[April 4, 2019] It was late summer 1983, and I’d been on a training exercise with the U.S. Army for nearly three weeks. The heat, humidity, bugs, and dirt had taken its toll on us (that was the idea). The Captain leading us told me to dig in a new foxhole near our unit’s flank. After getting it dug to army standards, he then told me to move it 10 feet further out.
Many World War II movies show soldiers digging their foxhole for protection. Technically, we called them “fighting positions” today, but I still prefer the old name “foxhole.” WWII veteran Bill Wynne is filming a movie short – Angel in a Foxhole – about his buddy from that war; a dog named Smokey and to never accept defeat. I recommend his website for more detail and please contribute if you can. Otherwise, the movie will never be made.
In my new series titled “Leader Don’ts,” I’m attempting to wrap my mind around things that leaders should NOT do if they want to be successful. Leadership means motivating people to do things they would not normally do in the course of their lives. One sure way to de-motivate others is to assign a task and then unthoughtfully make changes later.
When the army Captain told me to move my foxhole, I was really mad. I’d just spent four hours digging, cutting wood, and making sure that the task was done right and done right the first time. We were nearing the end of our training exercise, and our evaluation depended on getting things done to a strict standard. My Captain had located the original foxhole location incorrectly, and I was paying the price for his mistake.
I’m fond of saying that it is important to learn leadership lessons by watching other leaders; how they act, what they say, and when they do things. Their successes and failures provide an opportunity for the up-and-coming leader. Learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do.
The lesson is that leaders who assign tasks had best be careful so that later they don’t have to say, move your foxhole.