[May 10, 2017] The day was August 29, 1974, the temperature over 100 degrees, and the ants were all over us … but we never forgot our lesson that day. Fort Polk, Louisiana is known for its biting critters and tough Drill Sergeants and on this Thursday afternoon we were low crawling our way to “destroy” a simulated enemy position. We failed but learned that effort alone is sometimes not enough to succeed.
We’ve all been taught from day one that if we only put in our full effort, victory would be ours. Philosophers since the beginning of humankind have written on the subject and many a coach have said the same. Effort equals winning. Even Mahatma Gandhi wrote that satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory. Obviously he never met a Fort Polk Drill Sergeant.
Effort is one thing but when we are not successful as leaders, then effort is not relevant. Leadership is about results and, yes, it does require effort. Sophocles said that success is dependent on effort but he also said that old age and the passage of time teach all things. Fortunately for us lowly U.S. Army Privates, we had Drill Sergeant “Mad Dog” Johnson to help educate us on the finer points of this philosophy.
We learned quickly that effort was important but effectiveness in all things we do is the final arbitrator of good soldiering. “Mad Dog” taught us important things in short sentences so anyone could understand. This great being of a man – a real man’s man – said things simple so he made it easy for us to understand. For example, regarding firefights with the enemy he said, if you.re not shooting you better be reloading.
The small squad of army Privates, desiring to reach our simple goal of winning a victory, failed miserably that day. What we learned would carry us throughout our time in the military and careers in business. I stayed in touch with three of those Privates and each remembered that hot, sunny day in western Louisiana and now we laugh at ourselves but there was no laughter that day. Lessons in leadership are not always easy and perhaps they should not be least we forget.
Billy Lemieux was my battle buddy that day. We suffered from the heat and the ire of “Mad Dog” and our own desire to finish our most important task of the training cycle. What we did not suffer was the loss of a lesson that our mothers years before had instilled in us and that was to never give up trying. There was lingering frustration at our time in Louisiana but we came away better men for it.
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