How a Young Infantry Platoon Leader Found Himself Up $#!^ Creek
Years ago, I was a young infantry platoon leader in the U.S. Army. At the age of 22, the vast majority of my team members were older – some by two decades – and more experienced than me.
One day, my platoon was conducting a training exercise where we were patrolling in “enemy territory”. At one point, the soldier in the front of our patrol (a.k.a., the point person), signaled for everyone to stop. He then gestured that a danger area was in front of us.
Via hand signals, the point person’s message silently worked its way through the 39-person platoon and everyone reacted accordingly. I then made my way to the front of the patrol to assess the situation. As platoon leader, I was expected to determine what we would do next.
Tracking down the lead soldier, I asked why we had stopped. In a low whisper, he explained that there was a large creek to our front. Creeks, roads, open fields, etc. are considered danger areas as they create a place for the enemy to attack. It’s desirable to go around or avoid them altogether. If avoiding isn’t viable, you try to quickly and safely traverse them. A map check revealed that going around wasn’t feasible; so, I signaled for a couple of soldiers to position themselves to our left and right flanks. Their job was to watch for enemy activity as their fellow soldiers crossed the creek.
A large log had fallen across the waterway creating a makeshift bridge. I pointed to the log and said, “Let’s cross there.” I was confident that I had picked the best place.
We began to move.
Within a few meters of the log, the point person again signaled for us to stop. I asked why and he told me that from his now closer perspective, the log didn’t look safe. Dismissing his concern, I took point myself. Halfway across the log, it happened. My 60-pound pack shifted, I lost my balance, and fell backward into the creek. I soon found myself fully submerged in nine feet of water.
I somehow managed to suffer no bodily harm and was able to exit the water with all of my equipment. Sopping wet, I crawled up the bank and looked at the point person who had yet to step onto the log. I can still see the well-deserved smirk on his face all these years later. It took a while to dry off, a little longer to regain my pride, and several weeks for the story to dissipate – but, it was worth it.
What About You?
You are most likely not in the Army or foolish enough to charge across a log and fall into a creek. However, you can learn from my mistake. The log incident, coupled with other lessons over the past 25+ years, taught me that new leaders must embrace new mindsets – specifically, five of them.If you find yourself as a new leader or working to develop new leaders in your organization, it’s time well spent to learn five essential mindsets for new leaders. To help you remember my falling off the log story and, more importantly the five mindsets, I’ve created an acrostics called CREEK.
Click below to read each of the 5 key mindsets and see how well you are doing.
1. check your ego
2. remain fair and consistent
3. earn respect
4. engage people
5. keep things in perspective
Becoming a new leader is an exciting, scary, humbling, and amazing time. Embrace it. Keep things in perspective and maintain your balance. And, if you fall off the log, dry yourself off, swallow your pride, and commit to getting it right next time. That’s what I did.
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.