A Message to Garcia

The following essay is adapted from Elbert Hubbard’s 1899 essay “A Message to Garcia.”

In the history of the Spanish American War, there is one man that stands out on the horizon like the sun rising over the Atlantic.

When war broke out in 1898, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the insurgents in Cuba. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba — no one knew where. No mail nor telegraph message could reach him. The President had to secure his cooperation, and quickly.

What to do!

Someone said to the President,

“THERE’S AN OFFICER BY THE NAME OF ROWAN THAT WILL FIND GARCIA FOR YOU, IF ANYBODY CAN.”

The point I wish to make is this: President McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?”

Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How the “officer by the name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in a water-proof pouch, strapped it over his heart, and in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat. He disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia. The details of this journey across trepid waters and through formidable tropics are left for your imagination.

God Damn! There is a man whose image should be cast in deathless bronze and whose statue should be placed in every college in America. Young graduates do not need more book-learning, nor instructions about philosophy and political correctness, but a stiffening of their spines which will cause them to be loyal, act promptly, concentrate their energy, and do the thing —

“CARRY A MESSAGE TO GARCIA!”

General Garcia died a long time ago, but there are other Garcias.

Any leader, who has attempted to do something great, where many hands were needed, has been appalled at times by the ineptitude of the average man — the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.

Careless work, foolish inattention, lack of passion, and half-hearted assistance seem the rule. Too many people expect to succeed by the sake of their portentous degrees, imaginary entitlements, and backdoor deals; sometimes they beg their more highly accomplished friends to advocate for them and put in a good word for their promotion. On the rarest of occasions, God performs a miracle and sends an employer an Angel of Light — a Rowan.

If you are an employer, you can put this to a test. Approach one of your staff and make this request, “Please review the news reports and write me a brief memorandum summarizing the headlines that relate to our business.”

Will the employee quietly say, “Yes,” and go do the task?

Almost certainly, they will not. He or she will look at you with curious eyes and ask one or more of the following questions:

  • Should I use Fox News or CNN?
  • How many stories should I read?
  • Should I e-mail it to you?
  • How do I write a memorandum?
  • Will I get paid overtime for this?
  • Can I just send you the links to the news articles?
  • Can I tell Chuck to do this?
  • Is this urgent?
  • What do you want this for?

And I bet you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the employee will go off and get one of the other employees to help him try to complete this task — and then come back and ask you five more questions the following day. Of course, I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average, I will not.

Now if you are wise you will not bother to explain all of these details to your employee. Instead, you will smile and politely say, “Never mind,” and go look up the headlines yourself. And this incapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this death of initiative, this unwillingness to cheerfully grab the weight and lift, are the reasons why pure Socialism will always fail. If men and women will not act for themselves, what will they do if they could succeed with no effort? Without Capitalism, businesses would need a slave driver with a whip to beat the labor out of workers.

Publish a job posting for an administrative assistant, and nine out of ten who apply, can neither spell nor punctuate a complete sentence — and do not think it necessary to.

Can someone like this write a letter to Garcia?

“You see that paralegal,” said a law firm executive to me.

“Yes, what about her?”

“Well she is good at her legal work, but if I send her downtown on an errand, she might accomplish the errand all right, and on the other hand, might stop at Chick-fil-A and Target on the way, and when she got to downtown, she would stop to take a selfie, text her friends to make plans for the weekend, and in the end, make a mistake on the errand that I sent her for.”

CAN SUCH AN EMPLOYEE BE ENTRUSTED TO CARRY A MESSAGE TO GARCIA?

Society’s attention has recently focused on the Millennial generation and flippantly accuses them of entitlement and selfishness. Meanwhile, these Millennials are quick to point out their suffering under rising tuition cost, exorbitant housing prices, and the economic downturns that their Baby Boomer predecessors caused. How quick do these generations point out the faults of the others? However, I assure you that every generation needs more “officers by the name of Rowan.”

No sympathy is shown to the employer whose hair turns gray while waiting for the doing-the-minimums to do intelligent work; or the supervisor who patiently toils while her staff browses ESPN as soon as her back is turned. In every store and office there is a constant weeding-out process going on. The employer is constantly sending away “help” that have shown their incapacity to contribute to the businesses’ growth, and others are being hired in their place. No matter how good the economy is, this sorting continues, only if times are hard and work is scarce, the sorting is done with more care — but it is continuous, the incompetent and unworthy must go.

It is the survival of the fittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best — those who can carry a message to Garcia.

I know one man, a good engineer with years of experience, but who is absolutely worthless to anyone else. He treats his job as a competition, second guessing every referee’s call, and is intent on winning over his coworkers, subordinates, and supervisors. He throws a temper tantrum if his annual evaluation has one negative remark. He cannot give orders; and he will not receive them. Should a message be given to him to take to Garcia, his answer would probably be, “This is not part of my job description.”

Tomorrow this man will e-mail his LinkedIn network looking for a new job. He will get few replies. No one who knows him dare give him a job or put their reputation on the line for him. His personal brand is discontent. He is impervious to reason, and the only thing that can impress him is the threat of losing his pension.

These employees move through our world like zombies, they look human but some part of them has become deformed along the way. They should be pitied no less than someone who is physically crippled; but in our pitying, let us drop a tear, too, for the entrepreneurs and employees who are striving to carry on a great enterprise, who show no resentment in working past 5:00 pm, and whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to motivate the unmotivated and indifferent. If it were not for them, all would be both hungry and homeless.

Have I exaggerated my point? Possibly I have; but when the entire world is lazy and dumb, I wish that some people will have a word of sympathy for the man or woman who succeeds — the one who, against great odds, has directed others, and after succeeding, finds there is no great reward besides for more responsibility and burden.

I have cleaned animal cages for minimum wage and worked as a bus-boy for tips, but I have also been responsible for companies of hundreds of people and managed multi-million dollar projects, and I know there is something to be said on both sides. All employers are not greedy and uncaring, any more than all poor people are virtuous or humble.

My heart goes out to the employee who does the work when the “boss” is away, as well as when the supervisor is present. And the man or woman who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the task, without asking any idiotic questions, with no plans of dodging responsibility, who does not pause to take a selfie, who does not complain about the traffic, who does not do anything else but to deliver it. Civilization is one long anxious search for just such individuals. Anything they ask shall be granted; their kind is so rare that no employer can afford to let them go. They are wanted in every city, town, and village — in every office, shop, store, and factory. The world cries out for them: they are needed, and needed badly —

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My name is Robert Solano and my mission is to empower entrepreneurs and leaders. I enjoy sharing my strategies, techniques, and tools. These tips have helped me be more successful, make a bigger difference in my organizations, earn more wealth, and live a happier and healthier life. I hope that they will also help you lead your organization, build your enterprise, and win in a competitive environment. This article is a reprint from my blog, The Leader Mindset:https://leadermindset.co/message-to-garcia/