Courage: Dousing the Fire with Trust and Respect
Currently, I am reading Daniel Goleman’s book, Social Intelligence. He begins his book with a story from the early days of the second Gulf War. For me, this story is a remarkable example of strong team leader and a well developed team.
The story involves Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Hughes and a local mosque. His mission was to ask for help from the cleric in organizing the distribution of relief supplies.
However, fearing the soldiers were coming to arrest their spiritual leader or destroy their mosque, a holy shrine, a mob gathered. As hundreds of devout Muslims surrounded the soldiers, waving their hands and shouting, pressed in toward the heavily armed platoon. Hughes thought fast.
Hughes picked up a loud speaker and told his soldiers to “take a knee” meaning kneel on one knee. Then he ordered them to point their rifles toward the ground and “Smile.”
The crowd’s mood quickly changed. A few people still yelled, but the majority began to smile in return. Some people even patted the soldiers on the back as Hughes ordered them to walk slowly away, backward and still smiling.
Courage to Trust
Think about the trust that these soldiers had in their leader. A large group of people is moving towards their smaller group. The people are angry, frightened, and clearly agitated enough to cause bodily harm. Then their leader says, drop to a submissive position.
Would you do it? You are in high stress. Your body is telling you to fight or flee. You don’t want to hurt anyone; your purpose is to give aid. But you don’t want to be hurt or killed either. So, it takes a great deal of courage for you to follow this type of leadership. The deciding factor is your trust in this person, gained over time and with personal interaction. Trust is not developed in a moment. In their book, The Team Approach, Stephen J. Stowell and Stephanie Mead explain, “Trust and respect are fragile and are earned over time through genuine actions.”
Courage to Lead
Maybe more important to this incident was Hughes’ courage to ask his team to take a precarious position. It was possible that the situation would not have defused. It was a calculated risk. Dr. Stowell and Ms. Mead emphasize that, “Courage is primarily learned. It is something that team leaders must seek out, study, and emulate in response to specific obstacles and defining moments. Great leaders generate courage in the moment and recognize when action is required, regardless of the risks involved. Courage can be refined, and it becomes easier through regular practice.” Lt. Colonel Hughes’ courage was developed through dedication, conviction, and clearly defined values exercised daily. He was confident in his beliefs that he could respect the Mosque and what it represented. He was also not afraid to acknowledge the behavior that infuriated the local people and then take immediate action to rectify the error.
These qualities must have been demonstrated and observed long before this crisis incident. His team had to have seen his commitment, felt his conviction, and understood his values well enough to know that he would not easily risk their lives.
How does your team respond in a crisis? Do they trust you enough to follow a calculated risk? Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate your leadership style.