General Anthony Zinni, retired four-star General in the United States Marine Corps and a former Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Central Command as well as current chairman of the board for BAE Systems, an aerospace company, spoke in Finney Chapel yesterday. His lecture focused on leadership strategies drawn from his latest book Leading the Charge.
College President Marvin Krislov introduced Zinni, the first General ever to speak at Oberlin. In his introduction, Krislov characterized Zinni as “no ordinary general” and that speaking to Oberlin students made him “certainly fearless.”
Zinni, who spoke directly opposite a white banner with the words “Merchant of Death” printed across it, detailed briefly what makes a bad leader and then, with the majority of his time, elaborated on what constitutes a successful leader in the modern age.
Zinni identified key abilities in a successful leader, notably the importance of having a “one size does not fit all” approach, investing in self-understanding, gaining a breadth of knowledge on subjects indirectly related to one’s industry, developing critical thinking skills, understanding implications and dimensions of issues, communicating clearly and utilizing innovations.
During his lecture, Zinni said that he had spent the majority of his day speaking with Oberlin students. “Some of the questions had not been friendly, but were fair,” he said.
Although most questions did not elicit a strong response, the Q&A session following the lecture became heated after College junior Jonathan Sidney critiqued Zinni’s advocation of ethical business practices despite his participation in the defense industry. Sidney accused Zinni of unethical arms deals with countries who have “repressive governments.”
Zinni refuted Sydney’s accusations and also said he did not feel the transactions, which he said were approved by the U.S. government, were unethical. Krislov stepped in to cut off Sidney’s extensive line of questioning. As the audience exited Finney, one member from the group of students who dropped the banner was forcibly removed by event security.