“Success” Demands a Pro-Active Attitude, The Rowan Story

Dear Mentors, Colleagues and Friends,

There have been many a management lessons one picks up in the eventful Army Life – some of them stick more than others. As I look back, one that stands out the most is the attitude of being Proactive. In an armed forces officer – this is one attitude that is an absolute must. In fact, a good and a not-so-good officer often get defined by him being pro-active or not.
In my endeavour to bring the lessons from culture of the Armed forces to Corporate, here is one of my favourite and most mission critical attitudes that I wish to convey through the ‘Story of Capt. Rowan’. In my management talks to Corporates, I speak and do case studies of Rowan Story, more than any other. This is how it began for me and stuck ever since …

Rowan Book cover

The Rowan Story original text published
The Rowan Story original text published

How I got to know of it
About 8 years back, I was posted to an Engineer Regiment in Chandigarh. Gen HS Panag, was the Corps Commander – and he had a clear vision about the kind of officer cadre he desired. Amongst his other visions, the intense demand on physical fitness and proactivity – was a great talking point.  I was very impressed with this focused approach that would win battles – being ‘physically (and mentally) fit’ and having ‘pro-active attitude’. One of the super effective tools the General adopted was that– he circulated the story of Rowan and insisted that everyone knows of it – the American Army hero who carried the “Message to Garcia”. This for sure was a source of inspiration for all of us – to be a ROWAN. Before I get to the story and its applicability to Corporate setting, I wish to highlight the popularity of this ‘Message to Garcia’

Most Published Document …
It is an essay originally published in the March 1899, by Elbert Hubbard, in Philistine magazine.  Immediately on its publishing, the Russian Prince got it delivered to every worker in Russian railway Construction Company. In both World War I and World War II, the article was given to every enlisted person in the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Navy. For its profound message – it was made into a silent film by none other than – Thomas A Edison in 1916. It was later found with the forward line troops in Russian and Japanese armies. As per Reader’s Encyclopaedia of American Literature it is “one of the most extraordinary documents ever issued in the United States”.

The Rowan Story is as relevant today as it was 114 years ago – and this needs to be told and re-told many times over – to drive home the point that – mission once taken up, must be accomplished, come what may. And one habit, quality or attitude that makes it possible is – ‘Being Proactive’.
The essay highlights the initiative of an American Army Captain – ROWAN, who is assigned a near impossible and vague mission; of delivering a message to Cuban rebel General Garcia, thousands of miles away by President McKinley. Rowan took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, 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 – Period. But these are not the things I have desire to tell in detail. The point that I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?” Rowan once given a task – asks no questions, aim of the task, nor any information or help; he simply gets the job done.

Rowan faced extra ordinary hardships to deliver the message to Garcia,passing through was torn Cuba.
Rowan faced extra ordinary hardships to deliver the message to Garcia,passing through was torn Cuba.

Hubbart, the author, goes on to write – here is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor do instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing – “Carry a message to Garcia!”
In conduct of our daily work, when running organisations –Army, railways, projects, business or anything else – there will always be a ‘Message to be delivered to Garcia’ some critical mission to be accomplished – the question is Do we have Rowans. That employee – who has the most desirable quality any organisation will  need – that elusive guy who Gets the Job Done.

Who qualifies to be a Rowan
Rowan is a man who has a proactive sense of commitment to the organisation, endless energies and perseverance, self-confidence to accomplish the mission efficiently, has initiative and resourcefulness to find the way or make a way and takes the complete ownership of the task. He does not get bogged down by the obstacles on the way to mission; he has mental agility to find ideas and alternatives to accomplish the task this way or that. He would always come to you with solutions and alternatives than raise problem. By these qualities a ROWAN – becomes the most desired team player, the most respected employee, the most revered soldier or the most wanted member of any society.

The two qualities that make a Rowan ...
The two qualities that make a Rowan …

I am attaching the Original “message to Garcia” written in American English of its times –  a difficult read but worth every minute that you spend on it. As leaders of organisation – it is our duty to raise and grow the attitude of Pro Activity and make ‘ROWANS’ out of our employees. If leaders want to develop a team of self-motivated, self-directed members then ‘Rowan Story’ is and has been an ideal role model.

Like General Panag, I firmly believe and know that Rowans can be made … What is your view ?

Message to Garcia – Handout

3 thoughts on ““Success” Demands a Pro-Active Attitude, The Rowan Story

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s