The Least Is Greatest
The sun was just coming up in Mogadishu on October 4, 1993, but it was anything but a tranquil African morning in Somalia. For the past 18 hours, 123 men from Task Force Ranger (Army Rangers, Delta Force, Night Stalkers, Navy SEALs, and Air Force Commandos) were battling thousands of Somalis in an effort to get out of the city alive. Machine guns, AK-47’s, grenades and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) had filled the air ever since this lethal force had landed on a building where a war lord was buying weapons to continue their civil war. Their objective was to grab him and as many of his goons as possible, and leave.
It didn’t happen that smoothly.
Keni Thomas was one of the rangers that was sent into Mogadishu. He was a team leader and had to watch over the other four men in his team. They had already lost one of their men the evening before, one of 17 casualties that the US force would sustain during that battle. Now as they clung to their last hope of leaving alive, they had to move on foot to a soccer field where tanks and trucks would pick them up. Keni’s team was pulling up the rear of a long column of men, weary from a night of chaos and spurred on by a need to survive.
This wasn’t how they had trained, and Keni thought it was going to end badly if they continued to run scared rather than maintain control.
One of Keni’s team members, David Floyd, was a tall, thin young man who seemed to need more prodding and help than anyone else on the team. He wasn’t lazy, but he wasn’t as naturally gifted as the other men in their team or squad. Keni frequently had to lift up and push David to meet the rigorous ranger standards. They had to redo a 12-mile march in full battle gear and packs, because David couldn’t keep up.
But now those long hikes and tiring trainings are distant memories. The column of men are “running and shooting” as they try to make it to the soccer field. Keni wants to yell, “Stop!” so they will calm down watch their backs. Then he hears, “Sergeant Thomas!”
David was paying attention and watching their backs. A couple Somalis had just stepped out of an alley and had an RPG aimed at them. David shouldered his machine gun and stopped the threat before their whole team was blown away. That day, David stood tall as an important part of the team and they could count on him in an hour of need.
In Keni’s book, Get It On, he says of that moment, ” How wrong had I been? The very same guy I had once tried to get rid of, ended up being the one who saved us all. Man, I am glad we held David to a higher standard. I am glad he did so as well. You may never know the people you reach by the example you set. But rest assured, the actions you choose to take or not to take, affect lives.”
I got to listen to Keni speak at a conference and bought his book so I could hear more of his story. It’s a must read (and I don’t get any kick back for saying that) for anyone that is part of a team. In his speech and in the book, he constantly reminds the audience not to count out a member of your team or try to distance yourself from him/her. They may seem like a weak link, but if you strengthen him/her and hold maintain a high standard for everyone, that link will get stronger and the team will be stronger.
You probably aren’t wielding fully automatic machine guns in a third world country, but are you choosing to strengthen your team members, or make sure they know you are better than them? Are you recognizing their impact and giving them opportunities to grow?
Look at your team today. Whether you are the leader by rank or by action, choose to make your team stronger by lifting the team more that yourself.