When you are looking for a little inspiration about leading your people, think about what soldiers experience in the U.S. Army Ranger School.
Some time ago I read The Unforgiving minute: A Soldier’s Education. In the book, Craig Mullaney describes his experiences at the United States Military Academy and U.S. Army Ranger School before heading off to War.
The book was a compelling inside view of what it took to complete each component of Mullaney’s military education. To give you a taste of the book and the leadership lessons contained within, let me provide two brief excerpts. I found these two passages particularly riveting. The instructors drilled simple but profound ideas into the men as they trained them to be Rangers–the U.S. Army’s battlefield leadership. Mullaney wrote:
As we spent nights marching through torrential thunderstorms, officers urged us on with motivational cheers. ‘Nothing but a little Ranger sunshine, cadets.’ ‘If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training.’ ‘You gotta love being cold, wet, and miserable. Love the Suck, men, love the suck.’ On the face of it, their cheers were silly. Who could love being miserable? (p. 50).
Now, Mullaney was right. These cheers were silly, but remember that leadership is a mindset. Too often we think that leadership is about having certain traits or taking correct actions. Success often hinges on the leader’s focus (why he is leading, not how or what). In battle, Rangers would be responsible for motivating their men regardless of the conditions.
Love the Suck
I have passed that little bit of wisdom on to my MBA students at times when they were overwhelmed by the demands of work, home, and their classes. I remind them that if they play their cards right, they will have more pressure, not less. But when they rise through the ranks of their organizations, their people are going to be sustained by the training they are experiencing right now in my class. No discipline is pleasant at the time (Hebrews 12:11).
At home, I have encouraged myself with the same message when it was hard to comfort a crying baby at 3AM. I have 5 kids, so I know what it is like to be tired and frustrated while caring for a child. But as a parent, I know that hard times are part of the job description, and this is the point. This is why we need to learn to “love the suck.”
Leadership is Not About You. It is About Your People
Whether you are leading soldiers, managing employees, or raising children, the only correct leadership mindset is one that places the best interests of those you lead first. This does not mean that they necessarily get their way; it does mean that they get your best.
In another passage, Mullaney explained that one of the Ranger instructors:
asked each of us one simple question: ‘Why are you here?’ The answers were predictable, ranging from ‘For the challenge’ to ‘My platoon sergeant made me.’ I admitted with the other infantry officers that I hadn’t had a choice.
‘Wrong answer, Ranger,’ he said to each person before addressing the group. ‘You are here for one reason.’ He paused for effect. ‘You are here for the troops you are going to lead. You are responsible for keeping them alive and accomplishing whatever mission you’re given. I don’t care if you’re tired, hurt, or lonely. This is for them. And they deserve better. You owe them your Ranger tab’ (pp. 101-102).
The instructor was absolutely right: You lead FOR THE PEOPLE YOU LEAD. Remember that, and the correct actions will be much more likely to follow.
The Professor’s Recommended Reading:
-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.
November 24, 2012
Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University