Ambassador Mustafa Speech at G.S. Rakovsky Military Academy 12-16-2021

Inspiring Bulgarian Leadership

Ambassador Herro Mustafa

G.S. Rakovsky Military Academy

December 16, 2021

Good afternoon. It is an honor and a privilege to be here this afternoon, with all of you, Bulgaria’s current and future military leaders. Truly, this is an honor. And I would like to say a special thank you to Major General Angelov for the invitation to be here. Thank you for being an example of leadership, of the inspiration for this University and for your country, and thank you for the excellent cooperation over the years.

I’d like to start off with a question. And I’m going to ask you to raise your hand. Will you do this for me? How many of you think that leaders are born? Raise your hand. How many of you think that leadership can be learned? Many people believe that you can learn to be a good manager, but leaders are born. That’s why you have this concept “born leaders.” But what I believe is that leadership can and should be taught, it is something that all of us can learn, not only in the classroom but also by setting an example.

We know that what distinguishes a great manager from a great leader, different traits, every good leader I think should be a good manager, not every good manager is necessarily a good leader. Managers know how to manage projects, resources, people, schedules, inventory, but leaders inspire. Leaders inspire. This is what makes great leaders stand out. We’ve all studied about great leaders, we all have them in our different countries around the world. For us in the United States we think of Martin Luther King, Jr., we think of Rosa Parks, we think of Abraham Lincoln, in the business world we think of Steve Jobs. I know here closer to home – Vasil Levsk is a leader. There isn’t a single building that I go to where I don’t see a picture of Vasil Levski, and how much he means to the Bulgarians. These leaders are able to bring people together, able to bring ideas together and they are able to make the whole greater than the sum of their parts. Good leadership is what makes organizations stronger, countries stronger, and partnerships stronger..

I’ll tell you my own story. You know a little bit of my background but I will share a little bit more about my own journey. I did not grow up as an elite. I did not grow up in a privileged society. In fact, both my parents had to work three jobs each in order to be able to give me and my younger brother at the time an opportunity to learn and to advance. And my father as he was working three jobs in these difficult circumstances would say to me one thing: “Herro, study hard. Take advantage of these opportunities that we have created for you. Study hard.” And so, I did. Throughout my career I have learned a lot of lessons about leadership. Each one of us has learned different things but for me, I will tell you – this card that you see, this old piece of paper, I carry this everywhere with me that I go, in my purse normally, and on this card throughout the years, every time I learned a new lesson, and sometimes you learn new lessons the hard way, they don’t always come easy, every time I learned a new lesson, I wrote it down. And I’m up to ten. Ten lessons that I’ve learned about leadership. I won’t necessarily going into this today but I’ll tell you the base of what I have learned about good leadership is that for any leader – you have to have that vision, you have to know what it is that you want, whether you’re an individual, an organization, whether you’re in the partnership, you have to have that vision, you have to really push yourself sometimes outside of your comfort zone, because that is where you learn best. You have to continue to invest in yourself, continue to be the best of you that you can be throughout your career. Just because you have made it to a general, doesn’t mean you are done learning how to be a leader. And you have to accept the fact that sometimes there will be a failure. But that is part of the leadership process, because through these failures you learn. What you have to do is pick yourself up, dust yourself off, as we say, and you continue to go forward. That’s the best of what I have learned. Another time I’ll come back and I’ll talk about the ten leadership.

What I can say here, what I want to say about Bulgaria and leadership is that Bulgaria has shown and practiced leadership in the region and around the world, as a longtime member of NATO and EU, and truly I am honored, I am privileged to have this opportunity to be an Ambassador here in Bulgaria. I have just recently passed my two-year anniversary being here. If there’s anywhere that I could have gone if you have asked me asked me two years ago where in the world would you have wanted to go, I am so thankful to have been here in Bulgaria. We have been working and continue to work arm-in-arm together to advance our shared security.

I’m going to say three things about leadership, three things that I hope you take away from this session today.

The first, leaders raise their hand. Leaders raise their hand.

You have heard me say before that the United States and Bulgaria are Stronger Together, and nowhere is that more true than in NATO. Bulgaria leads within NATO as one of the most willing countries to contribute to NATO operations.  To date, over 21,000 Bulgarian troops have participated in various NATO missions, providing security for Europe and the rest of the world. Just this past summer Bulgaria raised its hand and said that it would host the Three Seas Initiative, which is an initiative that aims to improve connectivity in this region between the Baltic, Adriatic, and the Black Seas. Bulgaria raised its hand and shined. Just last month, Bulgaria hosted the EUCOM CHODs Conference, bringing together the top leaders from all over Europe. Next year, on the economic front, all of the American Chambers across Europe are going to be coming to Bulgaria to have their annual summit.

I say “Raise your hand” because what I have learned is that in order to push yourself outside your comfort zone, in order to demonstrate, in order to learn these leadership skills, you have to also volunteer to take the lead. Not always somebody telling you “you need to do this, you need to do that.” Do it yourself. Say: “we are going to take the lead.” And you never know which one of those opportunities, it can be for individual, for a corporation, a team, you never know is one of those opportunities when you say: “Well, I’m going to do this” is going to be the one that really opens doors for your, that really allows you to shine, and to set that example.

Two, leadership means investing in each other, investing in your team, investing in your partners. Not just in yourself. “OK, I am a good leader, I am going to continue to find opportunities just to invest in me.” That is not good leadership. And for nations this is extremely important. This point I want to make because when I think of the partnership between the United States and Bulgaria this is a mutual investment. We are investing in each other.

We’ve committed to investing in Bulgaria’s leadership through our robust security relationship. The United States has dedicated over $350 million across various security assistance programs to assist in training and equipping the Bulgarian Armed Forces over the past 30 years.  Over 5,000 Bulgarian military officers, enlisted members, as well as civilian officials from the Ministries of Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs have participated in U.S. training programs, including Major General Angelov. And not only do Bulgarians participate, they get honors. It’s incredible. Just this past week we’ve had two instances where Bulgarians go to these training programs and they finish at the top. In addition to investing in our leadership, investing in training and equipping, we have invested in the future. And this is why we together have signed a 10-year Defense Cooperation Roadmap. What we have said is let us look at how we grow together and we set for ourselves a ten-year plan to look at modernization and we are doing this together. And this not only boost our operational readiness but it truly makes us Stronger Together.

Together, U.S. and Bulgarian leadership continue to modernize the Bulgarian Armed Forces to protect Bulgarian national interests and to increase NATO integration. And you have started this path, you are taking many strides towards this. One of the most impressive sites that I have seen is your Black Sea Maritime Coordination Element that you have in Varna – extremely impressive what you have done with that center. Not only that, I know that you are looking to do more on the Black Sea with your patrol ships that you are going to build. There’s a lot that is happening. And as I see the exercises that we do together, the complexity of those exercises, every single one is more advanced. So, we have been doing a lot together in becoming more complex, and becoming more integrated. These important advances will provide superior capabilities and it will improve interoperability with NATO, and truly it just makes us Stronger Together.

Three, leaders also know how to learn and to listen. I say this one because an important part of leadership is having that open mind where you can truly learn from one another, but also it is recognizing that true friends, partners, allies, we have honest conversations, sometimes difficult, but we have honest conversations with each other, you have different perspectives but you are constantly learning and listening to one another. I can tell you that in my time here, in my two years, I have learned a lot from Bulgarians, I have learned a lot about your resolve, your resilience, your pride. This is something that I know I’ll continue to do. We as NATO allies, we exchange lessons learned, we share our best practices, we utilize the collective experiences from each other and we do this to strengthen the collective defense of NATO member countries. So, raise your hand, invest in the growth of others, and listen and continuously learn. This is just three principles that I hope, if nothing else, you walk away from this with those.

What I like to do is give you a concrete example of something that we are working on together in this area, using these three traits. And it’s a vital aspect of national and global security. And that is cyber affairs.

People used to call cybersecurity the battleground of tomorrow, but it is no longer the battleground of tomorrow; it is the front of today. Many experts believe we are already in a full-scale cyber war, we’ve got malign actors all over, who use the relative anonymous space that you have in cyberspace and then they attack, they attack the physical equipment, they infrastructure. I know that here at home, here in Bulgaria, recent cyberattack against Bulgaria’s Health Ministry is an example of one in a series of attempts to destabilize Bulgaria. These actors try to bring divisions and they try to lessen the faith that people have in the institutions that are there to protect us. We have cyber-attacks at home, I know you have them here as I mentioned, and they happen throughout the world.

Malicious actors look for these weak points, and what we need to do is remain united we need to establish these strong collective links, this strong collective security and that’s one of the benefits of NATO, each ally, each partner nation can mutually reinforce each other’s contributions. And through active information sharing we can capitalize on each nation’s respective strengths. As NATO establishes lines of defense in cybersecurity, it must also determine how allies will work together to confront malign activity and how to hold these actors accountable. All allies must incorporate cybersecurity into our strategic planning; I know that cyber security is one of the top three most popular courses that you have here at this school, which I think is an example of how you see the importance of cyber security going forward. Together we should plan and execute cyber-resilience exercises; we must further incorporate cybersecurity into planning for incidences across the entire spectrum of military operations – from land to air, sea, and space.

Bulgaria has shown leadership and initiative in this realm, establishing the Communication-Information Support and Cyber Defense Command. This new organization will be vital to the future of your country and its security, as well as to the collective NATO organization. It will help ensure that malicious actors will look elsewhere for the weak links, and it will prove more difficult to find as our allies across NATO cooperate in cyberspace.

When we talk about cyber security it’s not just in the defense realm. You know this, this is something you all have prepared for, you have trained for. Cyber security means protecting critical infrastructure at the national level, at the local levels, it means safeguarding our banks, social services sectors, and building trust in electoral processes. It’s truly across the board.

We, the United States are partners with Bulgaria on this front just as we are across all fronts and you have heard me say many many times that Bulgaria’s strength is our strength, the stronger you are the stronger we are because we invest in each other and as one team we are Stronger Together.

Thank you again for this opportunity. I am very grateful to be able to be here. I am so proud to be the Ambassador of the United States to this incredible country. I am very proud of the partnership we have with the Bulgarian military. Of all the different pillars that I work, I am most impressed with the officers that I meet in the Bulgarian military. It is your leadership that truly makes me proud to be part of this partnership and the leadership will continue to show the world what a strategic partner Bulgaria is. I wish you continued success and as always We Are Stronger Together.