February 10, 2022

TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #106 – How We Can All Be Superheroes to Real People Part 2

By Rob Andrews

Paraphrased by Rob Andrews from Gen. William R. McRaven’s Book, The Hero Code

As I shared last week, I’ve been a huge fan of retired Admiral Bill McRaven since I learned of him shortly after Osama Bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011. Last week I shared the essence of the first half of my getabstract book summary. Here is, as Paul Harvey says, the rest of the story.

Take-Aways from The Book

  • You don’t need a superhero costume to perform feats of heroism.
  • The battlefield and life demand courage.
  • Humility calls for understanding your place in the universe.
  • Sacrifice can happen anywhere.
  • Integrity goes a step beyond honesty.
  • Compassion is not just an act for Forrest Gump star Gary Sinise.
  • Perseverance put one doctor on the path to the Nobel Prize.
  • Placing duty ahead of everything else reflects responsibility and commitment.
  • Hope is the antidote to fear and despair.
  • Humor keeps you humble and soothes the sting of adversity.
  • Forgiveness allows the soul to heal.

Compassion is not just an act for Forrest Gump star Gary Sinise.

When McRaven was a one-star admiral, he attended a meeting of 20 general officers in the dining room at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. General John Abizaid, head of US Central Command, was explaining future strategies when his aide approached cautiously and stood next to him, reluctant to interrupt. Abizaid finally acknowledged the aide, who murmured into the commander’s ear.

“If we lose our sense of charity, of kindness, of compassion, if we become hardened to the troubles of others, then we will not survive long.”

A civilian came in, glanced at the generals, and asked Abizaid if he was in charge. Gary Sinise, the actor who played the legless Lieutenant Dan in the movie Forrest Gump, introduced himself. Sinise told the general he was looking for a C-130 aircraft to deliver pallets of school supplies to Afghan children. When reminded that a war was going on, Sinise told the generals that he believed an entire generation of Afghans needed education. Sinise got his plane within hours.

Performing charitable acts generates good feelings because human beings are hardwired to be caring and compassionate. You can strengthen your character and develop generosity through simple acts such as donating to a homeless shelter or volunteering in a soup kitchen.

Perseverance put a Doctor on the Path to the Nobel Prize.

Dr. Jim Allison first started learning about T-cells at the University of Texas. He thought that the body’s immune system could be effective in fighting cancer. In 1995, Allison injected cancer tumors and antibodies into a dozen mice. The tumors grew over the next few days and Allison figured his experiment was a failure. But two days later, virtually every tumor had disappeared – a stunning development Allison thought researchers would embrace. He was wrong and spent the next 15 years fighting to market his discovery.

“This concept of using the immune system to attack cancer was considered by most physicians to be a fool’s errand.”

Pharmaceutical corporations were unwilling to provide funding or support clinical trials. Bristol Myers Squibb finally consented to sponsor human trials. Since 2011, when the FDA approved ipilimumab (ipi), Allison’s drug has kept hundreds of thousands of patients alive. In 2018, the Nobel Prize committee granted him the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Like many other heroes, Allison refused to give up. Perseverance may be a more important indicator of success than talent or intelligence. George Washington, for example, lost more battles than he won. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb after failing 10,000 times. Persistence can help you overcome any professional or personal challenges.

Placing Duty Ahead of Everything Else Reflects Responsibility and Commitment

Navy pilot and future US senator John McCain was headed for deployment in Vietnam aboard the USS Forrestal aircraft carrier when a fire broke out, killing 134 men. McCain was injured and went back to the front as soon as he healed. Three months after recovering from his injuries, McCain was shot down during a bombing run over Hanoi. In the crash, he broke both his arms and a leg. The North Vietnamese captured and tortured him before learning his father was an admiral.

“Duty is a recognition that you have a responsibility to your fellow man and woman.”

Then they offered McCain early release believing that privileged individuals warranted special treatment. But McCain refused to violate the Code of Conduct and betray his fellow POWs. They all suffered five more years of imprisonment. His message: Doing your job to the best of your ability demonstrates responsibility to others. Selfless behavior sustains society.

Hope is the Antidote to Fear and Despair

McRaven’s doctor in North Carolina phoned him in Afghanistan. He said a recent bone marrow biopsy indicated that McRaven had chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in his spleen. The admiral had to fly home right away, have his spleen removed and undergo chemotherapy. The doctor indicated that because battling the disease would take a lot of time, McRaven’s Navy career was probably over. McRaven’s wife, Georgeann, began searching for the best doctor she could find. She reached out to Dr. Michael Keating at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, McRaven’s home state.

“If you want to bring hope to the world, you will have to find what you’re good at and give it to others.”

McRaven learned that new treatments would save him from surgery and facilitate his return to duty. Suddenly, he had hope for the future. His experience convinced him that nothing in the universe is more powerful than hope.

Humor Keeps you Humble and Soothes the Sting of Adversity.

Fresh out of training as a new frogman, McRaven joined his fellow SEALs for rigorous morning exercise on The Grinder: an asphalt patch that would test much more than his physical prowess. For 15 minutes, his teammates kidded him relentlessly about his parents, his birthplace and his intelligence. Nothing was off limits.

“I came to realize that there is a hero in all of us. There is an innate code that has been there since the birth of mankind.”

Pranks, jokes and good-natured ridicule are part of the SEALs’ culture. Humor helps everyone stay humble and foster perspective. Heroes aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves or use humor to diffuse a tense situation.

Forgiveness Allows the Soul to Heal

The admiral sat across from an elderly Afghan man, preparing to ask for forgiveness, unsure whether the man would grant it. Attempting to capture a Taliban operative weeks before, soldiers from McRaven’s unit had taken positions around the man’s compound. The soldiers unintentionally killed two of the man’s sons, his daughter and two other women.

“Forgiveness will never be easy. It was not meant to be. It takes a strong person to forgive.”

A translator explained the man would accept McRaven’s effusive apology because it would relieve the weight of his loathing and rage. Many people hold tightly to their anger and outrage, wrongly believing it soothes their soul. Only forgiveness abolishes hatred.

I sincerely hope this paraphrased content has inspired you as it did me. Stay tuned for more content on building cultures of peak performance. Please give us a call if you’d like a little thought partnership.

Warmest Regards,

Rob Andrews
Allen Austin
Consultants in Retained Search & Leadership Advisory