General Martin Dempsey stands on stage next to a podium that reads University of Florida in front of a large group of students

General Martin E. Dempsey discusses leadership, inclusion with UF MBA students

University of Florida MBA students had the exclusive opportunity to learn about leadership from former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey, U.S. Army, Retired.

Dempsey, who served 41 years in the military, spoke to UF MBA students about the challenges of leadership in today’s constantly-connected and intelligence-driven world.

From left: Assistant Dean and Director of UF MBA John Gresley, General Martin E. Dempsey, U.S. Army, Retired, and UF MBA student Chris Salinas.

From left: Assistant Dean and Director of UF MBA John Gresley, General Martin E. Dempsey, U.S. Army, Retired, and UF MBA student Chris Salinas.

“Leadership in this era is different,” Dempsey said. “As a leader, you’re in a competition for attention and trust and the confidence of your followers, and it’s a constant competition.”

Dempsey said that in order for leaders to have influence on their followers, they have to do so at the speed of memes.

“You, as leaders, are going to have a challenge of keeping the attention of your followers,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey offered three attributes leaders need in order to make an impact on their followers.

“A leader today has to be inclusive, be a sense-maker and has to surprise their followers,” he said.

Dempsey explained that when people are fearful, they tend to protect themselves by being exclusive, when, in reality, being inclusive allows leaders to make better decisions.

“Being inclusive gives you access to information you don’t have,” he said.

In addition to gaining new knowledge, being inclusive helps leaders build consensus and collaboration as well as can help organizations save more money and resources by bringing more players to the table, Dempsey said.

Dempsey then discussed why leaders should be sense-makers, including why building a narrative around decisions is imperative to getting people to follow leaders.

“You have an obligation to help your followers make sense of things,” Dempsey said. “You have to help them understand things.”

Dempsey’s last tool for leading in a complex world, surprise, is important for keeping followers engaged, he said.

“If you want people to sit up and take notice of you as a leader, if you want them to pay attention to you, you have to find a way to be a bit surprising,” he said.

And not just by jumping out from behind a door, he joked. Being surprising means finding a way to provide some sparks between the standard interactions leaders have with their followers, he said. Taking the time to talk with people about their life, as well as their professional expertise, make for being “the best human-human,” instead of acting like a machine mimicking a human, he said, referencing the Turing test, a test developed by Alan Turing which measured a machine’s ability to be indistinguishable from a human’s behavior.

Student standing in front of a microphone to ask a question of General Dempsey in the University Auditorium.

UF MBA students had the exclusive opportunity to ask General Dempsey questions about leadership and more.

Dempsey’s remarks were followed by a Q&A session with students, led by Chris Salinas, current UF MBA student, Coast Guard veteran and President of the UF MBA Veterans Association.

“We’re thrilled that General Martin E. Dempsey came to offer his unique insights to UF MBA students,” said John Gresley, Assistant Dean and Director of UF MBA. “General Dempsey’s topic of leading in a complex world is apropos to MBA students as they prepare for their future careers. We know from our recruiter connections and surveys like the GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey that candidates with strong leadership skills are the most sought after by companies, making General Dempsey’s insights a nice complement to the leadership skills we teach in our professional development programming and in the classroom.

“The relationship that UF MBA has with members of the United States armed forces, our students and alumni that are active duty service members and veterans, is one that we’re particularly proud of,” Gresley continued. “We’re honored to be able to share this event with them, as well as with the other UF students and community members we’ve invited, as we prepare UF MBA candidates to add value and provide leadership in their organizations and impact positive change in their communities.”

The event was presented by UF MBA in collaboration with the UF MBA Veterans Association. Invitations were also extended to a number of veteran and leadership groups at UF including the UF Collegiate Veterans Society, UF ROTC and the Military Law Student Association.

In closing, Dempsey offered some final words about what it means to be a leader.

“We’re all leaders – in a family, on a team, at a company, in the military – we are all called to be leaders,” he said. “I hope I’ve convinced you it’s harder today to be a leader and to be real with your followers. I hope what you take onboard is that you are a leader and to make it a lifelong passion to be a leader.”