September 11th Leadership Lessons

A New York City fireman calls for 10 more resc...

In the hours after the towers came down on September 11th, servant leadership was on fullest display (Image via Wikipedia)

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, a great deal will be written about the political, religious, and societal impact of the events of that day.   It has oft been noted that —  like the attack on Pearl Harbor, the death of FDR, and the assassination of JFK — anyone who was alive that day will always remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news of the first plane hitting the tower, and everything that occurred thereafter.

Certainly that is the case for me.   For my part, I wanted to share a few brief thoughts on leadership lessons learned from heroes — most who were “famous” only to their own families prior to that beautiful and awful morning — who answered the call of duty that fateful day.

First Responders: Leading Without Saying A Word

If to lead one must serve, can there be any greater definition of authentic “servant leadership” than someone who runs into a collapsing building when everyone else is running out?  And yet, that is exactly what hundreds of fire fighters, police, emergency personnel, and other first responders did that day — seeking to get as many people to safety as they possibly could.  They saw the task before them, and they acted — not in consideration of their own interests, but of those they were charged with serving. Many thousands lived because of their actions … countless millions more have been inspired by their bravery and selfless service.

Flight 93 Passengers: Observe, Plan, Act … NOW

As we all know now, while events were occuring in New York (World Trade Center) and Washington (Pentagon), another drama was playing out in the skies above western Pennsylvania.  There, a quick-thinking group of individuals — forming one of the most remarkable ad hoc “leadership teams” in history — was determined to do all they could do to influence the unprecedented (and almost wholly incomprehensible) events in which they were now participating.

Observing the unfolding events, they quickly gathered all available data, pieced together a plan, and acted. They didn’t wait for “perfect information,” didn’t wait for others to clear a path through unchartered territory, and didn’t miss their window of opportunity.  They formed a simple and powerful vision with clarity, gathered others onboard, and acted.  We may never know exactly what greater destruction their actions that day saved us from.  We do know that there may never be a greater example of leadership “in the moment” than their stepping forward as “Let’s roll” was declared.

In grateful appreciation.  May their example always serve to uplift and inspire.

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