A Tribute to Vision

The 2015 AUSA annual meeting may well be the last one for its president, General Gordon R. Sullivan, my boss during one of my last assignments in the Army.  

General Sullivan, the 32nd Chief of Staff, was a thinker and sought out innovative thinkers as he grappled with changing a Cold War Army into an Information Age Army. 

There are many memories I have of a time when the Army was focused on debate about a Peace Dividend, downsizing, technology, and change, but as a public affairs practitioner there are two of many aphorisms I remember from Sullivan’s speeches and comments as chief that have stuck with me.  One became the title of a book and the other was one of many idiosyncratic observations General Sullivan would share during his meetings, speeches and unit visits.

Both continue to be relevant to me as a communicator and as president of an association of communicators.

The first is rather ironic, especially in today’s high tech and fast paced communications environment.  “Don’t let technology get in the way of progress.”  It seemed funny to me at the time as we waited for the computer to reboot though I don’t remember the staff officer responsible for a botched powerpoint briefing finding it as amusing. 

Today, we get so caught up in the technology of communication; Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, Flickr, Reddit, DDC Public Affairs, LinkedIn and a plethora of new social media technologies that we end up focusing too much on the medium and not enough on the message. 

Recent research has shown that our proficiency at communicating face-to-face has diminished significantly since the advent of social media.  Young people growing up today have lost a valuable skill in the art of conversation.  Instead, they embrace the less personal more controlled and anonymous texting though even that comes with some risk (Hitting the send button before thinking?  “Auto correct” creating an opposite meaning?).  So have we let technology get in the way of progress?  Have we forgotten that part of credibility, part of personal engagement is actual face-to-face communication?

Another adage from General Sullivan that has resonated with me many times over since it became the title of his book, “Hope is Not a Method” seems particularly relevant today.

While the book’s focus for corporate leaders and executives was about how to maintain an effective, flexible, well-trained and productive work force during times of change, budget cuts, downsizing, and restructuring, the message has relevance even for us in the Army Public Affairs Association.

As an association, we have grappled with change, restructuring, budget constraints and many other birthing challenges of a new organization.  But we can be a better learning organization that deals with the growing pains, and continually seeks to be effective, flexible and relevant (productive) as we look toward the next decade.  Improvement and growth and change into a more relevant association does not happen because we hope it will.  All of us have a role to play in growing, financing and energizing this association.  We don’t have to let technology get in the way of progress.  And we can do better than hope the association will succeed.  I look forward to your engagement.  May you be strengthened by every good endeavor.

And thank you to General Gordon R. Sullivan for his leadership, his insights into changing organizations and his more than five decades of service to our Nation.   Hooah! 

Doug Coffey

Doug is the APAA president and longtime member of our community. We appreciate his leadership.