Leadership, Liberty, and Millennials: How MG Abe Turner Nailed Them All

July 15, 2015 | Posted By: Connor Watkins

Turner at July Breakfast Meeting

Imagine a military man of 35 years. A man who has risen to the rank of Major General, served all around the world, earning countless honors and awards, and adding numerous distinctions to his resume.

Imagine that man talking about the development of his philosophy on leadership.

Tuesday morning at RADIUS, that man was retired Major General Abraham Turner, and he delivered a speech that hit home with the audience at the Greater Lexington Chamber and Visitors Center’s monthly breakfast.

“I learned everything I needed to know about leadership by the time I was five years old,” Turner told the crowd, recalling an interview with a young reporter from Business Week magazine that had taken place about a decade ago when he was serving as the Commanding General at Fort Jackson. “He looked at me, and he was startled. He had this look of disbelief, pretty much like the look I see on some of your faces right now.”

Turner went on to explain that he lived with his grandmother from the age of two until age six. He lived in the small community of Cainhoy, nestled between the Berkeley and Charleston County line at the Wando River on the outskirts of Mount Pleasant.

“Grandma Rebecca said to me there are some rules you’ve got to live by boy. That’s the way it is. You’ve got to live by these rules,” Turner said. “And forever more, you’ve got to commit yourself to these rules. I call them Grandma Rebecca’s Rules of Life. They’re very simple, and they’re very straightforward. But I have committed myself to these four rules.”

The first rule was to treat everyone you meet as you would want to be treated, not how you are treated. The second was to always respect your elders.

“She had a switch to back that up,” Turner said.

Number three was to not let anyone tell you what you can achieve out of life. Go after your goals.

“The final one that has probably held me as straight as an arrow as anything else in my life is this one: the world doesn’t owe you anything. You’ve got to work hard for what you want, and you’ve got to work hard for what you get,” Turner said. “That last rule is the one that has driven me all the way to Retired Major General from Mt. Pleasant, SC after 35 years of serving this nation.”

Turner said his Grandma Rebecca was a loving and caring person, and very religious. But she was also a very strict woman.

“I’ve used these four rules my entire life, and I still do today,” he said. “It’s not rocket science. It’s just straight forward common sense.”

What the proposed military cuts to Fort Jackson would have meant to South Carolina was also common sense.

“Do you know what that would mean to the Midlands?” Turner asked of the proposed 3,100 personnel reduction. “We’re talking millions of dollars locally.”

But thanks to the work of Turner and many others, that personnel reduction ended up being just 180. Turner was quick to thank the community for their efforts in that regard.

“We could not have done it without your support,” he said. “We have the most military friendly community you can find anywhere in America.”

Turner went on to discuss leadership in the business world and the changes that are coming with an influx of millennials into the workforce. Millennials, who were born between 1988 and 2001, make up the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in our country’s history.

“You think you know the millennials, but you don’t,” Turner said. “They have the potential to do great things, but I don’t know if we as Generation X or Baby Boomers know how to expand and take advantage of that potential.”

Turner believes the key is communicating with the millennials, getting to know them and welcoming them into the business world, because they have a lot to offer.

“You should communicate with them, embrace them and give them opportunities to show what they’ve got. Don’t push them aside because they’re young. Pull them into your business,” he said. “The businesses who don’t will be the businesses who won’t stay competitive. Make the millennials a part of your success story.”

Turner closed his presentation encouraging everyone to celebrate our country’s liberties during the month of July and thank someone who has served or is serving in the military.

“The common bond that links us all is that love of country, an ideal that we’re all part of something that’s greater than any single person. This ideal called America,” Turner said. “There are many of us who have served this nation and far too many of us who have died for this nation. The liberties that we enjoy - freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of religion, just to mention a few. Those are all protected and guaranteed by the men and women who wear the uniform.”

The breakfast was sponsored by Webster University.