In 2005, I wrote a book entitled Soldier, Statesman, Peacemaker: The Leadership Lessons of General George C. Marshall. As a result, I have the opportunity to occasionally travel to Lexington, Virginia to speak at the Marshall Foundation.
Recently, after one of my talks, I had the pleasure of listening to Terry Newell deliver a lecture on "Strategic Leadership: George C. Marshall and the Marshall Plan." In it, he dissected Marshall's original speech on "The Marshall Plan". (By the way, Marshall himself never called it the Marshall Plan — he was far too modest — and instead always referred to it as The European Recovery Act.)
What had never occurred to me — and what Newell brought to my attention — is that the "Marshall Plan" ends with a series of questions:
"And yet the whole world of the future hangs on a proper judgment. It hangs, I think, to a large extent on the realization of the American people, of just what are the various dominant factors. What are the reactions of the people? What are the justifications of those reactions? What are the sufferings? What is needed? What can best be done? What must be done? Thank you very much."
Newell then asked the audience the significance of this gesture. No one responded, so he offered that it was Marshall's way of inviting his audience to not only think of the enormous problems facing Europe at that time but as a way of inviting dialogue as well.
As readers know, I'm a huge proponent of asking questions as a method of unlearning and what Marshall so eloquently reminds us is that one of the biggest benefits of asking questions is that they can till, cultivate and nurture the ground from which new thinking — and solutions — can emerge.
To this end, it is worth noting that when Marshall delivered his historic speech there was no such thing as "The Marshall Plan." The plan, which has been hailed by many historians as the greatest act of diplomacy of the 20th century, was only formulated afterwards with assistance of American and European diplomats, legislators, and citizens.