Learning from Veterans about Leadership and LX2

Learning from Veterans about Leadership and LX2

November 12, 2018 News

Often we think that soldiers are solitary heroes. This is almost never the case in that they train, work and survive in units, often in critical pairs. And often we think they enlist out of patriotism. That contains truth for some.*  Actually, more enlist in the army for adventure, and for occupational and economic reasons. Moreover, enlisting is quite a bit like joining a company, where you join because you like what the organization stands for and the economic return. But what eclipses patriotism in why people are motivated to remain and fight is human connection.

American and German studies since the 1940s have substantiated the finding that camaraderie and connection sustain the will to fight. A 2003 study of American troops in Iraq reinforced this finding. The study excerpts interviews with two soldiers, whose words give flavor to this general finding:

“’That person means more to you than anybody. You will die if he dies. That is why I think that we protect each other in any situation. I know that if he dies, and it was my fault, it would be worse than death to me.”

“[In another] infantryman’s words, ‘You have got to trust them more than your mother, your father, or girlfriend, or your wife, or anybody. It becomes almost like your guardian angel.’”**

Their words exemplify a central focus of what John Gillis and I call “Leading by 2,” or LX2. Working in 2’s motivates us. We don’t want to let another down. We are motivated that they have our back.

Think about what kind of partner or teammate you are, and imagine what a powerful partnership can be like for you and key others. One of the central findings of our research is that “work ethic” and “loyalty” are essential drivers of great partnerships. The soldiers’ testimonials vividly bring these behaviors to light.  And likewise, you can assess yourself from the stripped-down, life-or-death perspective of soldiers leading by two in combat.  So, before I conclude with one more testimonial from the Wong study of Iraq vets, I invite you to read it with these questions in mind: Do I lead like this? Can I lead like this – with my boss, my co-workers, my right-hand people? Do I lead like this with my spouse, with my aging parents, with my adult children? Do I really have their back? Here’s how one soldier described work ethic and loyalty:

I knew Taylor would personally look out for me. . . . It was stupid little
things like, ‘Dude, you look like you need a hug.’ He would come over
and give me a big old bear hug. He knew that I looked out for him
and vice versa. . . . Knowing that there is somebody watching when I
didn’t have the opportunity to watch myself when I am driving–Taylor
watched everywhere. When I am driving down the road, I have to
watch in front of me knowing where I am driving and knowing that I
am not going to drive over anything. I don’t know what is behind me.
I don’t know what is to my side. I trusted Taylor was going to keep an
eye on everything. He always did. Obviously, he did. We are still here.
Thank God.

When you thank a veteran, you may not know it, but you are thanking them for watching out for a buddy, as well as putting their lives on the line for their country.  Let them be an inspiration for us, as we create great partnerships and great teams, by

Leading with our best selves.

* A Rand study found the following reasons for army enlistment, in order: (1) Adventure/travel, (2) Benefits, (3) Call to serve, (4) Job stability/pay, (5) Leaving a negative environment, (6) Job training. Source: https://taskandpurpose.com/5-reasons-soldiers-join-army/

** The quotes are excerpted from a study by Leonard Wong, et al., “Why They Fight: Combat Motivation in the Iraq War,”  https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pdffiles/PUB179.pdf.  Wong and his team also found that belief in the mission was also a strong motivator – more so than previous studies had indicated.

About the author

Dan Mulhern: Dan Mulhern is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of leadership and organizational culture.