Lesson #2: Leaders Love Others
Okay, maybe you’re uncomfortable with the “L” word in a leadership context. So, what if we use the “C” word – Care….Or, the “A” word – Appreciate. Would that make you feel better?
I still choose the word love.
The greatest leaders I ever had in the Marine Corps loved me and I knew it. I knew that they would sacrifice themselves for me or the misson at hand. That type of love served as an unbreakable bond for some of the best units I ever served with.
I once read an article about Vince Lombardi, the iconic, hard-driving, tough football coach. The author had attempted to show a sneak peek of the person behind the coach, the person who was passionate about growing each team member in a highly intimate and personal way. On separate occasions, each of the former players surprised the writer with a very similar sentiment about Lombardi; “I have never been so loved by someone outside my family. We all knew he would do anything for us…anything. We would go through walls for this man.”
Coach Lombardi earned the right to drive his team to the limit, because his intense drive was balanced by his equally intense love for each man. He awakened in his players the respect, drive, and love he held within himself. When people know that a leader loves them great things are possible.
When I think of a leader’s love I am also reminded of Army Captain William Swenson. On September 8, 2009, Swenson was part of an operation to connect the Afghan government with native elders in the Ganjgal Valley in Eastern Kunar Province in Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.
According to the U.S. Army’s detailed Official Narrative, Swenson’s force was ambushed at about 6 a.m. by as many as 60 insurgent fighters who soon surrounded the column on three sides. Swenson called for air support and with two comrades crossed 50 meters of open space under direct enemy fire to administer life-extending first aid to his severely wounded sergeant.
When the column was surrounded by enemy fighters that advanced within 50 meters, Swenson responded to Taliban demands for surrender by throwing a hand grenade, an act of defiance that rallied his men to repel the enemy advance.
Swenson and his men moved his sergeant and the other wounded to a helicopter for medical evacuation before returning to the enemy’s “kill zone” for at least two more trips in an unarmored vehicle to evacuate additional wounded. After the 7 hour firefight had ended, 15 coalition soldiers were dead.
What most people don’t know, is that Swenson is considered the only living Medal of Honor Awardee to have a portion of his actions captured on camera. The event was captured by two different MedEvac crew members and shows each crew member’s perspective of events spanning the same time period. (You can see the video here but keep reading below first!)
What makes this video so special is not the dust, the bullets, or the chaos, but the actions of a leader. At about the 4:10 mark you can see Swenson lean over, look at his wounded soldier, and gently kiss his forehead. It would be the last time he ever saw Sergeant Westbrook…he died soon after the ambush.
The army’s official account makes no mention of the kiss Swenson gave one of his men. But that one act explains everything about true leaership…..
Lesson #2: Leaders Love Others