General Ann Dunwoody | A Higher Standard (Episode 650)

General Ann Dunwoody (@AnnDunwoody) grew up as an Army brat in a family with four generations of West Pointers, became the first female four-star general in the US, and is the author of A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General.

“Good leaders never stop learning.” -General Ann Dunwoody

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Why it’s important to never walk by a mistake — unless you want to set a new, lower standard.
  • Why keeping a higher standard is not just personally gratifying, but economically viable.
  • Why good leaders aren’t invincible — and don’t try to be.
  • How to leverage advocates and attractors for the benefit of all.
  • What organizations lose by ignoring the power of diversity — and why it’s not just “a PC thing.”
  • And so much more…


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(Download Transcript Here)

Roadblocks, obstacles, and people willing to help exist in every profession and in every environment. Just ask today’s guest General Ann Dunwoody, who learned how to expertly handle all of the above on the road to becoming the first female four-star general in the US.

She joins us today to share leadership lessons from her book A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

More About This Show

General Ann Dunwoody, the first female four-star general in the US, never wanted to write a book. But at the insistence of those around her who assumed that she, as a woman in the male-dominated military, had to fight, claw, and scratch her way to the top, she felt she needed to tell the real story — the story that was far different from the one everyone mistakenly assumed. That’s how A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General came about.

“My experience was more about leadership than gender,” says General Dunwoody. I felt like I had to tell my story because people naturally assumed that in this male-dominated profession, that’s how you get ahead — fighting, clawing, scratching your way up to the top. And so I set out to write about leadership — not a diary, not a memoir, not a biography, but about the leadership lessons that I think worked for me in hopes that they would work for others.”

She insists it’s not a prescription or a recipe for leadership, but a series of guidelines that happened to work for her — from her enlistment in the Army in 1975 all the way to her retirement in 2012. Of primary importance over the incidence of gender: being fair and being professional.

“You don’t have to lose your feminism to be a good leader,” says General Dunwoody, “but you also don’t have to use your feminism to be a good leader. You need to be fair [and] professional.”

While she went into her career under the impression she’d have to work harder than the men around her if she wanted to get ahead, what she discovered was that the leaders she respected held themselves to a higher standard and led by example.

“Good leaders do that — male, female, you name it — they set the standard, they walk the talk, and they encourage their subordinates to exceed the standard,” says General Dunwoody.

Coming from a family with four generations of West Pointers going back to the Civil War, General Dunwoody learned valuable lessons not only from her medal-laden father — a veteran of three wars — but her homemaker mother.

“The traits that my mother had,” she says, “the empathy, the care and the compassion, the optimism — you can do anything — and if I could be more like her, I would probably be a better person and a better soldier and a better officer. Not that I didn’t want to emulate my dad; I just learned another side. It seems easy to be the mom at home, but it’s not easy to be the mom at home when you’re raising five kids — when your husband’s off fighting wars.”

Early on, a platoon sergeant named Wendell Bowen instilled a cornerstone concept that General Dunwoody passes along to this day: never walk by a mistake.

“If you see something wrong and you don’t correct it, then you just set a new, lower standard,” she says. “It could be something as simple as seeing a soldier walking down the street in uniform with his hands in his pockets or not wearing his headgear and you make an on-the-spot correction. If you ignore it, and he sees you, that behavior [becomes] okay. But it could be something more serious like not maintaining your combat equipment to standard…you don’t maintain your weapon to standard in training, it could result in a malfunction. In war, it could lead to a fatality.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm to learn more about how to call out mistakes without causing a scene, why good leaders aren’t invincible — and don’t try to be, what organizations risk by ignoring the power of diversity — and why it’s not just “a PC thing,” how to leverage advocates and attractors for the benefit of all, how we can makes believers out of non-believers and detractors, why being an advocate for others is just as important as having our own advocates, what being a “door-kicker” means, and lots more.


If you enjoyed this session with General Ann Dunwoody, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank General Ann Dunwoody at Twitter!

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Jordan Harbinger - author of 702 posts on The Art of Charm

Jordan Harbinger has spent several years abroad in Europe and the developing world, including South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, and speaks several languages. He has also worked for various governments and NGOs overseas, traveled through war zones, and been kidnapped -- twice. He’ll tell you the only reason he’s still alive and kicking is because of his ability to talk his way into (and out of) just about any type of situation. Here at The Art of Charm, Jordan shares that experience, and the system borne as a result, with students and clients.


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