The first gunfight I was in, about three or four weeks after my first tour of Iraq. This was 2007 during the surge. It is the deadliest year of the war, and we are in the triangle of death, in Anbar Province. We have been bombed and bombed on the roads many times before this moment. One of my teammates was killed by a roadside bomb. We’ve seen some action, but we’re not involved in a real gunfight. One morning, we were ambushed. One of my comrades was shot in the throat early in the fight. A great gun battle ensued. There are about 40 of us, and I don’t know how many bad guys there were.
I drove the Marines through an open field, 150 yards, and machine gun fire poured in, because we had to reconnect with the rest of the platoon and evacuate this casualty. How did any of us gather the courage to do that?
Obviously, there was this love. No one hesitated for a moment to run across the field because Nathan was bleeding. But love is not really what leads directly to courage. Love actually creates this feeling of security for each of us. Safety was psychological and emotional.
People always find it strange to hear a Marine talk about psychological safety because it sounds like a kind of awakened liberal sentiment. But it’s real. We were the five who were running across the field knowing that if we got hit, there would be 30 Marines lined up to take their turn to run out and get us out. We felt relatively safe at that moment. The best leaders create a sense of security in the team they lead. And I think that’s really what unlocks innovation and the drive to do more.
How did Team Rubicon start?
October 24, 2009 was the last day of my service. I immediately applied to a few business schools. January comes and I get a rejection letter from Stanford, much to my dismay. Two days later, the Haiti earthquake occurred. I felt like doing something, so we went to Haiti, and we thought our experience as veterans would help us be effective there. We have treated hundreds, if not thousands of patients. Some of them wouldn’t be alive today if we weren’t there. It was just post-apocalyptic. But our military training has made us very good at navigating a post-disaster situation. So we came back and didn’t stop.
You’ve talked about love and the security that it creates. What does that look like inside a nonprofit or corporation?
Empathy is fundamental to leading with love – understanding the people you have and empathizing with who they are, what they have been through, and what their lives have brought them to that moment in time when they follow you and put their financial livelihood into your hands.