The 2AM Leadership Lesson

A number of years ago I was a Second Lieutenant Military Intelligence Officer of a combat engineer battalion. I had just graduated from the Military Intelligence Officers Basic Course in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. So, when I arrived at my unit, the 44th Engineer Battalion, I had no idea what I was doing and I definitely did not know anything about being a combat engineer.

I knew the only way I would even have a shot at being successful was to spend almost every waking moment learning and working. That’s what I did. I spent a lot of time in the motor pool having others teach me about the vehicles and equipment. I interviewed almost everyone that would let me. And, I read, read, and read some more.

It helped that we went to the “field” for about two months straight. That means we conducted live training exercises with our armored personnel carriers, combat engineer vehicles, bridging platoons and other heavy equipment.

There is one night that stood out in my mind.

It was about 2 AM in the dark of early morning. My team and I had been working tirelessly to “track the battle.” The temperature was about 5 degrees below 0, Fahrenheit. I had about 4 layers of military clothing on and I was physically exhausted.

Our battalion executive officer told me that our commander was calling me on the radio.

“Broken Heart 2, this is Broken Heart 6,” he said again with a serious voice.

I ran to the radio and responded with, “This is Broken Heart 2.”

“Broken Heart 2, what is your assessment of the battle right now,” my commander asked me.

I stood there. Cold. Tired. Hungry. Incredulous.

Was he asking me MY assessment?

Why in the world would he ask me my assessment? I still didn’t know what I was doing as an intelligence officer. And, I certainly would not have volunteered my thoughts when we had real men and women conducting real movements in the dark using real equipment and munitions.

I thought about my assessment for what seemed like an eternity.

I looked at my Sergeant First Class. He looked back at me with that look that said, “Ok, now it’s your job LT. ”

I clicked the button on the radio microphone.

Out of my mouth came something. I can’t even remember what I said.

But, I remember what my commander said.

He said, “Thanks Broken Heart 2. Great assessment. I agree and will take action using your assessment.”

I felt numb at that moment. Every cell in my body wanted to call him back and say, “but I don’t know what I am talking about.”

We went on to “win the battle.” It had very little to do with my assessment, but we won, nonetheless.

What lingered with me was the absolute confidence my commander had in me and my team. He engaged me in such a way about a weighty decision that we felt like our contributions were absolutely essential.

His confidence in us inspired us to be even better.

I vowed to live up to his belief in us. I vowed to take ownership of our battalion’s mission in such a way as to approximate the responsibilities my commander had.

As a Founder & CEO, do you enlist the support of your team members this way? Do you ask for their input, when it counts?

Do you share ownership in such a way that just reminding your team of your intent (the ultimate mission of the organization) inspires them to take actions and make decisions without waiting for you?

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