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Massive leadership decisions to be made in 4 seconds

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I recently spoke on the attitude of effective leaders at the Michiana SHRM Executive Leadership Forum. Not long before the event, my longtime friend Dan Tudor shared a remarkable story about leadership that will inspire you and startle you.

Dan is a business owner that lives in a small town in California. I have known him since 1985 when I was a department head at a television station out there. His story about a young Army soldier he knows is riveting. There is a part that is a bit graphic, but important to the story. I have changed the name of the soldier for this story for privacy reasons.

No delay! The powerful 4 seconds of leadership by a young soldier
as told by Dan Tudor to Charlie Adams

“Charlie, I wanted to share with you and your readers an incredible story about leadership and positive attitude. Steve is 21 years old, and he’s amazing. I coached him in football the last year I coached in high school three years ago. He was the type of kid that was dressed out first, serious 100% of the time, no screw ups on or off the field. He knew he wanted to go into the Army from the time I knew him. He’s just one of those kids. He’s won numerous medals and awards of merit for his performance in the Army on his 9 month tour of Afghanistan he recently got back from. He’s up for a Bronze Star.

He talked about the large main base he was at in Eastern Afghanistan. He went on over 200 individual missions while he was there, but this was the main big base where all their missions were planned and staged. At one point, he and a few of the other soldiers went to a special training on body language and non-verbal communication.

He was up for it and took a Charlie Adams-like positive attitude into it, while most of the other guys dragged their feet and complained (it was 54 hours of training…most 20 year old kids don’t find that exciting) One guy in particular that took the class was also real sloppy with his equipment. Didn’t take it seriously, which is a no no.

After the training a few weeks later, Steve is back at the base sitting down and eating lunch in their big mess hall with a few hundred other army personnel. They had Afghan nationals working around the base…they really liked most of them. They were good people and hard workers. Steve noticed a new worker standing about 10 yards away from him. He said right away he noticed his feet weren’t right – not relaxed, not normal (he learned that in the class). Overall, the guy just didn’t look right.

Steve looks over at one of the other guys (the sloppy one) who took the class with him. Using eye signals and their own body language they learned from the class, Steve signals that something’s not right with this Afghan worker. They decide – across the room, without saying a word to each other – that they were going to take this guy down. Remember, they’re in a crowded mess hall! So the guy who is farther away starts to take out his rifle and shouts “Get down! Get down!” as he prepares to take the Afghan guy out. But as he brings his gun up to fire, Steve see’s that it is jammed. The guy holds his rifle down at his side as he tries to unjam his gun (remember, this is the guy who never took cleaning and servicing his gun seriously).

Only about 2 seconds have gone by. Here’s where cool leadership and preparation come into play (as Steve tells me this story, he says that he learned that you always have to be prepared to lead…pretty profound for a country kid all of 20 years old). He draws his gun because the terrorist, at this point, knows he is the center of attention. He reaches into his pocket for what Steve knows is the detonator. He had 18 sticks of dynamite strapped to himself. Usually, terrorists will wear explosives and take a detonator that has a magnet on it and hold it up to another magnet near their chest tied to the explosives and once the magnets make contact and he presses the button, it’s all over.

So, 2 seconds have gone by. As the terrorist reaches in to his cloak pocket for the detonator, Steve reaches for his handgun. Steve has learned to be an expert marksman. With one gun, he can hit targets within 6 inches of the bullseye from 300 yards away! As he’s drawing up his gun, he remembers his training: He can’t shoot the guy in the chest because it will detonate the explosives. He can’t shoot him in his head/skull because it will still allow him a split second to trip the detonator if he has it close to his chest because he’ll still have a split second of motor skills left.

So Steve, remembering his training in the past 1 second of the story that has elapsed in this event that is now 3 seconds old, knows what he needs to do. He fires four shots (sorry for the graphic nature of this next part) into the terrorist’s check so it will go through and hit his brainstem, which will shut him down instantly. He hits his target. No other injuries.

Had the terrorist done what he wanted to do, it would have killed between 70-100 soldiers inside the base. It would have made national news…who knows what the ripple effects would have been.

Steve isn’t a West Point grad, and doesn’t come from some sort of extraordinary family. He’s a regular kid who happens to be detail oriented, knows what he’s good at, and will do his duty when called upon. But what a story about being prepared for a one or two second event that forced him to take a leadership position. He was ready because he was prepared. I don’t know, Charlie, but I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere for leadership that a business person or someone in the academic world can relate to.

Steve had these injuries when he was in Afghanistan:

* He was shot in the back – saved by his metal protective backplate

* Broke 5 ribs when a bullet hit his flack jacket

* Concussion from an IED (he was in vehicles that hit 5 IED’s in all)

* Shot in the leg – (“just through the skin, no big deal” as he says)

He said he became a voracious reader while he was there. He would be on guard duty up in a tower when he was on the base and they’d be taking fire from the hills, bullets whizzing overhead, and he’d just be hunkered down reading a book to pass the time. Every once in a while he’d have to get up and return fire, and then he’d go right back to reading.”

By Dan Tudor, as told to Charlie Adams

My goodness. Thank you, Dan, for sharing that story of a young man who at the age of 20 had to make leadership decisions of great magnitude within 4 seconds that most of us will never have to make at any point of our lives.

Charlie Adams is a 1985 graduate of Ole Miss and is a native of Oxford. He is also the author of 4 books on positive attitude and peak performance, including 2013′s “How to Build a Positive Attitude and KEEP the Darn Thing!!” and “Stoke the Fire Within.” His books and motivational keynotes and seminars are designed to make sure events reach their objectives and to help create winning cultures. Email him at:Charlie@stokethefirewithin.com.

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