Friday, October 29, 2010

Trench Talk

In an old John Wayne war movie (not really, but any reference to a war movie should include John), a company of soldiers is on a mission to “take the hill”. Progress has been slow but intentional. Gaining ground has not gone without significant loss. Best friends have been injured or even killed in battle, but the men press on with devotion to each other for the freedom they’ve grown to love. Little sleep, c-rations, and stale water from a dented canteen sustain their physical needs. A shower, mattress, pillow or the warmth of an embrace from those they love is but a distant memory. Only gunfire, dust, destruction, and ear-splitting explosions crowd their senses. Their clothes are tattered, skin stained by blood and dirt, and yet they press on. Men fighting shoulder-to-shoulder in order to carry out the mission their Commander designed in the war room.
As the story continues, the enemy retreats and the battle subsides. But worse, all communication from the command post is cut off and the company is left leader-less. With the imminent threat of enemy attack gone and a commander unable to lead his troops, the focus and common goal of “taking the hill” dissipates.
Soon the trench, once regarded as a haven from injury, becomes too confining. Murmuring and complaints begin to emanate from the ditches. The troops are tired of eating out of a can. Complaints of aches, pains and smells weave their way along the trench. Accusations are fired at each other for talking too loud and depriving them of sleep. Tempers explode and suspicions flare… and the enemy gains ground.
So, what changed? How did a company of soldiers, under threat of life and miserable conditions move from shoulder-to-shoulder camaraderie to a nest of finger-pointing, blame-shifting complainers?
No doubt those in the trench with authority, such as a Field Sergeant, would address the troops’ behavior with stern commands to stop complaining. Perhaps he would be creative and address the “issues” of bathing or eating out of a can in hopes of eliminating the morale-busting trench talk. But why weren’t these issues in the heat of battle? What changed?

Vision and leadership. 

A glimpse of where you’re going and someone to take you there. What the troops needed was a Commander to point to a hill and give them a reason to go. They needed communication from a General who strategizes with his specialists and makes difficult decisions knowing there will be causalities.

This last week, I was the Field Sergeant. Lord, grant me wisdom and insight to be a better leader.