This is one of those times.
You see, I’m not quite sure how to convey to you just how deeply the new book, “Get It On!” by Keni Thomas has affected me, how it stayed with me every night I spent reading it and still moves me to tears and deep introspection a week after I read the last page.
Keni’s story is not only one of great leadership, but of gut-wrenching tragedy, loss, courage, patriotism, vulnerability and the ties that bind. It’s also a blistering look at the direct impact of decisions made by our political leaders.
As Keni states toward the end of the book,
“The story of Black Hawk Down has been told many times and in many ways. There are several books, a movie, documentaries, and even a video game. There are also a few of us out there who still get invited to speak to audiences and tell the story from a personal perspective…
But as good as they are, none of those men who are handed a mic and asked to talk about Task Force Ranger can tell you about David Floyd, Eric Suranski, Randy Ramaglia, Melvin Dejesus, Sean T. Watson, Peter Neathery, or Doc Strous. Not the way I can. It is my story to tell and only I can tell it as Keni Thomas would.
So to all who will listen, you can send me. It is an honor to do so because I know that by the grace of God the only reason I’m standing here today doing what I love is because of those men. And if I don’t tell their story, who will?
Every Great Story Has a Hero, This Story Has Many
After an intense introduction that takes you into the heart of the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3rd, 1993, Keni’s story begins in the midst of one of life’s ordinary moments. While writing a letter home to his mom from his American compound in Somalia, he and the rest of the 3rd Battalion Army Task Force Ranger Unit heard the call that would change the course of their lives, “Get It On!”
As you’ll understand when reading the book, this story is replete with heroes on every page. Perhaps that’s why I simply can’t get it out of my head.
Keni does an exceptional job of not only telling the story of the Battle that ultimately became known to most of us through the words “Black Hawk Down,” but of laying out the leadership lessons that are demonstrated over the course of the 18-hour urban battle.
You are with Keni as he hovers above the city of Mogadishu in Gunslinger, the Black Hawk in which he rides into battle and from which he ropes down into the city, he and his fellow soldiers unknowingly outnumbered 10 to 1.
You are with him as he is shot but not harmed by the grace of God, and through the long night that has become famous. You are even with him as he is forced to run out of the city the following morning to a Malaysian BTR carrier in what would later be referred to as the Mogadishu Mile.
And you are with him in the stark moments when he realizes his best friend has been killed, and when he watches a man die for the very first time. His soulful words are riveting.
Ultimately, this is a book about leadership, which is how it founds its way to me.
10 Leadership Lessons that play out in dramatic fashion in this book include:
1. The people on your right and on your left make all the difference. In business we rely on our teams to execute their roles brilliantly. When leaders say, “The people make all the difference,” this is what they mean. From Keni’s perspective, the men on his right and on his left were the reason he survived.
2. Lead by example. Others will follow, you will make a difference and you will change lives.
3. Be willing to carry the burden of leadership. And know when to be a good follower. Keni had to take over when least expected at the start of the battle, and he had an epiphany about the importance of being a good follower on the Mogadishu Mile out of the city.
4. Be prepared for the call that is destined to come. This is a lesson of character and faith as well as one of everyday reality.
5. Be a person that can be counted on. In the same way Rangers never leave a fallen soldier, never leave the people who are counting on you.
6. It is better to have and not need, than to need and not have. This lesson was never clearer than when Les Aspin, President Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, chose not to fulfill requests for tanks and armored vehicles in support of the mission, and later stepped down from his position as a result. Think about how this lesson applies to you in your role.
7. It’s critical for leaders to understand Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In a country devoid of food and hope, food becomes power. This was the root of the evil Keni faced. We in business have the luxury of focusing on the higher realms of the hierarchy: belonging, esteem and self-actualization. Great leaders set their followers up for success by empowering them in ways that address these needs.
8. Each one of us is a piece of the puzzle that makes everything work. Great leaders understand that it is not about them, rather it is about something much greater than self. Throughout the book Keni does an exquisite job of proving this, puzzle piece by puzzle piece.
9. Train as you fight, fight as you train. This is one of the most critical leadership lessons of the book. Be prepared in every way possible. For business leaders this means providing your teams the training and tools needed to be successful, knowing your objective and strategies inside and out, and having contingency plans that are just as defined and well-rehearsed.
In Keni’s words:
Because when it comes down to it, you will only be as good as you prepared yourself to be. The people around you will only be as good as you trained them to be. So the idea is to make everyone an absolute expert at their job. This is your best chance to ensure the mission is successfully accomplished and everyone makes it back alive.
10. Finally, in Keni’s words, “The world needs leaders… The world needs people of character. The world needs you.”
In the end, 19 men were killed and 79 wounded in the Battle of Mogadishu. According to Keni, “In total, Task Force Ranger would become one of the most decorated battalions in military history.” Keni himself received the Bronze Star for Valor. He gave it to his mom.
Keni now carries a guitar instead of a gun, and he knows his life’s work is to inspire and encourage others through his music and his speaking. The leadership lessons from this book are part of his important message.
I am absolutely honored and thrilled that Keni has agreed to Guest Host Leadership Chat with me and Steve Woodruff tomorrow night, October 25th at 8:00 pm Eastern Time! He will be talking about his experience, leadership lessons, and how he encourages others to lead through his stories and his songs.
This is one Leadership Chat you absolutely will not want to miss!
Buy the book. Trust me. It will change you in a way you’re simply not expecting.
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Leadershp Lessons from Heroes, the Bravest of Men (Medal of Honor Recipients)