9/11 Remembered – Lessons from the Rubble

Courage is fear holding on one minute longer. 
Gen. George S. Patton

As the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks draw near, like so many of you, I can vividly recall where I was and what I felt as I watched the horrific events of that day unfold. It’s been said that time heals all things. And while the memory of that day will never fade it is our prayer that the healing continues.

In the aftermath of 9/11 thousands of heroes descended on New York City, the Pentagon, and the countryside of Pennsylvania to assist the survivors and their families. One of those heroes was firefighter Bob Beckwith.

After 29 years of service, Beckwith had already retired from the New York City Fire Department when the events of 9/11 unfolded. When he learned that a former colleague’s son was among the hundreds of missing firefighters, he made his way down to ground zero and convinced authorities to let him pass. He then joined the search to find survivors.

Two days after the attack President George W. Bush went to New York City and visited the site at ground zero. Asked to say a few words to encourage the workers, Bush climbed aboard a partially buried fire truck. With Beckwith by his side, he spoke the now famous words through a megaphone, “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon.” The picture of the two has become one of the most iconic photos from that time.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man; he is brave five minutes longer.” It was the bravery of Beckwith along with thousands like him, who in the face of adversity, teach us much needed leadership lessons today. As you reflect on the events of 9/11, here are three take-away leadership lessons to apply in honor of those who lost their lives, and those who served in its aftermath.

Ordinary people answer the call during extraordinary times.

It would have been easy for Beckwith to sit at home and leave it to others to sift through the rubble. After all, he had already done his duty. But not Beckwith.

Cicero said, “It is the character of a brave and resolute man not to be ruffled by adversity and not to desert his post.” And this was the attitude of brave firefighters, first responders, and thousands of other ordinary people who answered the call of duty during extraordinary times. In times of adversity, leaders like Bob Beckwith do not sit by the phone waiting on a call, they show up.

Ordinary people make great sacrifices.

Working in shifts around the clock, workers at ground zero tirelessly searched for victims in the rubble. Volunteers from across America and around the world assisted in the clean up and recovery efforts. Ordinary citizens conducted bake sales, donated blood, and found many creative ways to help meet the challenges our country faced.

While not all of the names of individuals who made sacrifices will be remembered, let us not forget the courageous circumstances under which they were performed. Abraham Lincoln said, “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.” And this is your call to leadership, not to make a name for yourself, but to serve great causes. Sacrificial leadership remains a noble calling.

Ordinary people give hope for a better tomorrow.

The days following 9/11 were a dark time for our country. The overwhelming sense of loss coupled with a sense of security that had been taken for granted was shattered. We were shaken to our core.

Yet instead of cowering in despair and defeat, we came together- not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans. We set aside our petty differences to rally around a greater cause. We rallied our communities, our collective love of country, and faith in God in order to show the world that while we may be wounded, we would not be defeated.

Who are the leaders that make America great? Look around you. They do not relish fancy titles or status symbols. They are ordinary people like you.

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

Doug Dickerson is an award winning columnist and leadership speaker. He is the author of the book, Leaders Without Borders: 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders. A Lowcountry resident, Doug is available to speak for your civic, business, or church group. Visit www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com for more information.

The Attitude of Learning Leaders

Heraclitus

Much learning does not teach understanding. – Heraclitus

From Bits & Pieces a few years back is a story about musician Hoagy Carmichael. As the story goes, Hoagy once decided to take up golf. Lessons were arranged with an instructor. At the first session Carmichael was patiently shown the basics of the game: how to hold the club, how to stand, how to swing, etc. Finally, after a half hour of this, the instructor felt Carmichael was ready to drive a few toward the first hole. The ball was teed up. Hoagy stepped up to it, swung, then watched the ball sail down the fairway, bound onto the green and roll into the cup–a hole in one! The instructor was dumbfounded. Hoagy flipped the club to a caddy with a jaunty motion, then turned to the still speechless instructor. “OK,” he said casually, “I think I’ve got the idea now.”

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “It is what we learn after we know it all that really counts.” Regardless of what level of success you enjoy as a leader, one thing is certain; learning is a life long process. More importantly, the knowledge that got you where you are won’t be enough to keep you there. You must never stop learning.

With vast resources of knowledge now available at our fingertips in the ever-advancing age of technology in which we live, staying ahead of the curve is more critical than ever. The way in which you invest yourself and take responsibility for your learning will make you all the more productive as a leader. Here are a few tips for going forward with an attitude of learning.

Be inspired by your mentors. Simply put, never stop being a student. Your mentors may not necessarily be up-to-speed on the latest technological gadgetry and know-how, but they possess something far greater – experience and wisdom. As technology advances and business operations become more sophisticated, it’s all too easy to be further removed from the human touch that once defined our leadership elders. What our mentors can teach us has less to do with the rapid rise and pace of technology and new media, and more to do with what we lost along the way – personal relationships. Mentors keep us grounded and remind us of the value of face time in place of Facebook. They remind us that our word is our bond, and that we treat others the way we want to be treated. Mentors are needed now more than ever and are a great source of inspiration.

Be challenged by your peers. Helpful here is a healthy amount of respect and a generous dose of curiosity. Leaders with a healthy self-esteem know that there is much they can learn from their peers. A Japanese proverb says, “One thousand days to learn, ten thousand days to refine.” When leaders learn from their peers they open themselves up to new experiences and levels of understanding. This not only helps you as a leader, but enhances the overall intelligence and performance of your team. Peers are built-in extensions of your corporate classroom. The next time you plan professional development or educational days, consider the talent pool that already exists in your organization. Utilize your peers as resources that can be of service to the entire organization. The best and brightest are not as far away as you thought.

Be motivated by your competitors. For many leaders, the competition is one whom must be pushed back. The attitude of a leader who is a learner is quite different. The question becomes not, “How can I beat them?’, but rather, “what can I learn from them?’ Gil Atkinson, the American business inventor of the automatic sprinkler system said, “Thank God for competition. Whenever competitors upset our plans or outdo our designs, they open infinite possibilities of our own work to us.” What an amazing attitude of a leader who understood the value of competition. The learning process as a leader is never ending. Class is always in session. As a leader, you are both the student and a teacher. What have you learned today?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson.

Doug Dickerson is an award winning writer and motivational speaker. He is the director of Management Moment Leadership Services. Doug is available to speak for your civic, business, or church group. Visit www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com to learn more.