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Greatest Leadership Lesson Ever (Business Lessons From ROTC)

May 17, 2013

Okay, where are we?

Ah. . .here?

pointing to my map.

Wrong! Drop and give me 20!

We were somewhere West of the mountains and South of the Provo, UT Temple. Other than that, I couldn’t really say. I had a map. We all had maps. We were also all doing pushups because none of the ten of us knew our location on the map.

Some might have cut us some slack. The maps were at least 20 years old. They showed a big field, a water tower about half a mile away and not much else. In the ensuring years the area had become more developed. We might have been here
Or here
Or possibly here
We were the BYU Ranger Challenge team and this is what we did most mornings. We’d get up and run in the dark through the streets of Provo, UT using out-of-date maps. Major Turbiville, our coach, would stop at random times and turn to us and demand to know where we were on the map. A mistake resulted in 20 pushups. He was the one who’d supplied us with the maps.

It was almost comical to watch the squad emerge from the darkness into the golden halo of a street lamp. Everyone quickly trying to orient themselves to the map before we plunged back into darkness. It wasn’t often that we were all wrong, but today we were.

That was the last stop of the morning and we headed back to the field house as the sun started coming up. Being one of the fastest runners, I nearly always ran at the front next to the Major. Suddenly he turned to me and stated:

I was wrong.

Excuse me?

I was wrong about where we were on that last stop.

He pulled out his map and we looked at it while we ran.

I thought we were here, but we were actually over here.

If it’s any help sir, I didn’t think we were at that spot either.

He didn’t say anything more the rest of the way back. As we were cooling down after our run the Major called the squad together.

I was wrong about our location on that last stop. You each had to do 20 pushup because I made a mistake. I can’t take back the pushups that you did, so I’ve decided to match them. This afternoon during our lab time I’ll match a pushup for each one I made you do.

To say we were surprised was an understatement. If you’ve never been involved with the military you may not be familiar with the “4-count” pushup. Basically, you do two pushups, but count it as one. So, what the Major has just committed to do was 400 pushups.

That afternoon we arrived at lab in our uniforms and Major Turbiville did pushups. I don’t remember how long it took him, but I don’t think he took a break. He was a world-class athlete. As impressive as his physical strength and endurance was, it was the lesson in leadership that most impressed me.

He did two very important things with his offer.

First, he showed us that he valued us. We were cadets, some of first year cadets. He was a Major. He’d served in combat. He was an instructor, a professor. But, he felt that we were important enough to attempt to correct a mistake that we had to pay for.

Second, he showed us that he was willing to hold himself to the same standard as he was holding us to. If we made a mistake we were expected to pay for it. He was showing us that not only were leaders also held to account for their mistakes, when you are a leader, you are held to a higher standard.

The purpose of the ROTC was to train officers. We were embarking on a training course that was supposed to prepare us to lead men, possibly to lead them into combat or death. Major Turbiville was showing us that leadership is a privilege and an awesome responsibility.

In business, I’ve tried to remember that the manager is one more position on the team. While I might be the one calling the shots and setting the course, I have a responsibility for those that I work with. If we screw up, especially if it is because of my decisions, I also need to take responsibility for it and make it right.

I’ve had some great managers in my career. Major Turbiville was the greatest leader I ever had.

This is the fifth of five blog posts on leadership and business lessons I learned during a semester taking ROTC classes at BYU in the Fall of 1990.

  1. I’m grateful for those of you who follow and read my blog. This week I tried something a little different. All the blog posts were shared the theme of “Things I learned in the ROTC.” Did this make a difference to your enjoyment? Was it more distracting? Did you even notice?

    The reason I ask is that I’m thinking of doing some of these themes in the future, “Lessons I learned at Microsoft,” or “Things my dad taught me.” Each blog post would stand alone, but I’d group them by the week.

    Would anyone care? Any preferences one way or another?

  2. Ila permalink

    It was interesting to have a theme. I didn’t mind either way. Just don’t make too many entries on the same theme. It might feel repetitive.

  3. Matthew Walker permalink

    I just stumbled on your blog, thanks to Howard Tayler, and I greatly enjoyed this series of posts. Thank you for sharing!

    • Glad you liked it. I’m still evaluating the idea of doing more themed weeks. The feedback was “interesting, but don’t do it too much!”

      Glad you like it. The Greatest Leadership Lesson was my favorite, but Staring Into the Abyss was the most popular.

      Thanks for the feedback.

  4. Matthew Walker permalink

    Reblogged this on Utoxin's Random Insanity and commented:
    I just stumbled onto this blog, and really enjoyed what Rodney had to say, especially in this post. But I strongly recommend reading the rest of his posts as well.

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