Building Leaders the WestPoint Way

Major General Joseph P. Franklin
Published by Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 13: 978-0-7852-2164-7

Joseph P. Franklin graduated from West Point in 1955 and has a Master’s degree in Civil and Nuclear Engineering from MIT. He was commandant of cadets at West Point from 1979 to 1982. He has served in both military and civilian leadership positions.

West Point Military Academy trains leaders for careers in all walks of life, and their graduates are found in the highest level of achievements in all careers. The education and training given at West Point is considered some of the best leadership training: Its academic programs rank among the best universities in the world.

This book is written by a 73 year old retired Major General who has been a leader in the military, the Academy and as a CEO of a private corporation. In it Joseph Franklin gives personal anecdotes that are moving, entertaining and educational. If you hold the stereotypical view that military training is basically a “do as you’re told” kind of training, this book will break that myth. Franklin details how at West Point cadets are trained to do what is right, think on their feet, work together and get the job done. His long history with the organization allows him to comment on some of the recent changes at West Point – brought about by generational changes in society and the introduction of female officers.

In Brief

Franklin emphasizes the character of a leader as he details 10 principles for great leaders. He believes that “A leaders highest calling is to serve our fellow man” and prefaces his chapters with these three main advice points:

  • Recognize and understand the Big Picture which gets bigger as you move along in your career;
  • Don’t let ego get in the way of good judgment; i.e. be able to ask for help
  • Remember that no one is infallible; know your limits

“None of these principles is beyond your reach. I’m not suggesting that you have to go to some mythical place where you’ll be magically transformed into a great leader. It’s not that complicated. You can find your own level; indeed you’ll be an ineffective leader is you’re trying to be someone (or something) you’re not. There is no pretense with great leaders. They are who they are.”

“Among the prerequisites for a good leader is a thickening of the skin. Sorry, but there is no way around that one. It is the leader’s lot in life to be the subject of speculation and second-guessing among contemporaries and subordinates at every level.”

Key Principles


Duty is about doing the right thing, when it should be done, without having to be told. The best leader has a sense of duty to the community and to others. Duty also means knowing when to delegate to someone else in the interest of the organization.


Honour means choosing the harder right instead of the easier wrong. Cadets at West Point have an Honour Code that says they will not lie, cheat or steal, and will not tolerate those who do.


This faith is that which is built by trustworthiness and competency. Leaders create trust in others by being faithful. As well, a leader must have the confidence to project faith in whatever the team is trying to accomplish. Overall, faith is like “applied optimism” when a leader tells the team that they can do it.


Courage is not just about taking risks in battle, it includes the courage to admit when you are wrong. Franklin says its backbone is character. Courage is not foolhardy or reckless. It is the ability to resist opposition, defend those who cannot defend themselves and make decisions on your own and live with the consequences.


Having dogged determination is the most important trait for long term leadership success. This commitment means you show up every day and you are dependable. Leaders need to be present and visible and Franklin refers to the concept of “management by walking around.” He explains why leaders need to be patient, set priorities and persevere when the workload and demands get high.


Confidence allows leaders to guide others during times of uncertainty and change. Leaders must be willing to take the blame and admit mistakes. They learn from failure and let others fail as well.


The ability to mix with other people and be “human” is the way that leaders create an environment where others feel comfortable – even urged- to communicate with them. A leader’s sense of humour and smile can open communication and rapport that will give them important information.


Leaders always have to deal with change and this ability to innovate and be creative encourages ingenuity in others. Franklin says that all of the army’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)today have evolved from ideas adapted from existing systems.


Compassionate leaders are neither too hard nor too soft. They are thoughtful of others and show their humanity. They do not wield power indiscriminately. They have an attitude “we’re all in this together”.


Leaders look ahead for obstacles and begin to plot how to overcome them.


Franklin’s book does a great job of interweaving and overlapping the 10 principles to give a holistic and integrated view of great leadership. His examples prove that, even where results matter and stress is high, leaders who use heart as well as head are those that will succeed.