Characteristics of Success by Ronald Haeckel, USAF General (ret.)



Colonel Ronald J. Haeckel

30th Support Group Commander

Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

January 30, 1996

In the summer of 1994, General Henry Viccellio, Jr., Commander of Air Education and Training Command, delivered the commencement address to my Air War College class.  He outlined five characteristics of success that I found to be very useful:

– Absolute integrity

– Sense of community

– Personal concern for others

– A critical mind

– Ability to withstand adversity

When asked to define integrity, may people will equate it with honesty; but, I think of it as more.  Most dictionaries describe integrity as an —

unimpaired condition or soundness, a firm adherence to a code–especially moral or artistic incorruptibility, or completeness.

Good judgment, honesty, and wholesome core values are major cornerstones of the important trait called integrity, and the basis for a personal code of ethics.  Once you are truly committed to that code, you’ll have the tools necessary to make sound decisions, even in difficult situations.  Your decisions will consistently reflect your inner core values during times of high stress or when a rapid response is required.

The responsibility for choosing a proper code of ethics rests with each individual.  Some make the right choices; some don’t.  In developing your special code, talk to someone you respect and admire.  This person should be able to describe their view of life and why they chose the path they did.  But, remember to tailor your beliefs and attitudes to suit yourself.  Only in this way will you be able to follow this code in challenging situations.

The second characteristic of success is to have a sense of community. That is, to have a sense of belonging to something larger than yourself.  Many of us at Thule AB, Greenland, my last duty assignment, identified with a shop, a flight, a dorm, or a special group of friends.  I challenge you to think bigger than this; think of the entire Vandenberg community.

The numerous opportunities to contribute to Vandenberg will give you the variety you’ll need during your tour of duty here.  Additionally, many of you are so diverse that the base can use your talents in several different areas.  But, most importantly, if you identify with Vandenberg, you will have contributed to the good of many others in this community.  That’s where the true satisfaction lies.  That’s why those with a sense of community, those that contribute to a larger entity, are often associated with success.

As you may have heard me say before, we can’t accomplish our missions without our most important resource–people! The only way I know of detecting minor irritants before they become big problems is to get to know the people you work with, and then get out among them to experience their lifestyles.

To know the individuals who work with you, you must develop an atmosphere of trust.  This works in two directions:  you must trust them and they must trust you.  Trust must be earned over a period of time, but can be accelerated by someone who listens well and will empower others to do their jobs.

Experiencing the lifestyles of others goes beyond hiding in your office all day.  You have to visit the work centers and see situations first hand.  In this way, you’ll be able to better understand issues that will confront you and know what your friends go through each day.

By getting to know people and experiencing their lifestyles, you can detect irritants before they become big problems.  However, honest caring and concern must also be present to resolve situations.  People must feel important–must be important to you.  This is the only way they will perform at their very best.  And this is the only you will be able to care for them over a long period of time. Get to know the people you work with.  They are our most valuable resource.  Only through caring for them will you be able to accomplish your mission at Vandenberg.

A disciplined, critical mind is also an important characteristic of successful people. Many of us want to accomplish tasks in the correct way–to do the job right.  But unless you can determine what the right task is, you may be wasting your time.

Someone with a critical mind will ask questions about a project before beginning.  They will ensure the road upon which they are about to travel is the right road.  Once they begin the project, they will continually reevaluate apparent solutions to be sure of their answers.  This is not a sign of lack of confidence; indeed, this type of careful approach will strengthen an individual’s confidence in his/her final proposed solution.  One word of caution, though:  too much reevaluation usually results in a loss of momentum with some confusion about the original tasking.

When the going gets tough, I believe there are two things people rely on:  themselves and others. Turning inward, most of us rely on our professionalism and training in adverse situations.  If you are prepared for difficulties or have experienced similar situations before, current problems seem much easier to handle.  Unfortunately, most of us can never be completely prepared for every situation.  There is always some new problem lurking around the corner, waiting to test our abilities.  Because of this, it may be wise to have a method or process for handling problems, rather than specific, predetermined solutions.

A richer resource some of us turn to for help are our friends and team mates.  Reliance on a team expands the experiences you have to draw on, and gives you a wider variety of s strengths to bring to bear on the problem.  The socialization involved in sharing your problem with others is also an advantage to handling the adversity in this way.

No matter what difficulties bombard you, you will be a stronger person for handling it.  Current problems build our endurance for greater adversities in the future.  Consider it a growing process.  Sometimes growing is painful, just like exercise at the gym.  But once we begin to shape up and get used to the exercise routine, the next days become easier.  I’m not saying there won’t be setbacks–there always are.  But if you’re in shape, those setbacks won’t be as devastating.  When dealing with adversities, be prepared personally and rely on a team of friends for support.

These five characteristics (absolute integrity, a sense of community, concern for others, a critical mind, and the ability to withstanding adversity) will enable you complement your units’ plan for future operations.  Practice their application to be ready for tomorrow’s challenges.


General Haeckel retired August 1, 2005. Here is the bio from his final assignment.

Brig. Gen. Ronald J. Haeckel is Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application, National Nuclear Security Administration, Department of Energy, Washington, D.C. As the senior military officer assigned to the NNSA, he ensures the administration provides safe, secure and reliable nuclear weapons to meet Department of Defense requirements; directs U.S. nuclear stockpile maintenance and support functions; and provides oversight for all defense programs within the DOE.


One Response to Characteristics of Success by Ronald Haeckel, USAF General (ret.)

  1. […] I’m also linking to a paper Ron wrote on the characteristics of a successful leader.  You can see this HERE: Characteristics of Success by Ronald Haeckel. […]

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