What The Bin Laden Capture Taught Me About Leadership

What does it take to be a great leader?

Have you ever been in a situation in your life that was chaotic, brought tremendous stress and not only could you not speak a word of it to anyone; those who you could count on to help you through were limited? Maybe you have been in a place where you knew you needed a breakthrough in your life and you knew you needed others more skilled to help you through and were at a loss as to who to turn to? I think leaders often deal with this because it can be lonely at the top, unless you position yourself correctly.

It is important that we surround ourselves with people that are highly skilled and intelligent; those that can advise us in areas of our lives that we may not have the knowledge to solve. We also need those people around us that are not emotionally affected by our circumstances so that we can make wise decisions. Finally it is important that we learn how to be mentally and emotionally tough and able to keep calm in stressful situations and make right decisions which also helps us to be considered a trusted advisor.

I want to share with you a time when I saw this in action when it came to the capture of Osama bin Laden and how I think we can apply what I learned to our own lives.

Well back when my life was much more interesting....I worked for a Big 4 I had the amazing opportunity to work with intelligent and skilled Advisors in all areas and because of the level of information I received I never got to go home and share a single piece of information with even my family. I often knew some earth shattering news that I knew would hit the newsstands at any moment or it hit the newsstands and we had to know how to respond. I was often aware of the inside news in any given organization and I learned how to be mentally and emotionally tough, unmoved, so that I could be an effective team member to bring value.

Some of those advisors I happened to work alongside were the Advisors to the The Administration. One of the projects I was briefed on by them was when Osama bin Laden was captured. This was so that when dealing with crisis situations with clients I could glean from lessons learned and apply it accordingly and I was often in charge of putting together the details of important proposals. This is a time when details are what matter.

These advisors had worked tirelessly to put together two proposals as to where Bin Laden could possibly be hiding. Great detail and focus had to go into putting these proposals together under great stress. If they skipped one detail it is possible he would have never been captured. Luckily, they selected the right proposal that proved to identify his true location.

What happens in an operation like this is that the President is held in one room without any visibility to what is happening on the ground where violence may be taking place. This is so he can make important decisions without being emotionally affected. The leaders in military are in another room with monitors to oversee the operation on the ground and provide instruction. During this operation President Obama actually left his position and went into the room where the military was to watch everything take place. This was probably the worst thing he could have done as President because at that point he was no longer an effective leader to make unbiased decisions when others were relying on him to do so. If you watched any of this hit the news during the time you know why so many were angry with his actions. He had in some ways stepped down from being an effective authority in that moment when the U.S. needed him the most; he allowed his emotions to control him.

Lessons we can learn from this crisis:

  • The Importance of Emotional and Mental toughness – If you want to be an effective leader you have to learn how not to react but stay the course. If we are to be effective leaders we cannot place ourselves in positions where we will be emotionally unable to make the right decision. If we find ourselves in a crisis and we are emotionally effected we need people around us that are outside of our sphere that can help us to move forward. Thinking that we can lead alone in our own lives or in an organization proves to be fatal.There were countless days in my career where I wanted to react, run home and spill the beans on what was REALLY happening out there but couldn’t because it was top secret information. I would open up social media and want to react to false information but had to retract. I had to learn how to be un-effective by the “news” and learn to be strong in my convictions as an individual. Followers react; leaders are proactive and stay the course.
  • Surround Yourself with Advisors/Coaches – It is important to have coaches or experts in every single area of our lives so that we continue to grow. Experts to advise us that can provide us with objective instruction and feedback. I understand that we do not always have people around us that have the answers and it often takes a great amount of work to gain the understanding and knowledge we need to succeed. There is wisdom in the right council. But I believe it is important to make sure you have the right variety of council or it is possible without fresh perspective you may never obtain breakthrough.
  • Investment In Learning Is Never Wasted – There are a lot of things in this life that are a waste of money but the one thing you can never waste money on is personal growth. You may not have a ton of advisors like the President bringing you new information daily but you can be proactive and learn. This could be formal education or workshops. From online training to going to seminars. Always pay what it takes to get trained and grow. We need experts in our lives and we should never stop being teachable. The moment you think you know it all is the moment you will become ineffective.
  • Give Up A Meal But Never Give Up The Chance To Read A Book - Experts read a lot of books that are outside their “comfort” zone or from individuals outside their “sphere”. There is no point in reading about what you already know; we need others to stretch us. Of course we need to filter information we obtain and rightly divide it but when you are educated in a solid foundation this should not be an issue. Some of the greatest breakthrough I have received has been from people completely unrelated to my situation or completely out of my demographic. We should not just know what we believe but why and be willing to have others challenge our understanding. If we have the right foundation, we will only find our roots will go deeper into truth and become unmovable.
  • Details Matter – No matter what you are doing in life, details matter. Sometimes they matter more than other times. If you are weak in the area of details find others that will stretch you, and then apply what they say to improve upon your performance. Always keep others who are detailed around you and close by because no one on the planet can catch every detail by themselves.

I hope you have felt this blog helpful today and that by sharing some of my experience with you, you can take your life to the next level. And on a personal note maybe you can understand why I have felt I could relate so much with “spy movies”, working hard and all the while nobody really knowing what you are a part of. That has felt like more of my reality than fiction. Now go do the impossible!

I leave you with this intro to one of my favorite movies - Mission Impossible

Skip to toolbar