dunwoody was also at West Point to receive the Sylvanus Thayer Award, presented by the Military Academy to those whose outstanding service and accomplishments in the national interest represent West Point’s motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.” Gen. Dunwoody’s nearly 40-year military career is testament to her capabilities, marked by impressive achievements and numerous firsts including:

  • First woman to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division in 1992
  • First female general officer at Fort Bragg
  • First woman to command the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee

Since retiring from the Army in 2012, she has, (among other things!) authored a book, A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General, where she shares her thoughts on leadership, teamwork, and other related wisdom gained throughout her distinguished career serving our nation.

Her discussion of leadership values and the importance of demonstrating them continuously really resonated with me: make sure that people truly know what you stand for, and make sure they know because of the way you act and the things you do. I also loved her advice on the importance of minimizing a team member’s weakness and concentrating on using their strengths properly.

This is applicable to my daily work life. First, of course, our business is matching people’s strengths to the needs of our clients. Understanding strengths and weaknesses is a critical aspect of doing that successfully. I’m also in a leadership position at ATR and want to be the best leader I can be. Finally, I’m a team member too. I want to know how to do my best and support my colleagues so we can achieve our common goal.

I know how important it is and how hard it can be to create truly high-functioning teams. Hearing how General Dunwoody approached this challenge was inspiring because it was so applicable. There are obviously so many differences between her “business” and mine, it is laughable. She was in charge of tens of thousands of “staff” while We are a company of about 100, small by comparison! But in the end, working in the complicated, highly technical, 21st century military, she was guided by principles that any leader can and should employ. And I aspire to be one of those leaders.

I want to emulate Gen. Dunwoody in living by my principles and demonstrating them on a daily basis in the decisions I make and actions I take. I want to work with my colleagues and clients to help them realize their potential and succeed. Honestly, much of what I heard from Gen. Dunwoody will help make me a better person, not just a better worker or leader. It’s advice that can be applied to almost any situation.

Thanks to Gen. Dunwoody for generously sharing her principles for success. I encourage you all to read her book or learn more about this incredible woman.

Advice from Gen. Ann Dunwoody:

  1. Meeting the standard will always suffice if you want to be average or just get by. Exceeding the standard and living to a higher standard can lead to success and the achievement of your dreams.

  1. Believe in something! Believe in yourself, believe in a creed, believe in your passion.

  1. A hero is an everyday, ordinary person who has done something extraordinary. Honor them, praise them, and hope you will stand for what you believe in during a time of need.

  1. Be disciplined. Know what right looks like.

  1. Never walk by a mistake, or you just set a new lower standard!

  1. Invincibility is a myth. Recognize your strengths and your weaknesses. Optimize your strengths, and deal with and minimize your weaknesses.

  1. Don’t stop trying or fighting for what you believe in the first time someone tells you no.

  1. Don’t compromise your principles.

  1. People are always watching you. What you do sets the tone for others.

  1. Have the guts–courage–to do the right thing for the right reason.

  1. The best way to have healthy debates and find the ultimate solutions to very complex problems is to have the best and brightest group of people who can offer diverse perspectives on the issues. Be inclusive, not exclusive; embrace diversity, of thought in management and in key leadership teams.

  1. Build high-performing teams or organizations. Build a team that routinely does things in an outstanding manner.

  1. Provide a strategic vision. Visualize where you want your team to be in the future and then design a roadmap to get there. It is key that every individual in your organization understands how important he or she is to accomplishing the vision.

  1. Enjoy your job and make a difference. Some of the most difficult decisions we make in our lives center around deciding how long to stay, when to change, or when to leave. Don’t leave these decisions to someone else or to chance–make them your decisions.

  1. No one is indispensable. Succession planning is one of the most important actions senior leaders do. Set your team or organization up for success with a methodical transition plan for key leaders.

Who inspires you? Please let me know in the comments below or at I’d love to hear from you!

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