We stood on a hilltop overlooking the Kentucky countryside. It was hot and sticky, a typical Kentucky summer day, but it felt good to be outside for a couple of hours. We looked at our maps; we looked at the terrain around us and we talked. After a few minutes of looking at the panorama of hills, valleys, creeks and roads that were around us, Ed asked some questions. If they came through this valley, what would you do? How would you stop them? How would you gain the advantage? For the next couple of hours, Ed told a few stories and we talked about how we’d defeat a fictitious enemy maneuvering across the rolling hills of Kentucky.
Ed was my first boss in the Army, he was about ten years senior to me and he was committed to my professional development. While that day’s conversation initially focused on tactical scenarios, that’s not what was important. What was important, is that Ed was investing in me. As a leader, he was taking responsibility for helping me develop, grow and prepare for future leadership positions.
As I look back on influential moments in my life that shaped my leadership behaviors, this was one of them. We weren’t in the classroom and there wasn’t a written test. This was an experienced leader prioritizing time to coach and mentor a junior leader. On a Kentucky hilltop, on a hot summer day, Ed was giving me a gift, he was sharing his experience with me.
In just a few short hours, Ed helped to elevate my thinking to a higher level. We’d moved beyond tactics, we were talking about operational planning, visualizing outcomes, and synchronizing systems. I still had a lot of growing to do, but Ed had helped me see things through a different lens. He had given me a head start on skills that would help me in various leadership positions throughout my career.
Ed and I stayed in touch for few years after our time together in Kentucky and then we lost touch. If our paths ever cross again, I would thank Ed for making time to share his experience and invest in my leadership development. I’d let him know that he significantly influenced a young leader and set him on a path for professional success.
If you’re a leader today, are you sharing your experience to develop other leaders? Are you an Ed?