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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