Leadership Lessons from a Heroic Black Hawk Down Army Ranger

Keni Thomas Leadership LessonsThere have been very few times when I have wanted to write about something that has moved me to my core, but have been unsure of how to even begin.

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!

As a special offer to my readers, you can buy Keni Thomas’s book with a 10% discount by clicking here and using code 24872.

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)


  1. “Be prepared for the call that is destined to come” is a great message. Out of great difficulty and tragedy comes several great lessons about character – the one thing we need now, more than ever. During difficult times we find out what we’re made of – and who our friends really are. The idea of not leaving anyone behind is a message for our times. Your post really inspired me and I look forward to finding out more about Keni’s story!
    Chris Westfall´s last blog post ..Secrets of Great Interviews

    • Chris,

      It’s so poignant how you relate all of this back to character, which is genuinely at the root of the leadership lessons Keni shares. And yes, Keni’s story has messages that are so relevant to the times we are living in. I’m thrilled to know that the post inspired you and look forward to seeing you at #LeadershipChat tomorrow night. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your thoughts, Chris. It means a lot to me.

  2. Henry Motyka says:

    I find it amazing how many people do not want to lead. The opportunities are there all the time.

    Number 8 is so important in 2 ways. In this day and age, everyghing is so specialized that we all have to contribute to the whole. But many do not often see that their little piece is important. It’s important for leaders to get people to see that. A leader’s job is to make people realize their contributions are valuable. I remember as a junior person in the corporate world I often saw it that way until I was made aware of it. I also becan to see it when I began to manage.

    Of course I love 2. As a manager, I always felt I wanted to do some of the work of my staff to show them that their work mattered.

    Everyone, step up and lead! Your workplace, your country, and the world need you.

    • Henry,

      I love that you point out how hard it can be for some people to realize that their “piece” is critical to the whole, and how it’s the leader’s job to make sure their people are valued for their contributions. And thank you for reiterating the importance of simply leading the way – very eloquently stated!

  3. alan hill says:

    Thanks Lisa
    I have found myself forwarding your blog posts several times now, because your message resonates with people I care about. Thank you.

  4. Lisa, thanks for sharing, will definitely get it! I have many soldiers in my network and appreciate that war offers a profound, sacred arena in which to be challenged at every human level, which elicits extremes: heroism, cowardice, the whole spectrum. The way you write about it has a striking synchronicity with my unusual Steve Jobs tribute: http://bit.ly/stevejobsbycsr
    Christopher S. Rollyson´s last blog post ..Steve Jobs: Behind the Fierce Competitor and Exacting Boss [Tribute]

    • Chris,

      You’re welcome and how lucky you are to have many soldiers in your network. I think you’ll enjoy it tremendously and am honored that you stopped by and read the post. Would love to have you join us tomight on the chat if you have a few minutes! All the very best and so wonderful to hear from you…

  5. Lisa:

    Thanks for the great job extrapolating the leadership principles out of Get On It I am going to get this book right after I am done posting here. From what you have posted it does remind me of Earnest Shakelton and the Endurance expedition which is one of the most influential and test of leadership I have read in a very long time. Thanks for the post

    James´s last blog post ..Your Professional Network – Why Is It Important?

    • James,

      You’re welcome and thank you for letting me know that it has moved you to buy the book. I had not heard of the Endurance Expedition (or perhaps many years ago?) but will be looking into it. Thank you so much for sharing here and for being part of the Community!

  6. Wow!

    Just bought the book to read on the plane home tonight! Will try to pop in.


  7. Lisa,

    I liked the way you have compared the Keni’s 10 Leadership Lessons of the Battle-front with your perspective on the Business-front & Real life situations.

    Very impressive indeed, the way you organize the Leadership Chat, Archive previous chats & write your highly inspiring Blogs, apart from managing your office & home.

    Thanks a lot Lisa,


  8. Former friend of Neathery says:

    Too bad Neathery is in Federal Prison for Mortgage fraud in Florence. I was a close friend of Peters for over 10 years. I considered him my brother until he used my signature to commit this fraud and I ended up doing time behind a fence for his lies.


  1. […] has written a superb summary of the book on her blog – I’d urge you to read it to get the overview of leadership […]

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