Leadership Under Fire

Last week, on a flight from Dallas to Nashville, I sat next to a young Army Captain named Drew. I normally don’t talk to the people on the plane. I usually have too much work to do. But I had had a long day, and I was ready for a change of pace.

Drew and I had a fascinating discussion about Iraq, American politics, and what he had learned at West Point and two tours of duty in Iraq.

Our conversation eventually turned to leadership. He knew this subject inside and out. He didn’t have the kind of theoretical, text-book knowledge that you often hear from MBA’s who’ve read the literature but never actually done the work.

Instead, he had the kind of real-world leadership experience that you only get in battle, when the stakes are high, and the bullets are flying. He was only 30, but he had twenty years worth of experience. I was impressed.

In the conversation, I told him that I was an admirer of Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore. He was most famous as the Lieutenant Colonel in command of 1st Battalion, U.S. 7th Calvary Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Calvary Division at the Battle of la Drang on November 14–16, 1965, in Vietnam.

Moore wrote a famous book, We Were Soldiers Once … and Young that inspired Mel Gibson to make and star in the movie, We Were Soldiers. It’s one of my top ten favorite movies of all time.

Drew said, “If you like General Moore, you’ve got to see this three-minute clip about his thoughts on leadership.” I said great. He copied it over to my USB flash drive. I finally got around to watching it this morning.

Wow. This is an inspiring clip. In it, he articulates four principles for a leader’s conduct in battle:

  1. Three strikes and you’re not out. You’re never out unless you quit.
  2. There’s always one more thing you can do to influence the situation in your favor. And after that, one more thing you can do.
  3. When there’s nothing wrong, there’s nothing wrong … except there’s nothing wrong! This is when a leader must be most alert! Danger lurks.
  4. Trust your instincts. They are the product of your education, your reading, your personality, and your experience. When seconds count, this is all you have. Learn to trust them and act on them.

These battle-tested principles are applicable to anyone in leadership. Whether you are a first-time supervisor, a division executive, or a CEO, this is great advice.

As I left the plane on Friday evening, I asked for Drew’s resume. Anyone with this kind of leadership experience is exactly the kind of person I want in our company. It made me feel very proud that we have men of this caliber defending our nation. Trust me, we are in very good hands.

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  • Jeff W.

    Michael, thanks for the story and the video. It’s certainly sad when elected leaders, in fact those aspiring to the presidency, speak poorly of our true great leaders–those in the military. We need to do our best to make everyone around us aware of just how intelligent, courageous, and driven our military personnel are. We also need to display their importance to us personally and as a nation. An example of this is my cousin. He was a top student at Arizona State University and forewent his senior year to train to become a Navy Seal. In the second quarter of last year, after months and months of personal training and studies, he entered basic training and, just this month, started Seal school. He’s bright, athletic, adventuresome and looking for leadership opportunities. He claims he can finish school anytime but his window of opportunity to become a Seal was small. He is a prime example of those who enter the military today. He didn’t take this opportunity because there was nothing better, he took it because nothing else offered this type of challenge.

  • Anonymous

    Anyone interested in how the leaders of our military are developed should read “Leadership Lessons from West Point.” I’ve only read the first quarter of the book so I can’t really give a full report on it, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far.

  • Blair H.

    Good suggestion from the last comment. I too found “Leadership Lessons from West Point” and although I am only into the second chapeter right now I am very impressed with its content. We are actually beginning to use some if its concepts here at my company.
    Great article Mike and thanks for the video feed.

  • http://biz.blox.pl TesTeq

    Thank you for deleting my comment. I understand that it is not allowed in the United States of America to even mention some issues.

    Best regards from post-totalitarian Eastern Europe.

    P.S. There are no issues that a honest man can’t discuss.

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Tes,

    Yes, I deleted your previous comment. This is not a political blog, and I didn’t want to see a debate ensue. It’s completely off-topic.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • http://christianlovestories.blogspot.com Kristy Dykes

    Powerful post! Thanks for sharing it. My husband and I watched the clip together and discussed it, applying it to our church and its mission (we pastor). As you said, these principles are for anyone in leadership.
    Kristy Dykes

  • http://biz.blox.pl TesTeq

    Michael,

    Thank you for your answer. I only wanted to stress that people can wholeheartedly follow the leader if the leader’s goal is noble and he can convince them that his intentions are right.

    Best regards,

    TesTeq – Krzysztof Wysocki

  • http://hither-and-yon.blogspot.com/ Austin Bob

    Great post, Mike. I especially like General Moore’s #3. I’ve expressed a similar thought in the following variation:

    Good news is no news (it’s what we all expect of each other).

    Bad news is good news (it gives us a chance to address a problem while it is still “new”).

    No news is bad news (when nobody is worried, everyone should worry).

    I often couple this with a quote from one of my leadership mentors:

    Bad news does not improve with age.

    I just discovered your blog and have signed up as a subscriber. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  • Doug Smith

    I was introduced to General Moore quite a number of years ago, but I had no idea who he was until I saw the movie. An article on Madeleine Stowe in a magazine we were advertising in mentioned that she had just completed filming a movie where she played the role of the wife of the greatest battlefield commander in Viet Nam. I had read The West Point Way of Leadership years before and gravitated toward the conclusion that leading troops in battle has to be the greatest leadership challenge imaginable. (And that the best education there is begins with four years at West Point.) It was a very uncharacteristic impulse buy for me when I came across a display of DVDs of We Were Soldiers in the supermarket, but the movie had a profound effect on me. (One minor point: Mel Gibson didn’t “make” the movie, though I think perhaps his production comany did. It was written and directed by Randall Wallace, who wrote the screenplay for Braveheart.) I devoured the book the movie was based on–which read more like an after-action report–but curiously nowhere could I find some of the most memorable lines from the movie (three strikes and you are not out, etc.). Subsequently, I’ve read them all in various pieces that General Moore wrote on military command. Of course, Randall Wallace had regular access to the General and other veterans during writing and filming. Finally, when Geraldo Rivera, was embedded with the troops during the great rush to Baghdad during Gulf War II, he reported on all of the impressive young American officers he was encountering, how well educated they are, and how capable they are. Any one of them, he said, could go home and run IBM or run General Electric or any of American industry. Agreed!

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Doug,

    You are right about Randall Wallace. My bad. Thanks for correcting me.

    Mike

  • masa

    add on to doug’s comment, it is true, mel gibson was just a cast, in fact, that the film was produced by paramount (u.s.) and icon (owned by a german copmpany). it was a great movie, i think because it was the first war movie of vietnam produced by not just the u.s., which portraits various point of views on “the past”, unlike most of vetman movies came out back in late 70-80s (except stallone’s “first blood” whitch was written by a canadian writer david morrell). me too, i had known a little bit of “yellow-ish hair” moore, I have read about him when i was in school in japan, i got to know more through the movie. put aside of debate of rivera for now, one other thing what america needs learn besides “war” is film rating. it is ok to tell your kids about your war story like moore had, but you cannot show war movies to them. uh??