What I learned about leadership from Ranger School: Part 2

Part 2 in a series. Read part 1 here.

The United States Army Ranger School is 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.

Rangers have to work as part of a team. Every Ranger is required to memorize the Ranger Creed. The significance of teamwork is summarized in two lines from that creed; "Never shall I fail my comrades" and "I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy."

Ranger Buddies

Every Ranger School graduate remembers their Ranger buddy – one of the most important people in their lives. Going through Ranger School together is one of the most endearing and bonding experiences one can have. A Ranger buddy is the person who always has your back, picks you up when you need it and helps you maintain hope on the darkest of days.

I had the honor of having two "Ranger buddies" throughout the course – Brandon and Tad.

We became close for two different reasons: Brandon was one of the best soldiers I've ever met. He made Ranger School look easy, and he took the extra time to teach those around him. Tad and I became close because we were older than most of the others (we were 30+, and this made us the old men in the squad). We spent a lot of time keeping each other awake by talking about our families at home. I have very few memories of Ranger School that don’t include my Ranger buddies being there with me.

Leaders need their "Ranger buddies" as well – no matter what team they lead. These relationships are just as important in leading a nonprofit as they would be in leading a for-profit organization. Leaders should always find those select individuals who they can reply upon.

Teamwork Matters

My last mission at Ranger School was my best. I was paired up with a very good leader and assigned as the patrol leader; he was assigned as the assistant patrol leader.

We were planning our mission, and he constantly went to check and verify our patrol base security. I trusted him to get the job done and he trusted me to build a solid plan for the mission. It just so happened that we were attacked in our patrol base. He had done his job so well that the Ranger instructors pulled us out of our positions early to give someone else a chance to earn a "go."

Our trust in each other made the mission a victory and earned us an early successful rotation out of our leadership positions. No Ranger gets through the school alone. Teamwork is an important part of the curriculum and required to graduate. A graduate has proven that he or she can be a team leader and a team player. Rangers move through the course as squads of six to 10 Ranger candidates. These squads quickly learn the value of trust. That lesson is taught by either its presence or absence, both of which are strong teachers. Good squads learn to trust their team as they learn how important it is for every Ranger to do their part. They quickly learn how to take care of each other and their assigned leader. This is often the determining factor of whether or not a leader has a successful mission and gets that coveted "go."

Ranger squads that don’t have trust quickly learn how hard leadership is without it. The squad without trust is almost always doomed to failure requiring many of its members to repeat that phase of the course.

I've brought these lessons learned into the classroom as I help develop our next generation of leaders through teaching leadership courses. I hope that I relay these messages about teamwork and trust to my students, as there is more need now than ever for a generation of trusted and team-oriented leaders to rise up. And I hope to have been able to impart these lessons here. Thank you for going on this journey with me.

In some ways, Ranger School never ends. That’s because we never stop learning, never stop falling, never stop getting up and never stop growing.

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