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Shubhojit Bhattacharya
Making of a Rowan

The Indian Army’s rescue operations in Flood-ravaged Kashmir shows that each and every Indian soldier is a Captain Rowan

The circumstances under which the Indian Army functions, more so the role it is playing in Kashmir right now, saving and taking care of lakhs of people affected by the ruinous floods, reminds me of a story.

There are many management lessons one picks up in the eventful Army life, but 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 this quality—whether he is proactive or not.

In my endeavour to bring the lessons from culture of the Armed forces to the corporate world, here is one of my favourite and most mission-critical attitudes that I wish to convey through the story of Captain Rowan. In management talks to corporates, one gets often to hear and do case studies of the Rowan story, perhaps more than any other. This is how it began for me and stuck ever since…

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One of the super effective tools one of the Generals I served under 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’. In short, he wanted each and every one of us to be a ROWAN. Before I get to the story and its applicability to the corporate setting, let me highlight the popularity of this ‘Message to Garcia’.

It is an essay originally published in the March 1899, by Elbert Hubbard, in Philistine magazine.  Immediately upon its publication, the Russian Prince got it delivered to every worker in the Russian Railway Construction Company. During both World War I and World War II, the article was given to every enlisted person in the US Marines and the US Navy. For its profound message, it was even made into a silent film by none other than Thomas Alva 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”. At one time in the 1920s, there were more copies of A Message to Garcia, which Hubbard published as a four-page pamphlet and sold for 25 cents, were in print than any other publication except the Bible!

The Rowan Story is as relevant today as it was 115 years ago – and this needs to be told and re-told many times over – to drive home the point that once a mission is taken up, it 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 William McKinley. Rowan took the letter, sealed it in an oilskin 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 want to talk about in detail. The entire story—Hubbard’s essay and Rowan’s own account of his mission is available here.

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?” A Rowan, once given a task, asks no questions, the objective of the task, nor any information or help; he simply gets the job done.

Rowan faced extraordinary hardships to deliver the message to Garcia, passing through what was then war torn Cuba.

Hubbard, 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 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.

Rowan is a man who has a proactive sense of commitment to the organisation, endless energy, perseverance and self-confidence to accomplish the mission efficiently. He has the 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 path to achieve his mission; he has the mental agility to find ideas and alternatives to accomplish the task, come what may. He would always come to you with solutions and alternatives than raise a 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.

As leaders of an organization, it is our duty to raise and grow the attitude of proactivity and make ‘Rowans’ out of our employees. If leaders want to develop a team of self-motivated, self-directed members, then the Rowan Story is and has been an ideal role model.

The Indian Army, serving the cause in Kashmir, without any questioning, without the hope of any reward, proves that each and every one of them is a Rowan.

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