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Dare the Impossible – Achieve the Extraordinary.

Vol. 10, No. 5
(626) 350-1500 ext 102

©1998, 2013 William A. Cohen, PhD 

Two of the Most Outstanding Executive Promoters I Ever Met

Communication is the heart of good leadership, and the better communicator and promoter of your ideas and expectations to others, the better leader you will be. The two most outstanding promoters of their expectations were also two of the finest Air Force leaders it was my privilege to serve under during almost forty years in uniform. One of the most powerful examples of how to promote your expectations came from the four star general who was my Air Force boss when he commanded Air Education and Training Command (AETC). His name was General Henry “Butch” Viccellio. General Viccellio was responsible for most of the education and training in the Air Force. This begins with basic training for new airmen. It also includes flying training, technical training, and professional military education. Professional military education encompasses the NCO Academy, Officers Training School, ROTC, Squadron Officers School, Air Command and Staff School, and Air War College. Additional education including Masters and PhDs are offered at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. As a result the command is spread all over the United States, from California to Texas and from the state of Washington to Florida.

         You might think that someone like myself who had spent a lot of time teaching instructing others wouldn’t need much orientation to a command focused on education or training. The truth is, until my assignment to AETC, it was the first time I had been in the command since I completed flight training or had much experience except in flight instructing of various types since more than 30 years earlier.

The Top General was on the Schedule

General Viccellio suggested I might want to sit in the back of the room during a two-day course for new squadron commanders. “It will be the quickest way to get up to speed about what we’re doing,” he said. I re-arranged my schedule and got to Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas in time to attend the course.

I noticed that General Viccellio himself was on the schedule. That’s not unusual. Usually “the boss” kicks off all important conferences with a short introductory speech. Then, he disappears. Other briefers usually give the details. This was different. If I believed the schedule, he was going to speak to both the new commanders and their spouses for four hours regarding AETC and his expectations and vision for the command. I did not believe the schedule. I thought there must be some mistake. I overheard several of the attendees talking, and they thought the same thing. How wrong we were.

Along with the squadron commanders, and their spouses, both male and female, I sat riveted for four hours while this four-star, top commander, personally and dramatically told us where the command was going, why, and how it was going to get there. He was totally open, and answered questions on anything. He didn’t seem to mind being challenged either, if someone questioned his data. But he knew what he was talking about, and all doubts soon evaporated. It was one of the most impressive performances of a senior executive that I have ever watched. I know it was worth millions of dollars to the organization and the Air Force. Those new commanders, and their spouses, left that conference charged up. They knew exactly where they were headed and why. They knew exactly what their “big boss” expected from them. And, they knew it from “the big boss” themselves. If leaders of other organizations, in and out of the military, followed General Viccellio’s method of promoting their visions, they would find their followers much more enthusiastic about what the leader was trying to do, and there would be much less understanding.

The Top Air Force General, and another Top Flight “Promoter”

When General Ron Fogleman became Air Force Chief of Staff, he committed to visiting every single unit in the United States Air Force. With hundreds of worldwide locations, many in Eastern Europe and the Middle East in dangerous out-of the-way locations, he had set quite a task for himself. No Chief of Staff had even attempted this previously. He started in California at the Space and Missile System Center in Los Angeles. That in itself carried a message and an expectation, because General Fogleman had been a fighter pilot through most of his career. Among the space and missile people, there were few pilots, much less fighter pilots. Most of the people at the Space and Missile System Center were engineers.

General Fogleman spoke for more than an hour and declared his expectations. Included was that first and primary, all were members of the armed forces, and the U.S. Air Force. Only after that were we engineers, scientists, pilots, navigators, missileers, and other specialists.

General Fogleman continued to promote his message at units throughout the Air Force. Like some of his predecessors, he met with his generals separately. Unlike his predecessors, he met not only with his active duty generals, but with his Reserve and National Guard Generals as well. Again, part of the Fogleman message. We were all part of the total Air Force. No wonder that General Fogleman succeeded in reaching his expectations to such an extent.

Both of these generals were highly effective as promoters and highly effective and successful as generals and commanders. It makes little difference whether you wear a uniform or not, or at what level you lead. As a leader, you must be able to promote your ideas directly, and through others in order to get things done.

How to Become a Great Promoter of Your Ideas

Any leader can become a good, even a great, promoter of his or her ideas. Here are the keys:

  • Observe what successful leader-promoters do and do not do. Model their methods.
  • Read books on how to organize your ideas in speaking and follow the techniques you learn by preparing thoroughly before presenting your ideas.
  • Never turn down the opportunity to publicly speak about or promote your ideas. You cannot improve without practice.
  • Every time you promote, analyze your performance. We call this “lessons learned.” What did you do right and what did you do wrong?

Follow these guidelines and I guarantee you will improve and your ability to get your ideas across to others and to lead will be greatly enhanced.



“I have heard of men peculiarly endowed by nature to be a general, but I have never met one.”
– General William T. Sherman, U.S. Army


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