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28568 OCdt Liam Chambers: ‘Talks Real Leadership’

Talking Real Leadership

Article by: 28568 OCdt Liam Chambers

This week I wanted to continue on with highlighting stories of heroism where it relates to leadership and trust concepts, and I stumbled upon another unbelievable story about US Army Captain William Swenson (photo left) and the events of September 8 2009. During an ambush in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, more than 60 insurgents surrounded a column of US and Afghan soldiers on three sides. Among other actions, Capt. Swenson won a Medal of Honor for running back into live fire to rescue the injured and to bring back dead soldiers multiple times in a 6-hour firefight – all of which was captured from the helicopter medic’s GoPro helmet camera. I could stop at this point and discuss what creates an Officer like that, however, there are details in the footage (which you can see on YouTube) that require closer scrutiny. As Capt. Swenson brings back his platoon sergeant, who had been shot in the neck, to the MedEvac helicopter, you can see him lean over, and give him a kiss on the forehead, before he turns back to rescue more.

So, what makes an Officer like that? That is some deep emotion. We could discuss whether it is environment, training, or preparation; however, it becomes much more innate when broken down – why run into live fire, risk your own life, or lay it on the line for another? Simple. Think about your friends… your family even – because they would’ve done it for you. While these articles are based on extreme examples, and maybe none of you find yourself in these situations, it relates down to the lowest level of leadership. A concept that rings true every time we observe heroism like this is trust and cooperation. I can’t simply say to you, “trust me,” and you will. And I can’t simply say “work together,” and you will. The theme is then, the cost of effective cohesion is the expulsion of self-interest. You cannot instruct loyalty, you can only deserve it.

Concepts like this that focus on the people of the organization rather than the organization itself may at first seem inefficient, unfocused, or wrongfully concentrated. Instead of working directly for the organization, you focus your time on the individuals of it and maybe you don’t get recognized by the higher command and you may get passed over for appreciation or promotion – that returns to the concept of letting go of your self-interest. However, let’s look at it from a different angle. Let’s say for example you work your whole flight up to 400 on the PPT. No longer will you be special, no longer will you be recognized as unique, but as a team, you will be unstoppable. Think of the efficiency of an organization like this that breeds, and doesn’t bleed, talent. Think of the trust and teamwork that could have been developed, and how much further it could go. When you can work yourself out of a job, you have succeeded in leading.

“The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.” 

– Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last