The Leader’s Playbook-2: “I trust you, you will do the right thing, no matter what… I have your back”

On September 11th, 2001 I was the Chief of Weapons and Tactics at Andrews AFB, MD assigned to the 121st Fighter Squadron flying F-16s.  My Wing Commander was Brigadier General Dave Wherley.

There are so many vivid memories from that day.  They oftentimes move through my mind like a set of polaroids.  One of the clearest memories is not of the Pentagon burning, or the fires in New York, rather it was the leadership shown by General Wherley.

After the second tower was hit, our Wing, on orders from the White House, scrambled to protect DC from further attacks.

While a group of us prepared to fly, General Wherley coordinated with the national command authority and was passed the rules of engagement that we were going to use during our missions.  They were extremely liberal and put the onus of the decision to shoot or not to shoot on us.  This was completely unprecedented.

After quickly briefing our mission and getting our equipment on, we ran to the operations desk to get our final instructions before running to the jets.  As we stood there, General Wherley gave us our mission, our instructions, and our rules of engagement.  He then paused for a moment, took a deep breath,  and looked straight at us.

To this day, I will never forget his words.

“I trust you, you will do the right thing, no matter what I have your back.”

Never in the history of mankind,  has a leader said a more right thing, to the right people, at the right time.  Period.

In the very toughest of times, it is on us as leaders to remember that it is all about taking care of the team, and boy did Boss Wherley take care of us that morning.

General Wherley was a giant of a man and a great leader.  He loved leading warriors and loved being a Fighter Pilot.

Maj Gen and Mrs. Wherley where they were happiest – together.

Tragically, on June 22nd, 2009  we lost both he and his lovely wife Ann when they were killed in the Metrorail collision in Washington, DC.  They had just left Walter Reed Army Medical Center where they were volunteering and serving our Wounded Warriors.

Our unit misses him but remembers with perfect clarity the incredible leadership example from that morning.

Thanks Boss for the incredible gift of a good example. Never forget.

The Leader’s Playbook-1: “What’s your Story?”

Most leaders love working with people.  I sure do.

Years ago a young Non-Commissioned Officer asked me a simple question that has given me so many gifts over the years.  He simply asked me, “Hey Sir, what is your story?”.

He didn’t ask me what I did for a living, or what I liked to do with my free time.  He asked me an open-ended question which allowed me to go anywhere I wanted to go and share with him what was on my mind, or what I thought he should know about me.

Leading people is about truly understanding what drives them, what their needs are and what I can do to help them.

Leadership is about supporting those around you – working to solve their problems so they can stay focused on the main thing that they need too.

Leading people is not about sharing your story or talking about you, it’s about understanding where other people are coming from and working every day to improve things for them – not you.

For years whenever I meet someone new I’ve politely asked them “What’s your story?”  Sometimes the words might be a little different, but the theme of the question is always the same.  As soon as I ask it, I just listen and enjoy the answer.

The gifts that this simple open-ended question has given me are absolutely immeasurable.  I’ve learned about what people care about, what they are scared of, what is on their minds, what I can do to be a better leader or friend for them.  It also gives me a great place to pick up a conversation the next time we are together.  This simple question has been the foundation for building hundreds of amazing relationships in life, business, and the military.

Give it a try the next time you meet someone new and ask them “What’s your story?”

And to David C… thanks for asking me that question so many years ago, and thanks for the gifts since then.