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Inspiration from the Leadership Education of West Point


June 22nd, 2005, in his diary, Chen Bing, the BiMBA student, described his calm feeling when passing Times Square and Wall Street for the first time. He, as well as Yang Zhuang, the dean of BiMBA, and the other three students, who came together for the journey, was more looking forward to the next five days. They were not common travelers from China, for what they would visit was the famous military academy ---- West Point.

West Point, namely the United States Military Academy, is the top one among the Four Military Academies around the world. During the American Revolution, George Washington named the important beachhead of American continent “West Point”. After independence, President Thomas Jefferson subscribed an act to establish the United States Military Academy here. On July 4th, 1802, the academy was founded. In his 203 years history, West Point altogether brought up 2 American presidents, 3700 generals and about 8000 director-level senior managers.

BiMBA has a long term relationship with West Point. From 2001, every year when BiMBA graduates take part in the graduation ceremony in America, they will pay a visit to the academy 80 miles away from New York for sharing the environment of world-level leadership education. In the early time of 2004, Mr. Daniel W. Christman, the Vice Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce and former President of West Point, came to deliver a lecture in Peking University. In January, 2005, there were two professors and a student from West Point invited by BiMBA to come for discussion with the students here on the West Point style leadership education.

Several months later, people of BiMBA also set their step on the land of West Point. It's regretful that one can't see or hear things of West Point. On the evening of July 10th, after the five people (yang Zhuang, Chen Bing, Liu Lin, Zhang Yang and Cao Yuhong) returned from West Point, people of BiMBA shared with them the inspiration from the leadership education of West Point in Zhi Fu Xuan, north of Wei Ming Hu Lake.

Throw away the past, reach for the achievement

The enrollment day of West Point is called R-Day, namely Reception Day. The procedures carried on that day include: make you separated from your family, throw away all you possessions, take off your slack suits and take place with army uniforms, shave clear your hair (as to girls, turn it into bob), lay restriction on your behaviors, regulate your language, blame your errors, and so on. 

It seems nothing special. In China or any other country in the world, the army enrollment ceremonies usually include one or more of the above procedures. But in West Point, the military academy emphasizing on common view of value and the sense of honor, the course is not a procedure or several successive procedures, but an organic process for the first “injection” of the West Point view of value to new students. All the people presented got surprised about what eventually turned these high school graduates, who were at first unsophisticated and even na?ve though they were the most excellent youths in the world, to be strong and mature army men.

When talking about R-Day, Liu Lin repeated one sentence that said “throw away your past”. In the enrollment ceremony, during the several hours, excellent senior students are selected to take charge of the guidance for the freshmen. There are valorous officers saying at your ears: Don't look around, just look forward! It's my station! And it was in R-Day that those senior students started their lives in West Point. They became leaders among students through application and interviews, and learned to think for others and take responsibility. This is the echelon type of education West Point takes for the education of leaders. As to what Zhang Yang said, West Point provided a duty-bear system for those who will to bear duties.

Behind these, there is the education idea of West Point, which says leaders are not born but come from nurture and education. Specially, Dean Yang Zhuang pointed out the difference between personality and characteristic: in the education view of West Point, the former comes when born, while the later is formed in education. In the ceremonies of R-Day, which are out of the understanding of normal people, everyone joining would throw away his past and make review of himself and other people under the equal view of value. They will start their prominent lives in the competitive environment without discrimination and diversity. R-Day endows with every student the West Point type of confidence, bravery, strongness and life long sense of honor, for from then on, they are the glorious West Point people. In their characteristic, the blood of West Point is injected.

Details, still details

In the “animal camp” training (open-air physical training of West Point) specially arranged for the Chinese guests, Captain Ruth told the BiMBA students, as a leader, one should carry the baggage twice as heavy as the common members do, care for their members, encourage them and even open jug cover for them.

The West Point officer Major Tribus explained for the BiMBA students the strict dinner manners: one should have his body away from the desk and chair back separately with the distance of one box, keep straight, chaw only three times for one eating, not whisper to each other, finish dinner within 15 minutes, and so on.

Cao Yuhong, who is cautious for details in everyday life, was unwilling to admit so many mistakes. The BiMBA student, who had written down tens of thousand characters on the experience in West Point, can't help to express that an excellent leader should be the one who cares the details. The expression “stand to the line” appeared again and again in the communication with Dean Yangzhuang and the students visiting West Point, which even turned to be a “West Point case”. Strict or even accurate requirement for details is the foundation for the West Point view of leadership.

Leadership system based on the view of value

During the visit, Dean Yang Zhuang raised the question for the students followed: in West Point every people, from general to common student, was talking about leadership, so then how to understand leadership?

“Duty, honor, country” is the academy rule of West Point and the core for its value system. Under such a view of value, various excellent youths start their glorious army lives in West Point. The three words are thought to be the soul of the West Point spirit. When referring to that, Dean Yang Zhuang pointed out with full realization that leadership ran through the whole course of West Point education. Undoubtedly, view of value is the core of leadership education.

In the training of R-Day, an important procedure is that the freshmen will be separated into different bands to listen to senior students explaining the academy rule. They are asked to read it out loudly to the nation flag until remember it. At that moment, the students are absorbed and recite loudly the classical sentence. The rule “Duty, honor, country” stands in a high perspective to stress the holy duty of army men, which is fulfilling the responsibility of an armyman for the interest of the country and keeping for all the time the honor of a soldier.

Under the academy rule, “Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal courage” turns to be the view of value for the West Point students. In addition, the 22 army rules are taken for the guidance of behaviors for the students. “Never lie, cheat, or steal, and not allow any similar behavior on people around” is the moral guideline for West Point people. The West Point view of value is a complete and clear system, from which there comes the special type of leadership for every West Point people.

There are various West Point graduates appearing in business and political circles. In the society of diversities, these West Point people are able to keep their own independent behavior regulations, from which the charm of their leadership is shown clearly. West Point is not only a title, but represents the view of value for the people of the academy, which says duty, honor and country, and their honesty and trust. Indeed, in different environments, the West Point view of value faces innumerable challenges. But its 203 years history tells us that the undeviating value system does fulfill the leading position of West Point among military academies in the world, and that of West Point graduates in the talents system of the world, and even that of America in the world business, political and military system.

As to the meaning of the visit for BiMBA in the future, Dean Yang Zhuang concluded: the so called leadership indicated the ability to lead the people to fulfill the goal of their organization. In the value system of BiMBA, the most important issue was “the world top level”. When educating MBA students, we focused on nurturing for their “learning, courage and foresight”, which was quite similar with West Point. However, in the free academic environment of Peking University, was it suitable for us to nurture a group of world-level leaders? Should we lay down certain value system or behavior rules for the restriction of the behaviors of students?

This question raised common sensation among the followed BiMBA students. They agreed that we should establish a common BiMBA value system and behavior rules. “Everyone knows the rule for maximizing his benefit and we should together upgrade our value level.” Zhang Yang specially pointed out that we should add physical training to our MBA education as West Point, for a excellent leader at first was a healthy man and in addition, physical training would enhance the ability of decision making and reaction in extreme conditions. Liu Lin and Cao Yuhong thought that BiMBA should believe in the ability of its students as West Point and provide for them opportunities for practicing leadership.

At half past nine that evening, the communication meeting was still experiencing the last part of Q&A. In his answer, Dean Yang Zhuang pointed out that “I think the visit to West Point this time is an important issue. It's not only a communication between two education organizations, but also a dialogue between the Chinese and American cultures. In the global competition structure, nurturing leaders is the responsibility for both BiMBA and West Point. The more than 200 years history of West Point will provide for BiMBA an inspiration for leadership education and a reference for nurturing more leaders with international perspective.”