Leader Don’ts #4: Move your Foxhole

By | April 4, 2019

[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.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Leader Don’ts #4: Move your Foxhole

  1. Eric Coda

    I loved your new series on ‘leader don’ts.’ I suspect that it will be a long one because the list – the one in my head – is terribly long. Leaders often do things they should avoid out of just common sense but I have found that they also do things quickly without much thought. Perhaps that is what happened in your case when the captain made you move the foxhole. This is more common, metaphorically, than many junior leaders might expect. Just a few random thoughts of mine.

    1. JT Patterson

      If I were to start listing the things I shouldn’t have done as a leader, the list would be pages long. I agree with you Eric that this is the price we pay for humans being human and making mistakes (regardless of why). Too many folks today are overly sensitive. We all need to learn to be a little more resilient.

  2. Fred Weber

    SMOKY was a 4lb Yorkshire Terrier found in a New Guinea foxhole in WWII. She was a war hero, recognized hospital therapy dog, stage performer and “Mascot of the SW Pacific.” Smoky served on numerous airborne combat, rescue and reconnaissance missions, and found unique ways to inspire, heal and save human lives.

    1. AutisticTechie

      Thanks Fred. I found more info out also. Good reading and a great story that is likely common in war.

  3. Janna Faulkner

    Good article today, Gen. Satterfield. I went to the website about the movie “Angel in a Foxhole” and enjoyed reading about it. Not much else out there on the Internet. I hope the WWII vet continues to pursue his dream of making the film.

      1. The Kid 1945

        I ordered the book. I hope it’s good. I didn’t see many reviews.

  4. Army Captain

    Interesting story and one I’m sure most of us have encountered; perhaps not literally but certainly in another way. Thanks.

  5. Max Foster

    If you have ever had military service, you’ve certainly experienced one of your superiors telling you to do something after they’ve made you do something else. Part of that is their lack of experience but I think we should take it in another light; that it is good for us to see how not to do things. This is the lesson of Gen. Satterfield and a pointed one too.

    1. Georgie M.

      Yes, good point Max. I too think it is a lack of experience and, yes, maybe a lack of intelligence. But letting it flow over you and remaining calm (your own actions) is just as important. Don’t let your emotions overcome you.

    2. Drew Dill

      Well said Max. I too had to move my “foxhole” while in the Army and learned that such things come with learning to be a better soldier.

      1. Dale Paul Fox

        Doesn’t make it any easier. In the long run I think we gain from those experiences.

    3. Lady Hawk

      Thanks Max for a quick poke at how we learn!

    4. Max Foster

      Thanks everyone for your support of my analysis.

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