WEST POINT — Retired Gen. Martin Dempsey returned to West Point, his alma mater, on Friday to offer a new generation of cadets advice on how to be a leader.

Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, got his start locally, graduating from John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen before going on to become a member of the West Point Class of 1974.

Dempsey said one important trait of any leader is humility.

“If you are humble, you’re approachable,” Dempsey said.

To illustrate his point about humility, Dempsey recalled when he learned Time magazine was naming him one of the 100 most influential people in 2015.

“I’m not even the most influential person in my house,” he quipped.

However, when the issue was published, he took the unusual step of driving to a Barnes & Noble store by himself — he usually was driven by someone else at that point in his career — to pick up a few copies.

His biography and photo appeared between singer Kanye West and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

“Not exactly the influential image I was looking for,” Dempsey said. “So, you should never be too impressed by the things you hear about yourself.”

Dempsey said Army leaders “have to earn trust every day.” The sexual assault problems in the military, he said, are “a violation of (that) trust.”

“Problems with sexual assault, we can fix that if we all respect each other,” Dempsey said.

While compasses have become less useful in this era of Google Earth and similar tools, Dempsey told the cadets they still need a “moral compass” to help find “your true north about what to do. Compare your decision to your moral compass.”

Dempsey told the cadets they should not be intimidated by difficult decisions along the way in their careers.

“Never let yourself become paralyzed by the complexity of the problem,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey said when soldiers under his command in Iraq died, to help him cope with the losses he began having laminated cards made with the name and photo of each person. At first he carried them in his wallet, then had a small box made to hold them. It eventually held 132 cards. He keeps it to this day.

On the box is the simple phrase: “Make it matter.”

“More often than not, it will be something little you do that will matter to someone,” Dempsey told the cadets. “You can make it matter, in some small way. If you do, you will be the leaders we need you to be.”

mrandall@th-record.com