initiative

Six Lessons from A Message to Garcia

Ever find yourself frustrated with people who need hand-holding every step of the way? Yeah, me too. That’s why Elbert Hubbard’s essay, “A Message to Garcia,” hits home even today. It’s a powerful piece about getting things done without fuss. Now, let’s see how this ties into the concept of Completed Staff Work (CSW). 

Ready? Let’s jump in.

1. Initiative and Responsibility

Remember Rowan? The guy who took a letter to Garcia without asking, “Where exactly is he?” That’s initiative for you. He didn’t sit around waiting for detailed directions; he just got moving.

Picture this – a project manager who spots a problem in the workflow and fixes it, without waiting for a meeting to discuss it. That’s the kind of initiative we need.

Don’t wait for orders. See something that needs doing? Step up and handle it. Simple as that.

2. Self-Reliance and Problem-Solving

Rowan didn’t just deliver the letter; he navigated through unknown territory and figured things out on his own. That’s problem-solving at its best.

Think of a software developer who faces a bug in the code. Instead of running to their boss, they dive in, troubleshoot, and solve it.

Be resourceful. Trust your skills and tackle problems head-on. You’ve got this.

3. Efficiency and Effectiveness

Rowan got the job done without unnecessary back-and-forth. He was efficient and effective.

Imagine an employee who completes a detailed report on time without needing constant reminders. They know their job and they get it done.

Focus on your tasks. Avoid distractions. Deliver results promptly and move on to the next challenge.

4. Dedication and Perseverance

Rowan faced danger and hardship, but he didn’t quit. He was dedicated and saw his mission through to the end.

Think of a sales rep who follows up on a lead for months, through rejections and setbacks, until they close the deal.

Stick with it. Challenges will come, but persistence pays off. Keep pushing forward.

5. Clarity and Focus

Rowan didn’t bombard his superiors with questions; he understood his mission and focused on completing it.

Picture an intern given a research task. Instead of asking for help every step of the way, they understand what’s needed and get it done. 

Be clear about your goals. Ask only essential questions, then dive in and execute.

6. Competence and Reliability

Rowan was trusted with the task because he was known to be reliable. He delivered results.

Think of a team member who consistently delivers high-quality work. You know you can count on them.

Be dependable. Show up, do your best, and build a reputation for reliability.

Conclusion

The lessons from “A Message to Garcia” are as relevant today as they were back then. Take initiative, be self-reliant, work efficiently, stay dedicated, maintain clarity, and be reliable. These are the traits that make you indispensable in any workplace.

Ready to take your skills to the next level? Join our masterclass on Completed Staff Work and learn how to apply these principles to become a rock star at your job. 

A Message to Garcia

by Elbert Hubbard

In all this Cuban business there is one man stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion.

When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba—no one knew where. No mail or telegraph message could reach him. The President must secure his cooperation, and quickly.

What to do!

Someone said to the President, “There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”

Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How “the fellow by the name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia—are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.

The point that I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?” By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing—“Carry a message to Garcia!”

General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcias.

No man who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands were needed, but has been well-nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man—the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.

Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook or threat he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His goodness performs a miracle, and sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant.

You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office—six clerks are within call. Summon any one and make this request: “Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio.”

Will the clerk quietly say, “Yes, sir,” and go do the task?

On your life he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following questions:

Who was he? Which encyclopedia? Where is the encyclopedia? Was I hired for that? Don’t you mean Bismarck? What’s the matter with Charlie doing it? Is he dead? Is there any hurry? Shan’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself? What do you want to know for?

And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him try to find Garcia—and then come back and tell you there is no such man.

Of course I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average, I will not.

Now, if you are wise, you will not bother to explain to your “assistant” that Correggio is indexed under the C’s, not in the K’s, but you will smile very sweetly and say, “Never mind,” and go look it up yourself.

And this incapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this infirmity of the will, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift—these are the things that put pure Socialism so far into the future. If men will not act for themselves, what will they do when the benefit of their effort is for all?

A first-mate with knotted club seems necessary; and the dread of getting “the bounce” Saturday night holds many a worker to his place.

Advertise for a stenographer, and nine out of ten who apply can neither spell nor punctuate—and do not think it necessary to.

Can such a one write a letter to Garcia?

“You see that bookkeeper,” said a foreman to me in a large factory.

“Yes, what about him?”

“Well he’s a fine accountant, but if I’d send him up town on an errand, he might accomplish the errand all right, and on the other hand, might stop at four saloons on the way, and when he got to Main Street, would forget what he had been sent for.”

Can such a man be entrusted to carry a message to Garcia?

We have recently been hearing much maudlin sympathy expressed for the “downtrodden denizens of the sweat-shop” and the “homeless wanderer searching for honest employment,” and with it all often go many hard words for the men in power.

Nothing is said about the employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to get frowsy ne’er-do-wells to do intelligent work; and his long, patient striving with “help” that does nothing but loaf when his back is turned. In every store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process going on. The employer is continually sending away “help” that have shown their incapacity to further the interests of the business, and others are being taken on. No matter how good times are, this sorting continues; only if times are hard and work is scarce, the sorting is done finer—but out and forever out the incompetent and unworthy go. It is the survival of the fittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best—those who can carry a message to Garcia.

I know one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to anyone else, because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress, him. He cannot give orders; and he will not receive them. Should a message be given him to take to Garcia, his answer would probably be, “Take it yourself!”

Tonight this man walks the streets looking for work, the wind whistling through his threadbare coat. No one who knows him dare employ him, for he is a regular firebrand of discontent. He is impervious to reason, and the only thing that can impress him is the toe of a thick-soled Number Nine boot.

Of course I know that one so morally deformed is no less to be pitied than a physical cripple; but in our pitying, let us drop a tear, too, for the men who are striving to carry on a great enterprise, whose working hours are not limited by the whistle, and whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to hold in line dowdy indifference, slipshod imbecility, and the heartless ingratitude which, but for their enterprise, would be both hungry and homeless.

Have I put the matter too strongly? Possibly I have; but when all the world has gone a-slumming I wish to speak a word of sympathy for the man who succeeds—the man who, against great odds, has directed the efforts of others, and having succeeded, finds there’s nothing in it: nothing but bare board and clothes.

I have carried a dinner pail and worked for a day’s wages, and I have also been an employer of labor, and I know there is something to be said on both sides. There is no excellence, per se, in poverty; rags are no recommendation; and all employers are not rapacious and high-handed, any more than all poor men are virtuous. My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the “boss” is away, as well as when he is at home. And the man who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets “laid off,” nor has to go on a strike for higher wages. Civilization is one long, anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks shall be granted. He is wanted in every city, town, and village—in every office, shop, store, and factory. The world cries out for such: he is needed, and needed badly—the man who can “Carry a Message to Garcia.”

Unlock 10x Success with Strategic Leadership Programs.

Discover the impact of strategic leadership programs—crafted for deep learning. They're desirable, effective, engaging, and profitable, paving the way for 10x success for you and your team.

Scroll to Top