The Setup

“Who would live up here? They must love reindeer…” I was the leader of a column of 8 BV-206 “Bandvagn” tracked vehicles moving west about 15 miles through an 80 mile road (ice) movement to Alta, Norway, the port city. We were at the top of Norway, travel any further North and you’re either ice skating or swimming with polar bears….

Quite a change for a Florida native like myself. It was pitch black out, around 0300, and I was the platoon leader and leader of this particular moving element.

All was going smoothly, and we could see the northern lights in the sky above. We were done with our joint exercise, completely wiped out, but looking forward to dropping off our vehicles at the port and getting some shut eye on the bus-ride South. I’m pretty lucky to work in such an awe-inspiring place.

The Real Fun Begins

Have you ever shifted to 1st gear in an old car on accident while going about 30 mph?That’s what happened to our vehicle, except the driver didn’t shift. All of a sudden, our vehicle couldn’t get out of first gear no matter what. So I stopped the column and called up our only mechanic. Had we been in a broken down HMMWV, he would have been all over it. But on this Swedish made tracked vehicle, his guess was as good as ours.

It was about +5 degrees F, and 2 minutes after we stopped I would estimate 90% of the element was gladly asleep, welcoming the break and oblivious to the problem. The mechanic left while my driver and I stared at the engine, willing it to be fixed…

Bottomline? We had just cut our maximum rate of march by 75%, which meant we wouldn’t reach Alta until well after sunrise, and hours behind the rest of the company.

We had no contact with any outside elements, like company HQ, but if we could reach them, they might send a Norwegian recovery asset in 4-6 hours. As the leader, this problem is in your face. Other than my driver and an NCO or two on my radio net, everyone else was asleep. They aren’t responsible for solving this problem, right? Aren’t I the leader here?

My Self Talk

This problem isn’t going to go away. So what started going through my head?

  • If we limp along in first gear, will that have negative effects on the vehicle and exacerbate the issue?
  • Should we split up the element?
  • If we drive this slowly, will my tired drivers be able to handle it safely?

Definitely not.

How long will we have to stay in Alta if we miss the departure of the freight vessel? The words you say to yourself have meaning!

I’m not proud of the negative thoughts, but I realized this was no time for negativity.

My New Self Talk

New thoughts began to form.

  • “What would a solution to this problem look like?”
  • “Who likes working on their car back home?”
  • “My driver went through driver’s training, he’s probably our best chance at fixing this thing ourselves.”
  • “What can we do to fix this problem right now.”

My driver, a Specialist from the Philippines, had done an excellent job on this exercise over the previous two months. I was already impressed with him, but that impression grew quickly over the next few minutes.

We began brainstorming solutions as we held the rubber hose where we thought it needed to stay, but couldn’t keep it from falling off. “What if I hold the hose there while we drive?”, I said. He dismissed that idea for good reasons, countering with “What about duct tape?” That’s it! Of course duct tape is the answer, we are Americans after all, right? I got on the radio, “Any Bulldog element… anyone have some duct tape?”

What about duct tape?

The Takeaway

So as you can see from the picture, copious and creative application of duct tape patched up the engine and enabled us to drive on to our endpoint. So what? Sure, no one was shooting at us, no one was in danger of death or true bodily harm, and we could have just waited for help.

The soldiers in this element were cold, hungry, and tired. Humans in that state do not want to solve problems or come up with creative solutions. Don’t forget, leaders are human too.

But this is your challenge, your moment to lead and to get the best out of people. It’s your duty to lead through tough environments and foster the development of creative solutions. In doing so, you will not only solve that problem, but you will learn more about those you lead and in turn they will learn to trust you.

They will learn that their insight is valued, and that they are an essential part of a team, not just a cog in your organization’s wheel.

You have to think outside the box! You know what, forget the box, who says you are in a box?!

Key Lesson: Never forget about duct tape.

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