Category Archives: Teamwork

There’s Plenty of Room in this Market

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

-Charles Dickens

Last Thursday, I spoke as part of a panel discussion at the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) conference. I spoke about the role of leadership in management and my colleague, Dr. Maxwell Rollins, spoke about Servant Leadership. After we spoke, someone in the audience asked us to identify well-known servant leaders that everyone would recognize. That was tough. We could offer very few examples of well-known servant leaders. This question got me thinking.

On Saturday, I took my kids to church. They spent the morning making Christmas ornaments out of popsicle sticks and glitter. Then they put on a Christmas play for the senior citizens of the church. The play was exactly what you would expect from children. The acting was bad, the costumes were makeshift, and the sound was terrible, but the senior citizens in the audience loved it.

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After the Christmas play, we went caroling to shut-ins who could not get out to the Christmas luncheon to see the performance. All of the seniors, at Church or at their homes, received Christmas ornaments that the children created that morning.

It was Covey’s Win/Win scenario. The kids learned to serve; the seniors enjoyed the performance. More importantly, to the kids, service was enjoyable. They made crafts, they got to perform, and many talked about what a good feeling they had when they served others. My oldest daughter said that it felt like she got to be a missionary for a day.

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My Daughter’s Place of Service

Everyone could find a way to serve. My 5-year old was the youngest child in attendance. She was not the best ornament maker, and she did not have a speaking part in the play, but she found her place of service. Before I describe her place of service, let me describe her. If she was a movie character, she would be a minion. If she were a song, she would be Happy by Pharrell. If she was a color, she would be yellow. If she was made of food, she would be popcorn. If she were a puppy, she would be a Chihuahua. You get the picture.

She couldn’t do some of the jobs the older kids could do, but she was stationed as the first child to greet the senior citizens when they arrived at the Christmas Luncheon. Her job was to shout: “Welcome to the Christmas Party!” or “Merry Christmas!” when the seniors arrived. I don’t believe that any of the other children could do that job as effectively as she did. In spite of being the shortest child with the worst hand-eye coordination for crafts, she found a place where she could shine.

My Place of Service

I hate arts and crafts. I recognize that some people like them, and that is fine, but I could feel my batteries drain every time I stepped into the room where 22 kids were painting ornaments. So, I did my best to avoid the arts and crafts room, not by running away, but by serving every other need that was imaginable. I got more chairs when more kids unexpectedly showed up. I got glue from the supply cabinet when it was needed. I washed paint out of paint brushes, much to the relief of the instructor. I helped set up for the Christmas play. It was great. I completely avoided what I didn’t want to do by self-deploying into service.

It made me think about Jimmy Collins, the former president of Chick-Fil-A who succeeded the founder, Truett Cathy. In his book, Creative Followership, Collins explained:

My initial strategy when I went to work for Truett Cathy went something like this: ‘If I do the things Truett does not like to do, there might not be a limit to what he would be willing to pay me!’ Getting ahead means doing what the boss does not like to do.[i]

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That was it. I was doing things that needed to be done. In my context, there were people who were interested in working on arts and crafts (and God bless those people). I don’t care to compete with them. I struck out on my own to stake out a place where I could serve on my own terms.

Your Place of Service

And herein lies the lesson. While others are jockeying for position, elbowing each other for the plum assignments, the field of service is not crowded. There is plenty of room for those who make it their ambition to serve. In addition, you can often customize your service, focusing on your natural strengths. You can write your own ticket, serving in a way that suits you. And, in a ironic way, those who truly focus on service are often noticed for their willingness to step into the breach.

What About You?

It does not matter if we are talking about servant-leadership, servant-marketing, servant-customer service, servant-selling, or servant-shouting: “Welcome to the Christmas Party!” What is important is that you focus yourself on serving others. How can you serve others in ways not yet imagined?


[i] Collins, J. L. S. (2013). Creative followership: In the shadow of greatness. Decatur, GA: Looking Glass Books, Inc. (pp. 16-17).


-Darin Gerdes



Dr. Darin Gerdes is an Associate Professor of management in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on are his own.

This post was originally created for Great Business Networking (GBN), a networking organization for business professionals where Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Education.


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The Power of Participation

I was recently talking to an MBA student about the power of participation. Often, leaders think that they have to have all the answers. This is not only silly, but it can be very costly. Leaders who are humble enough to know that they need their people can turn crises into opportunities. One of the best examples comes from Jack Stack’s The Great Game of BusinessStack Wrote:

A few years ago, we had a problem with a competitor who tried to come in and take away our fuel-injection pump business. It all began when a new buyer was appointed at one of our major customers. Seeing an opportunity, our competitor went to him and offered to supply pumps at a price below ours. It was a smart move. The new buyer wanted to make a good impression on his company, and reducing costs was a good way to do it. So the Buyer came to me and said, “Look. I don’t have any choice here. Unless you reduce your price by 6 percent, I’m going to give the business to the other guy. I’ll give you three months to get the price down to his level.”

Now a 6 percent price reduction was basically the difference between making money and losing money on the product. We couldn’t imagine how our competitor was going to make money at that price. As it happened, we owned a share of his stock. We checked out his financials, and we saw that he had an unbelievable amount of debt on his balance sheet. I’m talking about a $100 million company that owed $56 Million. When you borrow that much money, you can’t hide it, even if you’re private. Somebody knows.  In addition, this was a union company, so we knew what he was paying his people. We also knew that our production times weren’t unreasonable, and that our prices were in line with the marketplace.

So it was clear that this guy was out to buy the account. He was subsidizing the product by using debt to cover his losses. His strategy was clear: he was going to get the contract at a loss, run us out of the market, and then raise the prices later on. We explained all that to the buyer. We appealed to loyalty and everything else. But he insisted on the price cut, which was going to save his company money, at least in the short run. Somehow we had to come up with a way to reduce our costs.

So I went down to the pump room, where we make the fuel-injection pumps. I told people what we were up against. These pumps sold for about $200 each. To cut the price by 6 percent, we had to save $12 per unit. I said, “I don’t know how to get that kind of cost reduction, but if we don’t do it, we’re going to lose this contract, and that could cost some people their jobs.” Then I put a picture of the other company’s CEO on the wall, along with a copy of its financial statements. I said, “Here’s the guy who’s trying to take your jobs away from you, and I am afraid I don’t know how to stop him. I’ve already done everything I can, and it hasn’t worked. It’s up to you now.” I honestly believed it would take a miracle to save the contract.

So I went down to the pump room, where we make the fuel-injection pumps. I told people what we were up against. These pumps sold for about $200 each. To cut the price by 6 percent, we had to save $12 per unit. I said, “I don’t know how to get that kind of cost reduction, but if we don’t do it, we’re going to lose this contract, and that could cost some people their jobs.” Then I put a picture of the other company’s CEO on the wall, along with a copy of its financial statements. I said, “Here’s the guy who’s trying to take your jobs away from you, and I am afraid I don’t know how to stop him. I’ve already done everything I can, and it hasn’t worked. It’s up to you now.” I honestly believed it would take a miracle to save the contract.

The people in the pump room were amazing. They formed a task force, and they put up a thermometer. They got together and talked about how they could save a nickel here and a dime there. They looked at their hardware. They questioned every material cost. They asked how a vendor could be charging us so much when you could get the same thing for substantially less at ACE Hardware. Every day they posted their savings. At the end of three months they had cut $40 out of the pump’s cost—a 20 percent savings.

I would never have thought they could do it. That was the one time people really surprised me. There isn’t an engineer in the world who could have done what they did. They had to do it themselves. What’s interesting is that they passed 10 percent of the reduction along to the costumer, which passed it along to the marketplace, and the volume rose, creating more jobs. So people got to see the whole economic cycle. As for the competitor, he lost that one, but he’s still out there, keeping us on our toes.  (Stack, 1992, pp. 110-111).

Great Game

Are you getting the most out of your people? If not, are you the reason? Do you ask for their help or do you feel that you have to have all of the answers?



Dr. Darin Gerdes is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on are his own.

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On Administrative Professionals Day

Administrative professionals day is the 4th Wednesday in April. Yesterday, to thank the administrators that keep us on track, I took Heather (The Dean’s Executive Assistant), Janie (The Assistant Director of the Graduate School) , and Richard (our Graduate Enrollment Counselor) out to lunch on behalf of the School of Business.

Sometimes leaders treat administrative support as insignificant or interchangeable.  They see themselves as the hero and others are  just “the help.” But these others are the indispensable supports that make them look good.

By way of example, steel an alloy that is comprised of iron and carbon. Sometimes nickel and manganese are added to give it greater tensile strength. The point is that the other elements combine with iron to make it many times stronger than it could be on its own.

Steel - Wikimedia

Too often we get full of ourselves and think we are the sole reason for our success. We forget about the support that helped us achieve and maintain that success. Perhaps it is because I am the typical absent-minded professor that I am more aware of this phenomenon. I am grateful to the administrators that keep me on track. They improve my work. They are valued colleagues.

As we left for lunch yesterday, I was struck by a metaphor alert. I was taking them to lunch, but Heather held the credit card that would pay for the meal, Janie was driving (since my car has three child seats) and I did not know where we would go to eat. Did I mention that I am grateful for the administrators?

Solomon understood this principle:

Two are better than one,

because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down,

one can help the other up.

But pity anyone who falls

and has no one to help them up.

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,

two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12)



Dr. Darin Gerdes is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on are his own.

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Top 5 Teamwork Must-Haves

This was submitted by one of my MBA students at Charleston Southern University. I am reproducing it here verbatim because I think it would be valuable to readers of my blog.


My MBA Class’s Top 5 Teamwork Must-Haves

Any valuable graduate class is likely to incorporate a great deal of teamwork.  As I learned in one such class, these five elements are must-haves for team triumph:

Photo Source: Wikimedia commons

Photo Source: Wikimedia commons

1.  Offer your talents.  When working as a team, divide sub-tasks according to the talents of the team’s group members.  What are your God-given talents?  Find the role that best aligns with your strongest skills.  Offer to fill that role in order to create the strongest team.  The team is only as strong as its weakest link!

2.  Ask and it shall be given to you.  Share setbacks among the group when challenges arise.  Two heads are better than one!  Each team member’s unique perspective results in a different approach to the problem at hand.  This often leads to finding the right solution more quickly.

3.  Follow the leader. Identify a designated leader who provides overall direction and seeks clarification or guidance for the group as needed.  It is important not to have too many cooks in the kitchen.

4.  Build rapport.  Build good relationships with fellow classmates.  The benefits of building these relationships are similar to the benefits of networking.  You never know when you will need to work with one or more of the same group members again.  Treat each team member politely and with respect.

5. Connect often.  Use, daily, the best communication tool for the job.  Send e-mails, make phone calls, or gather face-to-face regularly to share information for the duration of the project(s).  Ensure team members know which form of communication is preferred.

-Nicole Kelly

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The Key to Effective Teamwork

Do you remember when you had group projects in college?

Why You Hate Teamwork

You probably hated it because a number of your teammates coasted while you did all the work. Worse, all received the same grade for your efforts. You probably thought your teammates were just lazy or irresponsible, but this is a common phenomenon called social loafing in the business literature. In economics, it is called the free rider problem.


File:Liffey College student 01.jpg

Some students worked hard as others doodled. A couple found group project meetings to be the perfect opportunity to flirt with someone new. A few never even showed up to the group meeting. You remember. This is why you still don’t like teamwork.

In my textbook I discussed the phenomenon as follows:

“Social loafing is treason against the group, and the loafer is a leech who drains the group of resources without returning equivalent to the group.  In a classroom setting, a social loafer ought to receive no mercy from his professor or the group he lets down.”

-(The Bottom Line in Leadership and Management)

These strongly worded  lines were a warning to my students to play nice with others, but I have since found a better way.

Why You Will Love Teamwork Again

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that I teach graduate students at Charleston Southern University. Last week I had one of those AHA moments that I relish.

After completing a particularly challenging class project, a student in her final semester mentioned in passing that this was her “best group project experience to date.” Remember, she was just about to graduate and she said that this was the best group experience she had.

Intrigued by the remark, I gave it some considerable thought.  Later and I suggested that “it was because you all came to it with the right attitude and spirit.” It was really that simple.

What was the Difference?

This was a class entitled Fundamentals of Leadership, and the very nature of the course forced students to think deeply about their motivations and attitudes. The were individually thinking about becoming the kind of leaders that others would want to follow. When they came together with servant-leadership foremost in their minds, they acted accordingly.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

The “all chiefs and no indians” attitude disappeared. No one tried to play CEO of Group Project, Inc. Everyone showed up and pulled their own weight. They served  voluntarily, without cajoling each other to get the work done. A number of students even described the experience as “enjoyable.”

The parameters of the class project were no different than in other classes. Moreover, it was not because they were focused on the mission. There was no conscious effort on the part of anyone in the class to rally around a mission. The difference was that they each aspired to become the kind of  leader that they know they should be.

What about you? In your project teams, do your colleagues come to serve the group or do they try to do the least they can to get by? 

Wouldn’t this kind of attitude be refreshing in your office?

-Darin Gerdes

PS – There is no magic to this process. As the professor, I mold the discussion, but the core of this thinking comes from the books students read for class: Lead Like Jesus, The Steward Leader, The Leadership Challenge, and Leadership and Self-Deception. Incidentally, these are 4 of my Top Ten Leadership books.

Want to read more about excellence in teamwork? Read the related post:  What Navy SEALS Can Teach Us About Teamwork.


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on are his own.


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Why Are People So Difficult to Work With?

I was thinking about this recently. People are difficult to work with. Thankfully, they are predictably difficult, if you know what to look for.

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I tweeted this yesterday: Dysfunctional organizations are the norm. It takes a herculean effort for dysfunctional people to be functional together. It was just on my mind after class on Friday.

I had a group of solid management students in an upper-level organizational behavior class meet with me in a “board meeting” for a semester-long class project.

The class project is a simulation on steroids. They actually create and launch real products while they manage their classmates.

It is very different than your average class where you read your chapter, take your quiz, and get your grade. These students sink or swim together. It is much more like the life they will experience in the real world than the artificial world they have experienced in school.

It’s Crunch Time.

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityTheir products are due and the managers met to report how things have been going. Some students delivered. Others can not even be found — they don’t reply to texts, emails, or calls although we know that  college seniors go through withdrawl when they are separated from their cell phones.

The managers were shocked even though I told them in the first week of class that this would happen.

On balance, these managers are doing a good job. Let me say that again. They are doing a good job managing the project.  They translated the vision into concrete steps, they have communicated to their people, and they have worked out a lot of problems on their own. They are on the cusp of success. I am proud of them.

But this is exactly the time that they run into the most resistance. It happens every semester.

It Always Happens At Crunch Time!

Predictably IrrationalYear after year I see the student managers deal with the same problems. People may be irrational, but they are, in the words of Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational If you know what to look for, you know how to react.

A certain percentage of the class will just make it happen. It really does not matter what obstacles are in the way. Some people are simply indomitable. These people will go a long way in life (and if you are looking for some of these students as employees in May, I would be happy to recommend a few).

Then, there is a second tier. They get most of their work done–perhaps in a sloppy fashion–but they are impressed with themselves for having gone this far. Rather than recognize that they have failed to deliver, they expect praise because they are comparing themselves with those in the class who have not done anything.

A third tier consist of those who are aware that they have not completed their tasks and they become invisible. They promise the world but fail to deliver, leaving one of the hard-chargers to pick up the slack.

Finally, most classes have one or two that will do the least amount of work possible. They work hard to do no work at all.

Does this sound familiar? Does it sound like your office? It should. These people are in every organization.

Can’t Something Be Done?

Yes. The task of leadership is to overcome the dysfunction that naturally exists. This is a very difficult task for students who have, by and large, only read about managing people. Most simply do not have the experience to see what they need to do differently.

Here are a few things that young leaders can do to prevent difficulties at crunch time:

  • Develop relationships with employees at the outset.
  • Work to continually develop commitment
  • Manage deadlines so that when things go wrong, you still have time to recover
  • Identify those most likely to drop the ball and provide extra support
  • Create a Plan B
  • Create a Plan C, D, E, F, and G
  • Remember that when you delegate, you must follow up with your people
  • Recognize that at crunch time, you need a mechanism to overcome exhaustion
  • Remember that people are not rational. They have agendas, motives, emotions that may thwart your best laid rational plans.

Now, this group of managers has really done a great job, but as they found out, people are maddening. Organizations are more likely to be dysfunctional than functional, and leadership is more difficult than it appears from the outside looking in. They simply lacked the experience to prevent some of these problems. These are lessons that they will never forget.

What have your experiences? Have you found these dynamics in your organization?


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University (opinions expressed on are my own).



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Why Some Leaders Win While Equally Talented Leaders Lose.

In an effective team, every member of the team knows his strengths and weaknesses.

Virginia Washington Monument Poster Gov


In Capitol Square in Richmond, Virginia stands the Virginia Washington Monument. The monument is flanked by the Virginia State Capitol, St. Paul’s Church, the Governor’s Mansion, and Old City Hall.  It was built in 1850s, and it was designed to honor Virginia’s Revolutionary War heroes.

Virginia Washington Monument CC

When I first saw the monument, the guide described it in terms I shall never forget:

On top sat Washington, the sword of the revolution. Below, holding the Declaration of Independence, stands Jefferson, the pen of the revolution. Next to him, with his arms in the air, stands Patrick Henry, the voice of the revolution

I was intrigued by the descriptions, but at the time I did not embrace the full significance of the different roles that these men played. Years later, I think I understand the significance.

Knowing Your Strengths & Weaknesses

Thomas Jefferson- The art of power

Last night I was reading Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, and I was struck by a particular line. The author wrote about Jefferson’s reaction to hearing Henry speak:

To Jefferson, Henry was essentially a magician. “His eloquence was peculiar, if indeed it should be called for it was impressive eloquence, and sublime beyond what can be imagined,” Jefferson later said.

This from the same Jefferson who gave us the immortal words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Get your MBA at Charleston Southern UniversityBut again, this is the point. Jefferson admired Patrick Henry’s oratory because Jefferson was soft-spoken and even a bit shy. However, given time to plan his words on paper, Jefferson’s pen was second to none.

John Adams recognized this when he was assigned with Jefferson to the committee to draft the declaration. According to Adams’ recollection:

Mr. Jefferson came into Congress, in June, 1775, and brought with him a reputation for literature, science, and a happy talent for composition….The committee met, discussed the subject, and then appointed Mr. Jefferson and me to make the draft, I suppose because we were the two first on the list.

The sub-committee met. Jefferson proposed to me to make the draft. I said, “I will not.” “You should do it.” “Oh! no.” “Why will you not? You ought to do it.” “I will not.” “Why?” “Reasons enough.” “What can be your reasons?” “Reason first—You are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second—I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third—You can write ten times better than I can.” “Well,” said Jefferson, “if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.” “Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.”

John Adams was also a force to be reckoned with, but he knew himself well enough to know that Jefferson was the better man to take the lead in this particular circumstance. And, this brings us back to the point—each man knew his strengths and used them appropriately.

21st Century Business Application

First-Break-All-the-RulesThis is the core idea discussed in the writings of Marcus Buckingham. Buckingham, who once worked for the Gallup organization, made a career out of helping people identify their strengths. Buckingham wrote a number of books including First Break all the Rules, The One Thing You Need to Knowand Standout.

Buckingham’s premise is as simple as it is brilliant: Unless you know your strengths, you will never give your boss or your customers your best.

StandoutWhat are your strengths? If answer does not immediately roll off the tongue, read Buckingham’s books. The time you spend identifying your strengths will be well worth the time invested.

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on are his own.

Note: If you purchase Standout, please be sure to purchase a new copy. The book comes with a strengths test and a code to take the test which may have been used in a used copy.

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What Navy SEALS Can Teach Us About Teamwork.

Why are Navy SEALS so effective?


US Navy SEALS Freefall from Air Force C-17. Photo courtesy of U.S. taxpayers (from .gov website).

SEALS  go anywhere (Sea, Air and Land).  They are the best conditioned, best trained, best equipped fighting force on Earth.  But is there is more to the story?

One often overlooked element is an unsurpassed dedication to the team. This is not the kind of “teamwork” that we talk about in business or sports.

In business, teamwork often happens begrudgingly. In many organizations, there is little or no alignment between people or departments. What we often call teamwork is more like the strained alliances of fractious parties in a parliamentary government. Each individual protects his own turf, viewing others suspiciously while contributing as little as possible to the team. This is not real teamwork.

SEALS on Teamwork

SEALS view teamwork differently. Teamwork is a force multiplier. Teamwork is a matter of life and death. Teamwork is born in training and demonstrated when members give their last full measure for the team.


In his book, Lone Survivor:  The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and The Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10, Marcus Luttrell illustrated how SEALs understand teamwork.

After their position was exposed by a goat-herder on a mountain in Afghanistan, Luttrell and 3 fellow SEALS fought off an overwhelming Taliban force.

Soon after the firefight began, Lt. Mike Murphy was shot in the stomach, but he “was ignoring his wound and fighting like a SEAL officer should, uncompromising, steady, hard-eyed, and professional.”

Shortly thereafter, Marcus wrote that he saw Danny Dietz’s thumb “blown right off. And I saw him grit his teeth and nod, sweat streaming down his blackened face. He adjusted his rifle, banged in a new magazine with the butt of his hand, and took his place in the center of our little gun line.”  Danny would continue to return fire in spite of each of the five wounds (including one to the neck) that would eventually take his life.

When Luttrell saw Matthew “Axe” Axelson  shot in the chest, he recorded:

This could not be happening. Matt Axelson, a family fixture, Morgan’s best friend, a part of our lives. I started calling his name, irrationally, over and over. Privately I thought Danny was dying, and all I could see was a stain of blood gathering in the red dirt where Axe was slumped. For a brief moment I thought I might be losing it.
But then Axe reached for his rifle and got up. He leveled the weapon, got a hold of another magazine, shoved it into the breech, and opened fire again, blood pumping out of his chest. He held his same firing position, leaning against the rock. He showed the same attitude of solid Navy SEAL know-how, the same formidable steadiness, staring through his scope, those brilliant blue eyes of his scanning the terrain.

After being shot in the stomach earlier, Lt. Murphy was hit again–this time in the chest. He asked for another magazine and continued to fight. Then, what happened next was simply unimaginable. Luttrell wrote:

He groped in his pocket for his mobile phone, the one we had dared not use because it would betray our position. And then Lieutenant Murphy walked out into the open ground. He walked until he was more or less in the center, gunfire all around him, and he sat on a small rock and began punching in the numbers to HQ.
I could hear him talking. “My men are taking heavy fire…we’re getting picked apart. My guys are dying out here…we need help.”
And right then Mikey took a bullet straight in the back. I saw the blood spurt from his chest. He slumped forward, dropping his phone and his rifle. But then he braced himself, grabbed them both, sat upright again, and once more put the phone to his ear.
I heard him speak again. “Roger that, sir. Thank You.” Then he stood up and staggered out to our bad position, the one guarding our left, and Mikey just started fighting again, firing at the enemy.
He was hitting them too, having made that one last desperate call to base, the one that might yet save us if they could send help in time, before we were overwhelmed.

Only I knew what Mikey had done. He’d understood we had only one realistic chance, and that was to call in help. He knew there was only one place from which he could possibly make that cell phone work: out in the open, away from the cliff walls.
Knowing the risk, understanding the danger, in the full knowledge the phone call could cost him his life, Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy, son of Maureen, fiancé of the beautiful Heather, walked out into the firestorm.

Greater love

 His objective was clear: to make one last valiant attempt to save his two teammates. He made the call, made the connection. He reported our approximate position, the strength of our enemy, and how serious the situation was. When they shot him, I thought mortally, he kept talking….
An act of supreme valor. Lieutenant Mikey was a wonderful person and a very, very great SEAL officer. If they build a memorial to him as high as the Empire State Building, it won’t ever be high enough for me.

A memorial was built. The guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) was commissioned on October 6, 2012.  Murphy was also awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112). Photo courtesy of the U.S. Taxpayer (from .Mil website)

The guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112). Photo courtesy of the U.S. Taxpayer (from .Mil website)

What Motivates This Level of Dedication to the Team?

Get your MBA at Charleston Southern UniversityMaybe it is because the SEALS are selective. After all, they only take recruits who are in top condition.

Maybe it was because these men had endured some of the most difficult training that the military has to offer. SEAL training (BUDs) lasts 25 weeks.  By all accounts, it is grueling both physically and mentally.  All a recruit has to do is ring a bell to make the pain stop, and this is quite a temptation when recruits are cold, wet, and exhausted.  Two thirds of those selected for BUDs wash out of the program. Or, maybe it is something more.

For me, two primary lessons stand out.

The first lesson was revealed in the following  passage of Luttrell’s book:

One time during Indoc while we were out on night run, one of the instructors actually climbed up the outside of a building, came through an open window, and absolutely trashed a guy’s room, threw everything everywhere, emptied detergent over his bed gear. He went back out the way he’d came in, waited for everyone to return, and then tapped on the poor guy’s door and demanded a room inspection. The guy couldn’t work out whether to be furious or heartbroken, but he spent most of the night cleaning up and still had to be in the showers at 0430 with the rest of us.
I asked Reno about this weeks later, and he told me, ‘Marcus, the body can take [expletive deleted] near anything. It’s the mind that needs training. The question that guy was being asked involved mental strength. Can you handle such injustice? Can you cope with that kind of unfairness, that much of a setback? And still come back with your jaw set, still determined, swearing to God you will never quit? That’s what we’re looking for.’  (p. 102)

The lesson being taught was mental toughness. In the academic literature, it is called “grit.”  Dedication was developed by training that required SEALS to be comfortable with the hard realities of warfare–to recognize that life is not fair.

The second lesson is the actually the first lesson that SEALS learn in BUDS training. It is drilled into every SEAL.

The SEAL creed:

I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight. (p. 7)

I wonder how different things would be if individuals in organizations had even a fraction of this mentality.  What if we acted like teammates and we defended one another with our eyes fixed on the mission? What would happen if  we determined that we would never quit. What if  we decided we would “draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect our teammates and accomplish our mission.” I think we would have fought our way out of the recession by now. What do you think?

The Professor’s Recommended  Reading:

Seal of Honor


No Easy Day

If you are interested in additional leadership lessons from the military, you might also want to read the article: Love the Suck.

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on are his own.


Filed under Books, Current Events, Effectiveness, Leadership, Management, Military, Motivation, Success, Teamwork, Trust