Essay: Synthesis Essay – General Bernard A. Schriever

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  • Synthesis Essay - General Bernard A. Schriever
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General Bernard A. Schriever
On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. This feat of engineering had done much more than hurt American pride, it had potentially devastating and dire consequences for America’s defense. You see, it wasn’t the satellite that was the problem, it was the fact that the Soviets had put that satellite into orbit with the world’s first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). Three years into development on our own system, the United States was caught off guard. Near panic ensued at the highest levels of our government because it was just a matter of time before the Soviets were able to weaponize an ICBM, yet the United States didn’t even have a delivery system (Neufeld, 2005, pp. 17-18) (Lunnquest, 1996, pp. 253-254). Just over three years earlier, General Bernard Schriever and a hand-selected team of innovative engineers were given the near impossible task to deliver an operational weaponized ICBM system in just 6 years (Lunnquest, 1996, p. 161). Schriever was both a Visionary and Ethical Leader, and I will explore how he used visionary and ethical leadership traits to get the United States back into the Space Race, and ultimately beat the Soviets at their own game.
Visionary Leader
No doubt Schriever had a daunting mission, but he would demonstrate time and time again that he was more than up to the task, maintaining his eye on the nearly impossible vision he was to make a reality. Rewind to August 1954; Schriever is assigned to lead the project to create the United States’ first weaponized ICBM System in less than six years (Lunnquest, 1996, p. 162) and he briefed his plan to President Eisenhower who made it the top national priority (Boyne, 2000, p. 84). Here he utilized the Change Management lesson, specifically Step 2 of the Organizational Change Process, creating a guiding coalition which states, the team that establishes the plan for the organizational change, must have enough power to lead the effort. Furthermore, he utilized Step 5 of the Organizational Change Process when he recruited and empowered those that could act on his vision and that of the nation (Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, Leadership and Management (LM06-2) Change Management, 2012, pp. 22, 24). According to Jacob Nuefeld, “He personally picked a small nucleus of men whom he knew well, people who could get things done even if they themselves were controversial. Such people were not always wanted by other commanders. “I wanted them,” Schriever said, “because they were smart and would not tell me what I wanted to hear, but what they really thought.” (Neufeld, 2005, p. 12). Lastly, as illustrated in Step 5 of the Organizational Change Process, he removed obstacles to change, agreeing to manage the program “only on the condition that he be granted sweeping authority to get the job done.” (Neufeld, 2005, p. 10) (Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, Leadership and Management (LM06-2) Change Management, 2012).
Next, Schriever refined and adopted an innovative management approach to complete his mission. Known as Concurrency, he described it as “moving ahead with everything and everybody, altogether and at once, toward a specific goal.” (Lunnquest, 1996, p. 163) This, as opposed to the normal method, known as Sequential Development, which would have taken much longer to achieve. (Lunnquest, 1996, p. 162) Though Concurrency was a risky and complicated approach, Schriever still went ahead with it (Lunnquest, 1996, p. 163). Just imagine; the missile, launch facility production and crew training were all executed at the same time! (Lunnquest, 1996, pp. 163-164)
Schrievers adoption of Concurrency to achieve his goal suggests that he was a member of a very small percentage of our population known as Innovators, and it was this behavioral trait that allowed him to take risks that others may not have. According to the Change Management lesson, Innovators are usually venturesome, educated, and more willing to take risks than the rest of the population. They are also big picture thinkers who see potential and imagine a possibility in almost anything, and are able to put both into action (Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, Leadership and Management (LM06-2) Change Management, 2012, p. 15). Furthermore, Schrievers actions reflect Step 3 of the Organizational Change Process, Developing a Vision and a Strategy. Schriever created a vision to help the change effort by motivating the organization toward a needed transformation (Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, Leadership and Management (LM06-2) Change Management, 2012, p. 23). This new methodology flourished due to General Schriever’s ability to inspire a shared vision, challenge a process, and enable others to act. (McAlpine, 2007, p. 43)
Ethical Leader
In my research, I found innumerable instances where Schriever demonstrated ethical leadership. To start with, he had an incredible, almost superhuman work ethic. According to John Lunnquest in his dissertation, The Face of Atlas, it was nothing for Schriever to put in 16-18 hour days seven days a week. One of his aides joked that he probably got more sleep standing up than lying down. He kept a grueling schedule and meals were an annoying interruption. (Lunnquest, 1996, pp. 221-223) An excerpt from a contemporary Saturday Evening Post article written by Don Schlanche interviewed a Colonel that worked for Schriever and spent four Christmases in a row away from home who said, “You cuss him for overworking you, but Schriever establishes such a fantastic record himself that you never can get very sincere about your griping.” (Schanche, 1961 , p. 80) He certainly displayed Service Before Self and an extremely strong sense of the moral trait responsibility of duty (Force, 1997, pp. 6-7).
Schriever also had immense moral courage, as defined in The Air Force Core Values, otherwise known as the Little Blue Book (Force, 1997, p. 6). According to the aforementioned contemporary article in the Saturday Evening Post by Don Schanche, when Schriever was a Colonel he went toe to toe with Strategic Air Commands legendary General Curtis Lemay. In a disagreement over the acquisition of the B-52, the LeMay-Schriever dispute was so bitter that major generals timidly reported sick rather than attend meetings on the matter. Not surprisingly, LeMay won hands down. What is surprising is that Schriever’s career survived. Though rumors ran rampant through the hallways of the Pentagon that he would pay for his insolence, nothing happened. LeMay let the affront to his judgment pass, out of admiration for a man who would argue toe-to-toe with a four-star general for a cause he so passionately believed in (Schanche, 1961 , p. 82). Backing this up, Jacob Nuefeld in his article Technological Visionary, said, “Schriever’s enthusiasm for space exploration tapped his fortitude in sometimes standing up alone to his superiors….Schriever never shrank back from what he believed in.” (Neufeld, Bernard A. Schriever Technological Visionary, 2004)
Perhaps the best illustration of Schrievers moral courage is in the following anecdote. According to Bradley McAlpine in his Air University thesis Leadership in Change, Secretary of the Air Force, Harold Talbott approached Schriever and asked him to award a rocket engine contract to a specific company. The engine that the Secretary wanted Schriever to buy was inferior to its competitor, so he refused. The Secretary then threatened his career if he didn’t go along with his bid. Instead of caving to the Secretary’s demand, Schriever requested that the Secretary issue him a written order. It was at this point that Secretary Talbott backed down, eventually dropping the issue in its entirety. Unwavering, Schriever’s integrity ensured the right decision was made for the good of our country (McAlpine, 2007, pp. 46, 59).
Personal Relevance
I can definitely learn from Schriever and his mastery in applying Change
Management principles. Changes are an inevitable part of the Air Force and Senior Noncommissioned Officers need to know how to lead and manage the process. Throughout my research, I also learned that Schriever employed Full Range Leadership Development and Transformational Leadership principles. Schriever trusted and empowered his subordinates to make improvements and challenged them to be creative in processes and existing paradigms. He also showed that he valued their rationality and intellect; both examples of Intellectual Stimulation. Furthermore, he painted an optimistic and enthusiastic picture of the future, motivating his followers to break out of the status quo to achieve his shared vision; a prime example of Inspirational Motivation (Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, Core Foundations (CF02) Full Range Leadership Development, 2012, pp. 13-14). Moving forward, I will try to internalize what I learned from my research in order to affect change in my organization when necessary.
I can also relate to Schriever’s work ethic. Throughout my career, I have often been the last one out the door, because I was trying to finish an EPR, decoration or special project, and I often missed dinner in the process. However, Schriever’s record humbled me. It showed me that although I firmly believe in Service Before Self and have a strong sense of responsibility of duty, I need to take a dose of humility, and learn that at times I may have to give even more than I think may be humanly possible.
Lastly, I was able to relate to Schriever when it comes to moral courage, though not as much in my military career as my personal life. My father died on my 27th birthday and left most everything to his girlfriend and four children from this relationship. My sister wanted to contest the will and asked me to join her, but I refused. Instead, I helped my Fathers girlfriend to execute the will as it was written because they were my father’s wishes. I risked alienating my sister, however, given the same circumstances I would do it all over again because it was the right thing to do. I had the duty and responsibility to do the right thing by my father and the moral courage to carry it through, no matter the personal cost.
When faced with an overwhelming challenge, Schriever established a guiding coalition that gave him the power to institute change. He then recruited and empowered those that could act on his vision and removed obstacles to change. Next he developed a vision and a strategy, motivating the organization toward a needed transformation. He also employed Full Range Leadership Development and Transformational Leadership principles—specifically Intellectual Stimulation, and Inspirational Motivation. In addition, Schriever was the epitome of integrity first and service before self, possessing responsibility of duty and moral courage. He was a principled leader who did not shy away from his duties and responsibilities.
As a result of his Visionary and Ethical Leadership, Schriever and his team were successful in their mission. Not quite two years later, the Cuban Missile Crisis was under way, and Schriever’s single-minded determination to develop the nation’s first ICBM system would give President Kennedy his “Ace in the Hole”; the leverage he needed to bring the world back from the brink of nuclear war (McAlpine, 2007, p. 72) (Service, 2003).
Boyne, W. J. (2000, October). The Man Who Built the Missiles. pp. 80-83.
Force, O. o. (1997, January 1). United States Air Force Core Values, The Little Blue Book. Washington, DC, USA.
Lunnquest, J. C. (1996). The Face of Atlas: General Bernard Schriever and the Development of the Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, 1953-1960. Duke University: UMI Dissertation Services.
McAlpine, M. B. (2007, June). Leadership in Change: General Bernard A. Schriever. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Air University .
Neufeld, J. (2004). Bernard A. Schriever Technological Visionary. Airpower History, 41.
Neufeld, J. (2005). Bernard A. Schriever Challenging the Unknown. Washington D.C.: Office of Air Force History.
Schanche, D. (1961 , October 7). Saturday Evening Post, p. 82.
Service, N. P. (2003). Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Reading 2 (ParkNet). Retrieved from
Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, (2012). Core Foundations (CF02) Full Range Leadership Development. In Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, AFSNCOA Student Guide (pp. 13-14). Maxwell-Gunter Annex, AL: Author.: Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, (BCEE).
Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, (2012). Leadership and Management (LM06-2) Change Management. In Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, AFSNCOA Student Guide (p. 22). Maxwell-Gunter Annex, AL: Author.: Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, (BCEE).

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