Generational Leadership is powerful when we focus on developing the person.
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” ~ Warren Buffet
Arlington National Cemetery is full of numbers.
On a warm Saturday this past May, as I walked steadily towards my destination on the grass, I couldn’t help but notice the numbers, by each name, on each tombstone. And I thought about my journey, my history and how I came to be here at this point in my life, with this new purpose.
I thought about the incredible leaders I have known over the years, who went out of their way to invest time in me and make me a better person. I remembered the leaders who consistently showed me how much they cared about me, by always raising the bar instead of lowering it.
I found myself remembering, once again, the Bridge in AL Kut, Iraq. It was April 9, 2004. A morning, a day and night I will never forget. The Bridge was supposed to be free of enemy forces and our objective was to seize it. I thought about how well my scout platoon fought that night against overwhelming odds and we were successful in seizing our objective, Bridge 3.
Then I thought of Joe.
More than 10 years before that fight on the bridge, Joe Fenty entered my life as my company commander. Every week we went on grueling company runs, which were even longer and hot during the summer months. That’s because Joe viewed those adverse weather conditions an opportunity. On those extra grueling runs, he encouraged us to continually look left and then look right to make sure our buddy was still there. He made it a practice to remind us that we were a team and that we were responsible for each other to finish the run. And while this experience was building physical strength, it was the mental toughness and the emphasis on team that showed up on April 9th at Bridge 3.
As a leader you have lives (sometimes literally) in your hands and it is your responsibility to take care of them, build them up and develop them so they remain mentally strong in overwhelming and unexpected circumstances.
A leader has the critical responsibility to develop the bonds between individuals. These bonds are what helps a team work together to accomplish a mission.
Another leader who had a big impact on my development was Nate. He was also one of my commanders and the reason I chose to become an Army officer. Under his leadership I learned to view organizations as human systems, full of talent waiting to be developed, the very words I use today when I describe my work as a leadership coach. It was my job as a leader to tap into the talent that exists, to inspire each person to reach his/her full potential so that the organization can reach its full potential.
It wasn’t the technology that won that battle on the bridge. It was experiences with Joe and Nate that developed me as a leader to have mental toughness, a strong belief in the team, and to empower my soldiers to take action that allowed us to seize the bridge.
As a leader it was my job to intentionally develop the leadership of future Army leaders, so when faced with an unexpected, chaotic and overwhelming situation where technology couldn’t win the battle, they could rely on human-centered systems, to “seize the bridge”.
Liz was one of my best students, an all-star cadet at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. where I had the honor to serve as a faculty member. She was someone who connected instantly with people and set a great example for others both mentally and physically. My class was filled with lessons passed down from Joe and Nate, leaders she never met, but leaders who directly influenced the leader she is today.
I met up with Liz, that Saturday this past May, and together with my classmates from the doctoral program at Pepperdine University, we walked through the grass at Arlington National Cemetery. Passing each tombstone until we came to Joe’s.
Generational Leadership is powerful when we focus on developing the person. It truly impacts leaders for generations to come. Liz went on to serve in the Army after she graduated from West Point.
By being intentional about developing the next generation of leaders we are creating sustainability and capability throughout the depths of our organizations.