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

May 2, 2009



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.

Careers: An Invention of the 20th Century (Pt. VI)

April 27, 2009

What Does This Mean To You?

Does this mean that you have to go back to school or switch your current major to business? Should you do what I did and go buy real estate?

Probably not, although having some business knowledge under your belt is very helpful. And real estate can be one of the best long term ways to make sure that you are financially stable.

What I’m talking about is bigger than just financial security to you. It’s much more important than that. What I’m talking about is knowing your strengths, passions, and desires, and then crafting a life around those.


The beautiful thing about the age we live in is that it’s never been easier to begin building a life that has both the long term financial security we seek and the thrill of doing something we actually want to do.

In my coaching program, we explore what this means to you. We hone in on your passions, dreams, skills and talents, and then work on a plan to help you live those things out. If you’d like to know more about this unique coaching experience, click here.

Summing It All Up

We are in the midst of the next major work revolution. How we work and what we know will be very different very soon. Companies and corporations are getting slimmer and trimmer, and they will do whatever it takes to stay competitive, including massive layoffs without warning and outsourcing, .

If you are under the age of forty, this should be something that you’re very concerned about. You must realize that it is extremely risky to put your faith in the system and establishment of the corporate world

And finally, you should begin to formulate a plan of action so that you are able to control how you make your living, a plan that doesn’t rely on an employer. It starts with knowing yourself, and then progresses to actionable steps to ensure that you will never again have to be at the mercy of someone else.

If you don’t know how to begin or feel overwhelmed by this, please contact me right now so that we can see if my coaching program is right for you.

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Careers: An Invention of the 20th Century (Pt. V)

April 27, 2009

The Return of Purpose

Not only do I believe that this lifestyle choice is critical to our long term financial life, I believe that something happens deep within us when we choose the road less traveled.

We come to life.
We connect with what it means to be a fully functioning human being.
We discover that our story is more amazing than we ever realized.
We discover the epic that was lying in wait.

When we make the decision to launch out and break from what’s “normal,” the world begins to change. It takes on a different glow. The same things you’ve looked at a million times suddenly look more meaningful and logical.

Yeah, we’ll make mistakes on this course. We’ll get lost and hurt and scared. But we’ll experience highs and thrills that are unmatched on the “safe” and “traditional” path. And the further we go and the harder we push, the closer we get to discovering that most amazing of discoveries.

Our real life.

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The Rebirth of The Entrepreneur

Maybe this picture of the future seems very unlikely to you. It’s possible that you already have a pretty good idea of what your future holds. You might be in a really good situation, something that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt has a good future.

But maybe you don’t, which is more likely.

question mark

About five years ago, I began to realize that this is where our world was heading. I was working as a graphic designer in a medium-sized corporation in Pittsburgh, and it was a dead-end.

I knew I needed to make a change, so I began looking into buying houses to fix up and resell. I didn’t know a thing about business, but I was determined to make things work. My life, my family, and my future depended on it.

Since that time, I’ve discovered that the entrepreneur’s journey is something amazing. It is an adventure, full of both good and bad; hard times and rewarding times; abundance and scarcity.

I believe that to survive in the world that is right around the corner, we must move back towards living an entrepreneurial life.

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Careers: An Invention of the 20th Century (Pt. IV)

April 27, 2009

We Must Change

It’s time to rethink our formula. It just won’t work in this new future.

We can no longer plan on coming out of college and getting good jobs right away, at least ones in our field. And if we do get those jobs, what are the chances – really – that we will actually have the opportunity to realize that career path that has been laid out before us? Are you willing to bet your life on that in the cold, cutthroat world of bottom line?

We’ve been told to go to school, get good grades, get a good job. The end, right? But as we’ve discussed here, that’s an old and outdated model. So, what to do?


Our society has trained us to be worker bees. Cogs in the machine. But in the future landscape, the machine will break down. Our institutional thinking will leave us broken down as well.

What we must do is change our minds and attitudes about our work and life. We must loose our entitlement mentality and replace it with something much larger and healthier. We need to dip back into our past to change our future.

We adapt.
We fall in love with learning and growing.
We quit taking life for granted.
We become epic.

We need to shift our focus away from being worker bees buzzing around a hive that is sitting at the edge of a rotting branch.

We’ve seen that for thousands of years, people were entrepreneurs, running their family business or small skilled labor shops. Then, during the 20th century, the whole model of work was thrown on its head. And now, in the 21st century, that’s happening again, and we’re all right in the middle of this shift.

If we want to continue to lead the kind of lives that we’ve become accustomed to, then we’re going to have to build our own business. We cannot and should not rely on an employer to take care of us. That ship has sailed.

But what does this look like? Should we all plan on renting out a space on Main Street and selling cookies or fixing flat tires?

SpaceBankers on This Human Epic

Use What You’ve Got

Some of us will choose to do just that. We’ll always need bakers and mechanics and delivery people. I’m not suggesting that these things won’t be around in twenty years.

What I’m talking about is knowing your gifts and then taking action to position yourself in such a way that when someone needs the service or product you provide, they automatically know that you’re the one to see.


In this new future, it will be in our best interest to know and understand our niche. We must learn to become the expert at whatever it is we love, know, and do, and then build a business around that.

In my opinion, this is the only sustainable course for our lives. While it is a harder path initially to take, in the long run it is one that offers much more freedom and security than being a worker bee.

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Careers: An Invention of the 20th Century (Pt. III)

April 27, 2009

The Myth of Career

I’ve noticed something about the way we do our life.
We are in love with formulas.

We believe, often in vain, that if we have a formula, a ten step plan, then our lives will be wonderful. We will be content and fulfilled.


I’ve noticed that because of the way that the 20th century changed how we live and work, there is a formula that we believe still is relevant.

This formula is something that Robert Kiyosaki talks about in his book Why We Want You to Be Rich and Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Go to school
Get good grades.
Go to college.
Get a good job.

But as Kiyosaki states, this formula, like the model of a safe, wholesome corporation, passed away with the 20th century.

Over the next twenty years, the landscape of America is going to shift dramatically. The way we’ve done things is and will continue to be rethought and reworked, and if we aren’t paying attention, I believe we (thirtysomethings and younger) will be in a world of hurt.

The truth is, we better be working on a different formula.

Slip Sliding Away

So how will things change, how will they look, and what can we do today to change and accept where we are heading?

We have already seen the first signs of a dramatic shift. We’ve seen (and possibly experienced firsthand) the downsizing and outsourcing. I’ve heard it said that if you haven’t been or don’t know someone who’s been let go because of “streamlining” or “downsizing” then you probably are fresh out of college and new to the work place.

Up until very recently, the United States has been the strongest and most economically robust nation the world has ever seen. But, again, the balance is shifting. The US is losing its jobs at an unprecedented rate to foreign countries, especially China and India. The value of the dollar is falling while the price of everything, especially oil, is skyrocketing.

What is happening before our very eyes is nothing less than the disappearing of the middle class in the US.

No One Else Will Do It For You

Because of our 20th century model of work and life, we have been trained to believe that we are entitled to good jobs, good pay, security, and respect. It’s just something we deserve.

But that’s not the way the real world operates.
While that may have worked in the past, it won’t work in the future.

The world of the future is a place where success means being adaptable and innovative. It means realizing that the only real security in the workplace is in the skills, talents and knowledge that you possess.

Your most valuable asset in the future is your individuality and ability to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Yes, this is important now, as well as the future, but in the new landscape, your value will come not from the piece of paper you have from your college, but from the way that you implement and customize the knowledge and experiences you’ve acquired.

As corporations continue to get streamlined and lighten their loads, there will be fewer and fewer good jobs available. Jobs that are available will pay barely enough to provide any kind of lifestyle other than one of just squeezing by, living paycheck to paycheck.

Does that sound like the kind of life you want to live?
Neither do I!
So what do we do?

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Careers: An Invention of the 20th Century (Pt. II)

April 27, 2009

Setting Sale For Corporate Safety

Why would people decide to quit working at a business that had been in their family for generations in favor of a large company that they had no connection to?

Easy, stable money.
Running a business is hard work. Ask any entrepreneur.

As our society shifted towards the easy money big business provided, we began to get very used to the comfort and perceived security that these business provided.

Old buildings

And during the 1950’s, when corporate life was settling in as the norm, people craved security, comfort, and consistency. They had just come through a very long and difficult war (WWII), and prior to that, The Great Depression.

So the corporate model was very appealing in that if a person desired, they could simply plug themselves into a giant machine – become a cog – instead of dealing with the trials and fluctuations of owning and operating their own business.

But was this a deal with the devil?

Rockin’ The Suburbs?

Fast forward to today. Our world is ruled by corporations. Our governments are in bed with the biggest and the richest. We build cities and communities around them. We take out massive loans and then spend the best years of our lives working to pay those loans off just to be able to stock these companies.

And for what?
The suburbs?

Look, I’m not saying work isn’t important. I’m not saying a job isn’t necessary, because we all have to pay bills and have food.

I’m also not putting down our great grandparents, grandparents, and parents for their work ethic and life decisions. We all have choices to make that we feel are best for our families. In the case of our great grandparents and grandparents, this industrial revolution was a new and exciting direction, one full of promise and stability.

What I question is the horrible systems that we seem to believe are necessary for our survival, systems that we accept and exist within that are corrupt, dehumanizing and destructive.

Systems that are meant to control you and strip you of the very essence of your humanity.

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The Dirt Speaks

As human beings, our very nature is to discover, to question, to explore, and to create. We are happiest and most content when we are free to pursue these desires.

Up until the 20th century, we were hunters and fishermen and farmers and pioneers. We spent our lives setting out for new lands and charting the earth and discovering new ways to live in freedom.

Hands in dirt
We sunk our hands into the fresh dirt and felt the cool air on our face as we watched the sun come up over the mountains. We felt and listened to our world, and in these encounters, we discovered something of utmost importance.

We discovered ourselves.

The New Corporate Landscape

But here we are now, at the dawn of the 21st century, and we seem to be more lost and unsure of ourselves than ever before. We are no longer living in our grandparent’s version of the corporate world that offers stability and the image of security.

The corporate world we live in has become all about the bottom line, and I think most of us recognize that, even if we are working for one. We won’t kid ourselves. We know that the gold watch for our 50 years of loyal service to the same company is now a myth.

We will never know pensions. Downsizing and outsourcing, yes. Pensions, not likely unless you are working for the government.

Our reality is that we will change careers five to seven times in our life. Not just jobs within our field of expertise. Careers!

Our world is one where we will always be networking and keeping our feelers out, because the fact is, in today’s corporate landscape, tomorrow is not promised. Just ask the former employees of Enron or General Motors or the thousands of other companies that canned major portions of their workforce to “stay competitive and streamlined.”

For much more on the current and future corporate landscape, I would highly recommend the book Why We Want You to Be Rich by Donald Trump and Robert Kyosaki.

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Careers: An Invention of the 20th Century

April 27, 2009

Building The Hive

Recently I saw the movie “Into The Wild.” There were many quotes that stuck out to me, but this one was most memorable:

“Careers are an invention of the 20th century.”

Up until the 20th century, our work model was mostly one of small business, handed down from generation to generation. Farming, smithing, and specialty stores were primarily the way we sustained ourselves.

Of course there has always been the government to employ people, but even this was a much trimmer version of the bulky and bloated bureaucracy we find today.

What Happened?


In a word, railroads. Railroads in the late nineteenth century, like the Internet in the late twentieth, opened up the world to possibilities that could never have been considered previously. And like the Internet, entire businesses and industries sprang into existence simply because of the expanded possibilities and connections.

Around the turn of the century, commerce and production began to explode. With the invention of the assembly line, industrialists began to streamline their operations to work faster and produce more, which in turn required more hands.

Time and scheduling became much more precious and important. The need for resources, particularly steel – and in turn, coal – created some of the most powerful and influential capitalists in the history of the world, men and women who’s influence is still very much alive today.

These capitalists – Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford, to name a few – forged ahead, building their empires. To build these empires, they needed help. Lots of help.

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Building Empires

They moved into cities like Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago, Detroit, and built giant buildings in central locations where people could come to work.

And this was revolutionary. Farmers and barbers and blacksmiths began leaving their trades to move into the cities to work in factories and offices for better and more stable wages.

pyramidSomething amazing was happening. Competition in this new era was creating jobs at an unprecedented rate. New technologies were spawning new businesses which in turn created more jobs and more opportunity. The world, especially the United States, was exploding, screaming into the future at incredible rates of speed and direction.

And the men and women at the top of these pyramids got richer and more powerful.

The Tipping Point

As this new world grew, many people’s lives were changed for the better. These corporations were overall a good thing. Yes, there was abuse (child labor, poor working conditions, etc.) but with any large movement there is evolution and refinement.

By the 1950’s, the vast majority of the United States had adjusted and conformed to the industrial revolution. It was a time of prosperity and abundance for many. At large, the population had been transformed from scattered farmers and sole proprietors to offices with middle management.

It was a radical and speedy shift for a society that had been doing things one way for so long. And while on the surface things looked like they were going well, there was something more sinister happening in the dark halls of those downtown steel towers, and more importantly, in the fabric of our lives.