U.S. Army chief of engineers advises students to be leaders

Lieutenant General Thomas P. Bostick visited BYU on Feb. 4 and spoke to students about leadership. As the U.S. Army’s 53rd Chief of Engineers and Command General of the Corps of Engineers, he is responsible for overseeing much of the nation’s infrastructure and military construction.

Hundreds of students filled 140 JSB for the lecture, which was open for students of the college and the ROTC.

“I’ll start by saying that all of you can be great leaders, all of you,” Bostick said. “And all of you can be great members of a team.”

He emphasized the importance of having excellent technical skills, especially early in your career. Bostick shared an experience he had when he was trying to design living quarters for an incoming division, but he couldn’t quite get the design that his superiors wanted.

Finally, a young 2nd Lt. under him, which is the lowest commissioned officer rank, offered to draw up his own design for Bostick’s superiors. It was approved.

“You might think that you’re young, but it’s your technical competence that makes the difference,” Bostick said. “And you ought to be bold, and you ought to be direct and you ought to not be worried about the fact that you’re young.”

The lieutenant general also stressed how important communication skills are. Bostick said that, as an 18-year-old, he was highly introverted and had, on a scale of 1 to 10, a zero in communication skills.

“I’m highly introverted, there’s nothing wrong with introverts, a lot of engineers are introverts,” he said. “But the ability to communicate is very, very important." 

When he first started teaching mechanical engineering at West Point, one of the classes he taught was on dynamics. One day, the head of the department told him that his job was “not to make sure that the cadets understand dynamics,” but instead “to make sure that there is no possible way they can misunderstand what [he is] teaching them.”

Now, Bostick always asks himself “Is there any way my team can misunderstand this?” When leaders make their communication completely clear, their team can go out and work hard.

Other key leadership skills he talked about include building teams, teamwork, developing and mentoring subordinates, having a vision and being a lifelong learner. For many students, the lecture was an invaluable learning experience. 

“There are going to be challenges in every organization," said Travis Meservy, a civil engineering graduate student who is also in the ROTC. "Make sure you have good values, good technical competence, good communication skills and work well with people.”

Bostick is a 1978 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and holds Master of Science Degrees in both Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University. Prior to his assignment as the U.S. Army’s 53rd Chief of Engineers and Command General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he served as the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1, responsible for total Army personnel and manpower; Commanding General, U.S. Army Recruiting Command; and as the Assistant Division Commander-Maneuver; and then Assistant Division Commander-Support of the 1st Cavalry Division. He deployed with the Division in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom before commanding the Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division, where he was responsible for more than $18 Billion in reconstruction in Iraq. Bostick also served as an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at West Point and was a White House Fellow, working as a special assistant to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

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