Thoughts on Leadership, Part 1

May 25 2012

Several months ago my dad was in town to attend a Military Hall of Honor Ceremony at the University where we both attended. I try to make it out every year with him for a couple reasons. He lives in a different state so when he is here I try to spend as much time with him as I can. I also come away learning something valuable from every Ceremony I have attended. This most recent event was no different. In fact, I think I took away the most this time compared to any other time.

What I learned from one of the speakers at this ceremony as he addressed a group of young ROTC soon to be graduates, I decided to break into three parts. The lessons I took away from his presentation are not meant just for people in some type of leadership role, but especially for people just starting their first career job. In many ways, this is most vital to that particular segment and serves as a refresher to many of the more seasoned folks.

Part 1 – Plans Fail. Carry On.

‘Our leader’ in this story, let’s call him John Powers, was a cadet sgt practicing with his drill team for an upcoming competition. This was an ROTC drill team, so think cadence marching and rifle acrobatics. They practiced day in and day out. Nights and weekends around their classes. Their team was already considered the elite and they had a reputation to uphold. With all Military endeavors, you finish as the best or you do not stop until you are. Drive.

Their drill team boarded a bus and headed to the location where the competition was going to take place. The arrival time was two days prior to the actual competition date to give them time to assess the area and tweak the drills based on the field. Day one went flawless and things were going great. Everyone knew their positions as it had been drilled into them relentlessly time and time again. Moves were made with precision and without hesitation as each step was memorized and needed no effort to call from memory. This was going to be a success. Everyone was prepared. All the planning, the blood, the sweat, and the tears was going to pay off.

Day two began much the same way day one ended, with the exception of poor weather. This team was determined and focused. They began practicing at 5:00 am, in the rain. Then it happened. One of their key drill team members slipped and broke his ankle. He was out the day before the competition. This was a vital person whom without, the routine would not work.

John stopped the practice and told everyone to break. As they assessed the outcome with the injured drill team member it became clear that he would not be able to participate and the routine was in jepoardy. Based on the specific moves that were choreographed, the routine could not be performed without this member. There were two options: 1. Forfeit from the competition or 2. Change the routine. less than 24 hours before the competition. All the planning and the practicing gone, within a matter of seconds.

John conferred with this second in command to figure out what the best route to take was. After about 30 minutes of discussion they decided to create a brand new routine. How would the team react? Would they even go with it? Is this even realistic to pull off in such a short amount of time? And if they do, would it be at the caliber that is expected?  These are all questions that every good leader has to deal with.

This is how John addressed his team. He gathered them just outside their bus an explained the current situation of the injured member and the impact that has had on routine and the team. He went on to say that the new plan was to create a new routine in time for the competition the next day. He let his team know they were the best team he has ever been apart of because they were and he believed that. This team was capable. This team has the motivation, the drive and the focus to pull anything off. Why? Because they are that good. They are the elite. It’s the elite that can take a blow, reassess and find an alternate way to success without faultering. John was able to pull everyone together to reach this new goal with enthusiasm. Not because he filled them with sunshine, but because he truly believed in his team and what they were capable of because they have proved they were time and time again.

A leader is able to see the full potential in their team that others may not and have the ability to encourage and motivate them to achieve things that seem impossible. And John never left their side. One thing his team could always depend on is John’s support. He would do anything for his team and they knew it. John was someone they might follow into battle one day so his support and trust is vital. They did not want to let him down. If John believed in them, they wanted to do whatever they could to prove him right.

Whether they went on to win the competition or not was never revealed and it really doesn’t matter. They key takeaway is that plans fail and fall apart. This will happen. Sometimes at the worst possible times. You have to find a way to stay collected and assess what your options are. Panicking simply wastes time and is unproductive. There are always different paths that can be taken to land at a successful outcome. It’s matter of being able to think straight and surround yourself with a team or group of people who can help you achieve the common goal.


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