“Go Army, Beat Navy!”
Every year during my days as a young cadet, we chanted this battle cry for an entire week leading up to the annual Army-Navy football game. All 4,000+ cadets focused our efforts to support our football team every December, as this legendary game was the culmination point of our age-old rivalry with the Naval Academy.
Though we won once in 2001 during my time as a cadet, Army had lost every year since then, for the next 14 years – which became the longest Army losing streak in history. Of course this was a terrible blow to the spirit and pride of every Army Athletics fan, but for me and a number of other grads, each year’s game was a sore moment quickly forgotten the next day, as we all continued with our daily routines the morning after. After all, it was just a football game, and we all had our lives to live.
But for Lieutenant General Robert Caslen Jr., he had a different mind-set and philosophy when he took over as the 59th Superintendent of the United States Military Academy in 2013.
If you don’t know Robert Caslen, you should. Lt. Gen. Caslen is a 1975 West Point graduate who recently retired from the Army as a three-star general, after 43 years of military service. He is the epitome of a leader of character; his last five years in the Army (2013-2018) was as the Superintendent of the United States Military and due to his devotion and stellar reputation, the cadets gave him the endearing nickname of “Supe Daddy.”
Lt. Gen. Caslen was invited as the keynote speaker at the Philadelphia Founder’s Day dinner this past Saturday (3/16), where he briefly spoke of his time as Superintendent and his dedication to the mission of building the “preeminent leader development institution in the world.” I, along with my amazing new friends sitting on Table 15 (from the Class of ’97) had the privilege of listening in on his message that evening.
Caslen initially spoke of how he observed diversity to strengthen the Army and the nation, throughout his career. Then, he recalled about how he felt of the Army football program when he arrived to West Point. He explained that because the Army-Navy rivalry was one of the oldest college football rivalries in America, this particular tradition commanded the audience of the entire country. The actions and results of this game reflected how millions of Americans viewed not just the Service Academies, but also the military services of our nation.
To have such a losing streak on this stage indicated a culture of mediocrity – that being “okay” was acceptable because it was just a game. But Lt. Gen. Caslen firmly reminded us that there is no room for mediocrity in the pursuit of excellence, and West Point was to be known as the leader development center that instilled this spirit of excellence in all aspects of academics, athletics, military training, and moral-ethical development.
Caslen explained that in his quest to build this culture, he focused on building character development as a fourth pillar to a cadet’s foundation of success, in addition to the traditional academic, physical, and military dimensions. With this vision, Caslen hired Coach Jeff Monken to turn around the losing mind-set of the football team, and Army finally broke its losing streak in 2016! And we won the last three Army-Navy football games!
As business leaders and individuals, if we choose to pursue excellence in our professions, it should also be reflected in Every. Thing. We. Do. There is no room for mediocrity. This is only a crutch and can bring on a domino effect of a “good enough” culture in our work and lives, which can spread like cancer and seep into the very essence of your organization. This was what Caslen challenged and reversed, driving the necessity to start winning again, and forever cementing his legacy as the beloved “Supe Daddy.”