If the world depended on a man, who would you trust? If a message had to get through to save your country, who would you trust to take it?
Mission Impossible and Bill Gates don’t seem like a likely combination; however, when I discovered a Mission Impossible book called “A Message to Garcia,” it challenged me to think of who I would put my money on to get a letter to Garcia today. Who would I trust to do a job that would change the world? I could think of no greater person than Bill Gates.
Throughout history, “A Message to Garcia” has been one of the most powerful books ever written on leadership. It was written in one hour. It is only nine pages long, and yet there have been over 100,000,000 copies sold, and it has been translated into 37 languages and made into two movies. This book has been held up by US, Russian, and Japanese militaries and businesses for over 100 years as an example of the perfect leader.
We have all heard of Mission Impossible. It is something we have become familiar with seeing in movies. The hero, often a retired CIA agent, is given a secret mission, which would be impossible for mortal men. However, the hero is no mortal man. His influence overcomes mere men, the most beautiful women, and incredible obstacles. In the end, he saves the princess and the world from the evil dictator.
The truth is, there really was such a hero, and he did save a large part of the world…and that’s how this book originated.
Rowan was an American Army Officer from West Virginia. In 1899, the Civil war in Cuba took a major turn when unknown forces sank the American battleship Maine in Havana harbor. America entered the war, but to succeed, they required the support of the insurgent forces.
The leader of the insurgent forces was General Garcia. He was hiding in the Oriente Province in the most eastern region of Cuba. It stretches across 14,641 square miles (37,920 km2) and consists of various mountain ranges with the Sierra Maestra region having Cuba’s highest mountain peak and elevation in Pico Turquino. No mail nor telegraph message could reach him.
The US president must secure his cooperation, and quickly, but how? who? Someone said to the President, “There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”
Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. “The fellow by the name of Rowan took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, and in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat. He 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.”
The book became the stuff of legends.
- After publication, reprint orders began trickling in, which wasn’t unusual. The trickle became a flood, prompting Hubbard to ask which article triggered the interest. It was “the stuff about Garcia,” he was told.
- Then, a telegram arrived from George H. Daniels of the New York Central Railroad asking for a price on 1,000 copies of the Rowan article in pamphlet form. Hubbard didn’t have the capacity to fill the order, so he granted permission to reprint. Daniels eventually printed and distributed half a million copies under the title, “A Message to Garcia.”
- One copy found its way into the hands of Prince Hilakoff, Director of Russian Railways, who had the booklet translated and given to every railroad employee in Russia.
- The booklet spread to Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, India, and China.
- Japanese soldiers found the booklet on Russian prisoners during the war and had it translated, distributing it to every Japanese government employee. Over 100 million copies of “A Message to Garcia” were sold, achieving a larger circulation than any other literary venture in the lifetime of the author.
The United States won the Spanish-American War. As a result, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States and abandoned all claims to Cuba (which became independent in 1902).
Rowan, by then Colonel Rowan, was decorated for his achievement by the commander of the United States Army, who said, “I regard this achievement as one of the most hazardous and heroic deeds in military warfare.”
The forward of the booklet says, “This was undoubtedly true, but it is for his fine moral character, rather than for his military prowess, that Lieutenant Andrew Summers Rowan will always be remembered.”
I believe in every generation there must be people who could deliver a letter to Garcia, people who can change the world, people who can make a difference, and one of those is Bill Gates.
Reason 1 – Bill Gates continually puts himself in the right place.
A number of years ago, Bill Gates was interviewed by Larry King. He said this: “I was in the right place, at the right time, and luck had a lot to do with it. However, there were many others in the same place as I was when computers began to gain popularity.”
If you want to be a world class actor you don’t go to Diomede, the most remote city in Alaska to live. You go to Hollywood. If you want to develop an App that will make a billion dollars you go to Silicon Valley to live. You put yourself in the right place.
People who want to be great leaders need to put themselves under a great leader. They need to be trained by great leaders and learn from great leaders.
Bill Gates wasn’t in the right place by luck alone. He was in the right place because he had been preparing himself since he was 13. His parents saw his potential and put him in a leading school, one of the first to have a computer. That’s where he began working on his first computer and developing programs for it. He became so good that the school asked him to write programs to schedule students in class. He then went to Harvard.
Captain Rowan had put himself in the right place. He had been trained in the best military college in the world at West Point. He had learned from the best leaders in the world.
Reason 2- Bill Gates sees the future and researches his subject with a passion
Great leaders not only put themselves in the best possible place to be trained, coached, and mentored, but they have vision. They see the future and then they learn all that is possible about their subject.
In the interview, he said, “I had a long-term vision of how the personal computer would revolutionize every facet of life. Once again, there were many others with the same vision I had.”
There may have been many others who also had a vision, but Bill Gates’ vision was bigger than building a computer or a software program. His vision was global—he had a vision to change the world.
Captain Rowan saw the future of Latin America. He served several frontier posts with military intelligence in Latin America and he co-authored a book on Cuba. Some believe that Rowan, as a trained spy, spoke Spanish. His vision had led him to research his subject with passion and learn the language.
Reason 3: Bill Gates is a man of massive and immediate action.
In the interview, Gates said, “I took massive, immediate action. This is where the rubber meets the road.”
In the book “A Letter to Garcia,” Hubbard says, “By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college in the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or 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 this interview Bill Gates finished saying, “If you’re in the right place at the right time and have a vision to see where a new technology is going, but don’t take action … you’ll never be successful… Without all three components in place, you’re doomed.”
Rowan did not stay and ask questions; he did not delegate the task; he did not suggest that it was not his job. He took massive, immediate action.
He took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, and in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat. He disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks, he came out on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia.
The business world cries out for leaders who will put themselves in the right place, have a vision, and take immediate, decisive action.
In the book the author says, “Civilization is one long, anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks shall be granted. 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 and needed badly – the man who can carry a message to Garcia.”
Chris Gaborit, Managing Director, The Learning Factor – Australia and Asia’s Leader in Training Outsourcing.