My favorite essay of all time was written in 1899. I have drawn inspiration from it for over 25 years: “A Message to Garcia” by Elbert Hubbard.
It tells the story of how “the fellow by the name of Rowan delivered a message to Garcia, the leader of the Cuban rebels. He took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, and strapped it over his heart. In four days, he 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 having delivered his letter to Garcia.”
What is most interesting about the story is the question Rowan never asked. When President McKinley handed him the letter, Rowan never asked, “Where is he at?” He just got it done. For the full essay, jump to A Message to Garcia – by Elbert Hubbard.
It is a story on initiative, so popular in fact that it enjoyed worldwide distribution. Imagine an international message so sensational that its demand reached globally in 1899. Most certainly a message worth remembering. It communicates four memorable points I carry to this day.
1. Seize the Initiative. Be disciplined enough to take initiative. What is initiative? From the author, “It’s doing the right thing without being told.” So many people in our current culture weigh the personal risk in seizing the initiative. Many choose to do what is safe versus what is right for their organization.
2. Be Trustworthy. Create a culture of empowerment where people are not afraid of repercussions. They do not need to be told twice to do something, and they know their leaders will encourage and support their initiative. They are not afraid to take risks because their organization’s priorities are clear. They trust their leaders to support them, even if they make mistakes, and their leaders trust them to get the job done.
3. Take Action. Self-motivated teammates are invaluable. They overcome obstacles and never look for the easy out. You will never hear, “This is how we’ve always done it,” uttered from their lips. They have the courage to take risks without asking for permission at every hurdle they encounter.
4. Be Focused. People who can get it done are not easily distracted. They remain laser-focused on organizational priorities. They ignore distractions and courageously deliver on the mission with which they are entrusted.
I close as the essay closes.
“Civilization is one long anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks shall be granted; his kind is so rare that no employer can afford to let him go. He is wanted in every city, town, and village—in every office, shop, store, and factory. The world cries out for such: he is needed & needed badly—the man who can carry a message to Garcia.”