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Get dirty with those who you lead.

5th Principle's third principle of the Muddy Boots Leadership Philosophy is one of my favorites. This principle states: Get dirty with those who you lead. This is called leading by example, and your actions should guide the actions of those who you lead. Check out this real life leadership vignette where I recall getting my boots wet instead of muddy.

As a leader, you should never ask your subordinates to do something you are not willing to do yourself. It is not always enough to be willing to do the task either. Sometimes you have to jump right in and get your hands dirty, or in my case your boots wet, in order to effectively lead. This real life leadership vignette occurred in one of the unnamed riverbeds in eastern Afghanistan. We were conducting a mission to uncover a cache of Taliban weapons that had been discovered in a cave near a local village. On our way to the village one of our HMMWVs broke down in the middle of the river. The river was wide but only a couple feet deep; however, we were boarded by high bluffs on both sides of us. The situation was far from ideal. We had a small convoy stopped in a river that was boarded on both sides by walls of rock and the pathway ahead blocked by a broken down vehicle. I immediately left my vehicle and started to help attach a tow-bar to the front of the disabled truck while another vehicle maneuvered in place to tow it to safety.

While working on the vehicle my commander, who had joined us on this mission, approached me and was less than thrilled with my actions. He let me know that if something happened to me while I was working on the truck, my platoon would be without a platoon leader and the convoy without a convoy commander. It was not my role to attach tow bars to trucks. My job was to lead the mission while others could hook up the trucks. My commander was not wrong. At the same time, he was not right either. Yes, my job was to lead the operation and if something happened to me, that would be compromised. However, as platoon leader I could not ask my soldiers to do something that I was not willing to do myself. Therefore, it was important for them to see me putting myself in the same danger, doing the same work that I asked them to do on a daily basis.

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Jul 09, 2020

It is easy to lead by example when conditions are ideal, but there are times when it is important to show that you are capable even in harsh and dangerous situations. The way you describe it sounds like you were in the middle of a perfect set-up to get ambushed. Getting out of the vehicle and taking the actions you did showed a sense of urgency and raised awareness of the danger of the situation. Sometimes in convoys, the routine dulls your alertness. I am sure your actions woke everybody up!

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