LAKELAND, Fla., March 9, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Rarely do citizens have the opportunity to interact with some of the most influential and knowledgeable world leaders of the past half-century. But those who attended Southeastern University's National Leadership Forum got their chance Friday, as former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on campus as the final speaker of the servant leadership focused event. Gates, who served under eight U.S. Presidents and also was director of the Central Intelligence Agency, first addressed The Forum audience about his keys to effective leadership. His listed nine qualities, including vision, transparency, integrity, courage, and self-confidence. He also emphasized the importance of leaders encouraging candor and honesty from those they are leading, saying that it was one of the hardest things for him to draw out of his workers at the Department of Defense. "I'd rather be warned about a land mine than step on it," he said. While entertaining those in attendance with stories from his time in government service and even some lighthearted jokes directed at Washington, Gates also took time to answer questions from Southeastern President Dr. Kent Ingle and the audience. On the Middle East, Gates said the decision on what to do about preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is "the toughest foreign policy problem I've encountered since I started in public service." He warned against intervention in conflicts such as the civil unrest in Syria by reminding the crowd of the sober reality that military interventions put American lives at risk, and that a decision to go down that road should primarily come when direct American interests are at risk. "We use our military when our own vital national interests are at stake," he said.