Col. David Hackworth

Hardcore: 5 Leadership Lessons from Col. David Hackworth

Buck Stewart
Nov 10, 2018 · 10 min read

Lesson 1: Leaders prepare for reality

When he was 14, Hackworth employed the services of a transient to play the role of his father.

He embraced the military way of life. Though he had a penchant for mischief and insubordination, the discipline, hard work, and the danger of it all suited him just fine.

Throughout Hackworth’s career, training remained at the top of his agenda. He even kept a sign above his desk that read, “The more sweat on the training field, the less blood on the battlefield.”

Lesson 2: Leaders take ownership

Hackworth played fast and loose with the rules. If it meant he could make life even marginally better for his men, it was a risk he was willing to take. In doing so, he was ready to shoulder the blame.

About Face: Hackworth with General S.L.A Marshall in Vietnam 1966

It was not a dead-end career Hackworth would be putting on the line during this interview. But he had to do what he felt in his heart was right. And as expected, it cost him everything.

From the interview, “…perhaps we who have not been vocal should be charged for just criminal neglect, because it is our obligation, it is our responsibility, not only to train our soldiers well, to lead our soldiers well, but to make sure that there are no mistakes made, that they are protected as well as possible from mistakes and error and once you make mistakes they must be surfaced, critiqued, identified, and remedial action taken.”

Lesson 3: Leaders inspire

“Soldiers need legends. It’s a way to deal with the madness of war.” — Col. David Hackworth.

His soldiers were watching. They were always watching. And he made sure to cast himself in the kind of light that only shines on legends.

“I had a b!t@h of a time running on the beach–terrible stomach pains, so bad it took every bit of willpower I possessed to keep going. But I couldn’t fall out–not ever, let alone with the eyes of one hundred unwilling air defenders boring in on me.”

About Face: Hackworth receiving a silver star for heroism in Korea 1951

Lesson 4: Leaders look after their people

“The thing was, you had to look after your soldiers. It was true that a CO’s first priority was the mission, but a conflicting requirement was the welfare of the men.” — Col. David Hackworth

No one fired.

The division began reaping the rewards of Hackworth’s initiatives. They made uncharacteristic progress on their missions. Day by day they became hardened, skilled, and unafraid.

Lesson 5: Leaders set expectations

“You could be ‘overly familiar’ with Hack, but it was always on his terms. Because when he pulled the reins back, it was as if you never even knew he had a first name. We could go out with him and raise all kinds of hell till dawn, but the next day–God forbid we mentioned that we went, or failed to perform adequately, or looked as if we were hung over or needed some sleep. We soldiered and it was not discussed.” — Lt. Dennis Foley

Perhaps for that reason he tended to view things through the eyes of his soldiers.

Because he had been in their boots before. Sometimes he blurred the line between friend and commander. But one thing was always clear, when it came time to suit up and go, his expectations were nothing short of perfection.

About Face

Hackworth’s account of his life in the Army is both inspirational and disheartening. By the time he reached the rank of Colonel, his love seemed lost. At a time when no one in uniform spoke out against the Vietnam War,

About Face: Col. David Hackworth

Because that is what leaders do.

After the interview, the chickens had come home to roost. Hackworth’s critique of the Army’s Vietnam commanders left him ostracized and the Pentagon was not happy, to say the least. Yet, despite an investigation into all aspects of Hackworth’s life, the Army permitted him to retire.

Buck Stewart

Written by

History Buff/Personal Development Enthusiast/Analyst. I run The Road of Trials, a site that teaches readers the life-changing value of embracing challenge