FORT LEAVENWORTH — Encourage curiosity and don't be afraid to introduce chaos once in a while.
That advice came Friday from Army Chief of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey — President Obama's nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — as he spoke to graduates from the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.
"We trust that you are ready to take the next step and confront the next challenges that you are about to take," he said.
Dempsey didn't discuss his views on policy direction. But he did make it clear that leadership must be earned.
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Dempsey reminded the officers that they can't requisition trust among subordinates. They have to earn it.
The concept was something he learned while attending the leadership and war-fighting college at Fort Leavenworth about 23 years ago.
At the time, Army Gen. Glenn K. Otis spoke to Dempsey's class and told them about a 3-by-5 card he carried in his breast pocket that read: "When is the last time I allowed a subordinate to change my mind about something?"
"That message was relevant then and I think it's even more relevant today," Dempsey said.
He encouraged the graduates to push their subordinates by adding a touch of chaos to their daily routine. It teaches adaptation, he said.
"They need to be a little surprised on occasion," he said.
But he also implored the graduates to stop and truly listen to the men and women they command.
"If we don't deliberately nurture curiosity ... we could inadvertently squash it," he warned.
Dempsey might be headed for the military's top job, but he seemed more like a proud father at the graduation ceremony. When he caught Army Maj. Richard A. Martin's family straining to see him receive a revered award, Dempsey beckoned them to come on stage.
"You've got to see these two little girls," he told the crowd.
He also made it clear that outbursts from children during the ceremony were just fine.
Dempsey relished the chance to share his memories of graduation time at Fort Leavenworth.
"It seems like only yesterday that Deanie (his wife) and I were sitting in your position here," he said.
Driving around the Kansas military post the day before, Dempsey said, he spotted the telltale signs that thousands were preparing for a move to the next assignment.
"Neighbors sharing just one more glass of beer or one more glass of wine to ward off the inevitable goodbye," he said.
He fondly noticed the over-packed cars sagging from the weight of the military's "do-it-yourself-moving allowance."
Dempsey even sympathized with parents about to strap their preschoolers into the minivan for a trek across the country to the next assignment. Their child's happiness, he said knowingly, hinged entirely on picking just the right animated DVD for the trip.
"My own personal favorite, 'The Wonder Pets,' " he said.