What I learned about leadership from Ranger School: Part 1

Ranger School helped forge me into the leader I am today.

If the United States military is the greatest leader factory in the world, then the U.S. Army Ranger School is its greatest production line. It’s a demanding leadership course that takes volunteer Soldiers of all ranks out of their comfort zones, puts them in an austere environment, takes away all authoritative leadership tools and still demands leaders get results in order to graduate.

“Getting through” Ranger School is not an option. The cadre require that you perform at a high level before they allow you to proceed to the next increasingly-difficult levels of the course. If you don’t perform, you don’t proceed -- plain and simple.

The Power of Preparation

My son was two years old and became my training partner. We would go on daily walks using his toddler backpack to help me prepare for the long foot marches. The two of us had fun, and those memories would help keep me motivated as I continued to press through my training.

Ranger School quickly eliminates those who are not prepared. Many candidates don’t make it past the first week. Lessons in the value of preparation continue throughout the experience – simple things like pre-combat inspections, tying equipment down and rehearsals often determine the outcome of a mission.

These lessons carry over to everyday leadership. Putting in the hard work ahead of time often makes execution much easier. Ranger School also shows how preparation mitigates the mistakes made when chaos commences. Chaos doesn’t happen all the time, but it is always magnified when you are unprepared. Most victories are won before the game is ever played.

Only Worry about Those Things That You Can Control

This was a very powerful lesson for me . . . and it happened on my very first mission as a leader.

In a matter of moments, the perfect mission turned into the perfect disaster. My ambush operation turned into a bunch of sleepy Rangers running around like crazy. (I am fairly certain I could hear the enemy soldiers laughing at us). I remember feeling frustrated in my loss of control.

I knew that we failed the mission and dreaded hearing the Ranger instructor deliver the dreaded, excruciating “no-go” assessment. This disaster was caused by a series of unfortunate events that were out of my control. But ultimately, I failed the mission because I started worrying about all of the things I couldn’t control instead of focusing on the things I could control.

I became a self-imposed victim of the situation. The lesson learned was well worth it: You can’t control everything, so only worry about those things that you can control. That lesson served me very well for the remainder of Ranger School and throughout my life as a leader.

Humility, Perseverance and Courage

My greatest lesson in humility, perseverance and courage came in the Mountain Phase of Ranger School. You see, mountains are often used as metaphors for and in leadership. In Ranger School, they can take a very literal form. I still have vivid memories of watching Rangers tumble down the side of one.

They would eventually hit a tree and stop, pick themselves up and climb back up the mountain. I was fortunate and had a short, all be it painful fall, hitting a tree after only a few feet of falling. Ranger School teaches you a lot about humility and perseverance — as long as you have the courage to face reality. I learned that I can achieve more than I ever thought I could, but that only came after a few hard lessons in humbleness.

I discovered that most boundaries are self-imposed. It takes humility, perseverance and courage to break through our boundaries. Humility allows us to acknowledge our weaknesses, learn from our failures, grow and realize that we can’t do everything on our own. We need to know when to offer support and when to ask for help. The good things in life are often the things that are the hardest to come by.

Perseverance is needed to get past obstacles and achieve what you’re seeking. Persevering through challenges makes the achievement a lot more meaningful. It takes courage to face challenges. Courage gives us determination and the ability to bounce back from setbacks. Humility, perseverance and courage are all key competencies on their own, but their impact is magnified when a leader displays them together. Often without complaints, they were just glad they were not hurt.

Climbing up a mountain once is hard; the second time is even harder. I am very blessed to have had the opportunity to go to Ranger School. It taught me a lot about myself and leadership. The experience taught me a lot about preparation, teamwork, perseverance and humility.

Rangers live by the Ranger Creed. It serves as an illustration of the principles and expectations of being a Ranger. The last line of the creed is “Rangers Lead The Way!” The lessons learned are enduring and continue to guide me today.

Check out my next article as I explore lessons learned on teamwork and the important life lessons I learned through Ranger School.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.