SAME recently talked with Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, USA (Ret.), 2016 Small Business Conference Keynote Speaker, on a number of topics, including how his leadership style evolved over his career, the importance of small businesses to the military community, and what’s the most important button on your keyboard.
Lynch attended West Point, as he says, “because I couldn’t afford to go anywhere else,” and graduated in 1977 as an engineer officer. He spent first decade of his career as an engineer before transitioning to the armory while stationed at Fort Knox, Ky. But Lynch has the utmost respect for engineers, who were the “critical component” that he sought out while commanding in Iraq during The Surge. “I’m always the biggest proponent of engineers,” he says.
SAME: Describe your leadership style, and how it enabled you to achieve success over your career.
Lynch: From platoon leader to battalion to corps, my leadership style evolved to encompass three core aspects: Attitude, Engagement, and Time Management. Attitude is important. You need to be upbeat and positive. Engagement is all about the people. You have to take care of the people who work for you. Time management is the hardest of all. People really struggle with time management. If you’re always working you cannot have balance. But I am convinced you can have it both.
If you are always on email, tied to your computer, then you are not out there leading. The best button on your keyboard is delete. Allocate the time to respond to email and then move on. I am up early, working by 5 a.m. Until 9 a.m., I’ll answer emails. After that, the day is mine.
SAME: You held a wide range of positions in the Army. What were your most rewarding experiences?
Lynch: Over 35 years, any time I was commanding was the most rewarding. I had many staff assignments, and those were important steps in my career. But whether platoon, battalion, corps, or head of Installation Management Command (IMCOM), being a commander was always the best. You can truly influence people—touching lives and making a difference.
Today, when I hear from people I commanded even many years ago, and they talk about the impact I had on them, it means so much.
SAME: As you will be speaking at the Small Business Conference, what connections to being a leader are most important for small businesses?
Lynch: Being adaptive and flexible is important for any leader. It is even more important for a small business leader. When a project timeline gets moved; when the budget changes; when the expectations are adjusted—when you’re a small business you have to be adaptive and flexible to meet those changing demands, knowing that your resources are not what a larger company has.
SAME: As head of Army installations while IMCOM Commanding General, you worked with many small businesses. What type of support and impact did they provide to help improve installations for soldiers and their families?
Lynch: At 163 installations worldwide, small businesses made it happen. They were often local. They filled niche needs. Some 60 percent of soldiers and their families live off base; they lived in the community, next door to small business owners.
These businesses were part of the community. We couldn’t have met our mission without them.
SAME: What are some messages that you share in your book, “Adapt or Die: Leadership Principles from an American General,” that are important for Small Business Conference attendees to be mindful of?
Lynch: I have found that people learn best from stories. The book is structured so that there are nine leadership principles under the three main groupings (Attitude, Engagement, Time Management). The stories then tie into to the principle and it is relatable from the boardroom to the battlefield.
I remember when I was as a brigade commander, a young major and his wife had just adopted a child. In all my years as a commander, everyone who ever served under me got two weeks off after the birth of a child to be together as a family—even when we were deployed. Well, the next day, this person was in the office and I said, “What are you doing here?” He replied, “Colonel, I have 52 emails to respond to.” I walked over to his computer, sat down, and then seconds later said to him: “Look at that, now you have no emails.”
I did that every day for the next two weeks. And guess what, the brigade did just fine. There are some moments in life you can never recreate. Only do those things that you can do; everything else, learn to delegate.
(*Q&A edited together from an interview.)
Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, USA (Ret.) will be the Closing Keynote Speaker on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 during the SAME Small Business Conference at Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta, Ga. Gen. Lynch will be on hand to sign copies of his book, “Leadership Principles from an American General,” immediately after his speech. The SAME Small Business Conference is the premier annual event for small businesses looking to grow their presence in the federal marketplace, for large businesses to engage with potential teaming and subcontracting partners, and for government agencies to build relationships with the companies they need to help support their missions in the coming years.
Attendees at the 2016 SBC will include representatives from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force along with a number of civilian federal agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, General Services Administration, Department of Energy, Department of State, and Small Business Administration. SBC will offer more than 45 education and business-opportunity sessions and nearly 300 exhibitors to help grow and improve the small business component of the federal A/E/C industry.
For more information, visit www.same.org/sbc. Follow the event using #SAMESBC.