How to Lead — Knowing that Leadership is Everywhere

The thing about leading is that it’s not always about being in the lead.

Sometimes it’s about pulling back and letting someone else step forward.   Sometimes it’s about stepping forward when no one else does.

America was built from those principals, and they’re principals worth nurturing and growing.   Everywhere.

 A story from World War II, described in Maxwell Taylor Kennedy’s “Danger’s Hour” is an excellent example of leadership in action at all levels. 

In 1945, aboard the USS Bunker Hill, an elite aircraft carrier with thousands of crewmen, Navy planes and pilots… naval leaders planned assaults on Japan that were a diversion to the American plan to bomb Iow Jima.  This was truly an elite ship, larger than many small towns, with approximately 3,000 people on board, anchored off the coast of Okinawa, where it was supporting an air strike.

On May 11, 1945,  the ship was hit by not one, but two kamikaze pilots in bomb laden planes.   Two officers,Commander Joseph Carmichael and First Lieutenant Shane King,  not in charge of the ship overall, were credited for their leadership skills in saving the ship and the lives of many of the men on board.   They, with many others aboard, took an active  leadership role to save the ship and the men.

These two officers had something very much in common:   they knew when to lead, and when to let others lead!  They knew that Leadership is Everywhere!

Following the kamikaze attack of two Japanese pilots on May 11, 1945, many of the men on board jumped into the ocean to avoid being burned by the resulting fires raging on board the decks of the USS Bunker Hill.  Immediate rescue efforts to save the men who jumped were set into place.    There was insufficient time for a coordinated effort, but leadership instilled in every person on board the surrounding vessels immediately kicked it.  It was imperative the battleships traveling with the USS Bunker Hill move away from it quickly, to prevent drawing fire from other Japanese planes, as well as to prevent fire from jumping ship to ship.

However, as sharks immediately began to churn the water surrounding the USS Bunker Hill, crewmen on board the surrounding vessels began to toss life rafts to those struggling in the water.  Without a directive, without an order, by taking a leadership role,  crewmen made leadership decisions and saved lives.  Rescue efforts then moved forward and many of those in the water were brought on board the USS Wilkes Barre, and the USS Bountiful, other ships in the fleet who were able to come back in to assist.

On board the USS Bunk Hill, there was a swift spread of fire and explosion and extensive damage.  However, the collective efforts of the sailors and airmen aboard the Bunker Hill… who became both individual and group leaders… in conjunction with the technical expertise and people skills of two subordinate officers on board, Commander Joseph Carmichael and First Lieutenant Shane King, resulted in saving the vessel and many of its crew. 

Immediately following the attack, there was smoke everywhere and the sense of panic was strong.  Not only those who had already been burned, but others also, fearing the ship was going down, were beginning to jump ship.  Yet, Carmichael, the Chief Engineer, knew that as long as the hull was not pierced, the ship, and the remaining men, could be saved. 

The “defining moment”, many stated later, was when Carmichael, after waiting for a full 30 minutes for the ship’s captain to make an announcement, took the leadership position for the ship by opening the public address system and announcing:  “This is the chief engineer speaking.  This ship is not in any danger of sinking.  and it will not sink.  So put your minds at rest on that.”

The crewmen had trained for years to deal with the conditions that existed at that time..attack…fire…bombs…although they had never trained on what to do in the event of a kamikaze attack.  Within minutes, however, many crewmen stunned but alive, began to take initiative…without a direct order… to fight fires, keep the engines running, and save their shipmates.  Thousands of acts of courage…thousands of acts of leadership.

Carmichael and King worked together to develop a plan to save the ship.  That plan required the leadership skills of many of the other remaining crewmen; often those who had not had prior leadership roles on the ship, but whose technical expertise provided guidance in risk assessment, and who were given leadership tasks of instilling confidence that the risks taken would be successful.  Others, who had exhibited an ability to work with others, were utilized to lead efforts to prevent loss of morale and maintain order.  Leadership everywhere…in everyone. 

One of the greatest gifts we can give our employees, and an even greater one that we can give ourselves, is to know, understand, and trust…that leadership is everywhere. 

Do you ensure your teams know what their overall function is,  how it “fits” into the company’s purpose, and how the company’s purpose ultimately benefits the customers it serves.   Do you encourage leadership at all levels by building confidence in individual and collective input?

Do you encourage everyone to give their very best…whether they’re in a subordinate relationship to you or not? 

If you do, you’re developing leadership in your organization, and you Know that Leadership is Everywhere. 

Congratulations!

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