Esprit de Corps

In preparation for this week’s LeadershipChat (8 pm ET Tuesday on Twitter – use hasthtag #LeadershipChat), I read, as did my co-host Lisa Petrilli, the book Get It On by Keni Thomas (who will be our guest host/author this week – thanks, Keni!)

Keni served with the U.S. Army Rangers during the famous Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia, and now has a burgeoning career as a country singer. This book is about the leadership lessons learned during his time in the military.

Lisa has written a superb summary of the book on her blog – I’d urge you to read it to get the overview of leadership lessons.

The book is an engaging first-person account of what happened on that day of chaos and combat, and much of its value lies in telling the very personal stories of the men involved in the operation. Dedication and leadership in the midst of the “fog of war” is not some abstraction – this book gives names, backgrounds, specific actions, and the very personal impact of courage on the battlefield.

Underneath all of the specific lessons of leadership, I was left with one pervasive theme fueling all the courageous actions of that day: esprit de corps.

You lead, you fight, you sacrifice, you risk – for your brothers in arms, and for the mission. No surrender, no turning back, no man left behind.

My son is a Marine. He’ll moan and groan with the best of them about the inefficiencies and snafus of the military, but if he’s put in a hot zone with his buddies, I have no doubt that he’ll have their back – and they’ll have his. Esprit de corps.

It’s in the culture of the military, especially its elite units. It’s not an optional add-on. It’s the fuel that drives the organization, and the mission, forward.

And, today, that leaves me scratching my head. How can we replicate this in non-military life? How can this powerful force be a foundation stone of leadership in education, and business – let alone government?

How many companies and organizations have this kind of unity of purpose? Not in theory, but in reality?

I don’t know. Somehow I don’t think a few training programs on leadership, and some team-building exercises, are going to cut it. Let’s discuss during LeadershipChat on Tuesday night, and maybe Keni (and you!) can give us some insight.


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