“Most of the tough times come up on us when we don’t expect it.”
That was the message Army Ranger Keni Thomas delivered at the NASCIO conference earlier this month. Thomas was one of the soldiers who took part in the 1993 mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, that spawned the book and film Black Hawk Down.
It’s easy to see how someone who fought for our country knows a thing or two about leadership and sacrifice, but Thomas’ message was clear: Leadership is important no matter what your profession is.
Today, Thomas’ definition of what a leader is differs greatly from his definition prior to the 1993 mission. “I used to think that a leader was, ‘Watch how good I am. Everybody should be as good as me, and I don’t have [to make] the effort to show people how to follow.’”
He had a fellow soldier by the name of David Floyd in his crew. Floyd was not the quickest when learning new tasks and often had to be shown things many times. “No job is independent of another job,” Thomas said. As good as you are, you can’t do everything, he added. You are as good as your weakest link.
Thomas worked with Floyd to make sure that he knew his standard operating procedure (SOP) and that he knew what to do before the mission started. When the mission broke down, many of the soldiers began getting complacent in their SOPs, causing safety issues. “When people skip their SOPs, it affects people’s lives.” One person who didn’t skip on his SOP — David Floyd — ended up saving Thomas’ life.
Army Ranger Keni Thomas’ story can be applied to any profession. “If you plan well in advance, and you come up with all the ‘what ifs,’ then you will be able to execute quickly,” he said.
Leadership is defined as the way you serve the people on your left and your right, Thomas noted; it’s not about your title. Thomas then offered up four tips for effective leadership:
• Planning: Train as you fight, and fight as you train.
• Hold people to high standards, and make everyone accountable.
• Never let the panic surface. Panic makes you do one thing — save yourself. And when you do that, you leave people hanging.
• Leadership is making the choice to do the right thing.
A server going down isn’t a life-or-death situation, but thanks to the inspirational words from Army Ranger Keni Thomas, we all can be better prepared for the unexpected and step up as leaders within our own organizations.