And They’re Off!

It’s Derby Week! Every year for two weeks everything in Louisville is timed around events leading up to the Kentucky Derby. There are hot air balloon races, a human race, a balloon glow, a bed race, a parade and many, many other events.

At Thunder…Leadership Flies High

It all starts with Thunder Over Louisville, which begins at 3:00 pm with an air show and ends with a gigantic fireworks display. It is the largest combined air show and fireworks display in America.

This year my son-in-law, Lt. Colonel, Brian Stempien, flew his Cobra helicopter for the event, along with several other Marines in his unit. As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about what some of these men and their families have sacrificed. Brian himself has had two tours of Iraq and one of Okinawa. The other men have had similar experiences.

What is striking is how bright and capable all of these men are. They are all college graduates from outstanding universities…all polite and articulate…and all stand ready to defend their country. They’re young, intelligent, successful and clearly among America’s best and brightest.

Flying Under the Radar

Of course, the jets that flew in the show got a great deal of attention, because they are big, fast and a lot more visible. The men and women who fly them are also among our best and brightest. Still, by comparison, the Cobra unit and the Huey’s that accompanied them got very little attention. Most of the names of the jet pilots were mentioned, but not those of the Cobra and Huey pilots. In fact, the narrator’s only comment was that Cobras were active in the Vietnam War.

That’s true, but Cobras were also active in the Gulf, Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. Consider this from an online article I read:

“During the March 2003 Iraq campaign, 46 of 58 USMC Cobras took battle damage, mostly from infantry-type weapons. In late August 2016, Marine AH-1W Cobras flying from the USS Wasp started flying combat missions over Libya against the Islamic State of Iraq…providing close air support for friendly militias on the ground.”

As I reflected upon all of this, I was reminded of a very important leadership lesson. Often the more visible folks who sometimes travel in the fast lane seem to get a lot of attention. However, real success is not only the result of visible leadership, it also comes from leaders working quietly in the background to provide support for their teams.

Not that CEOs are unimportant. They are just as vital as generals are in the military, particularly if they’re what Jim Collins described as Level 5 leaders. Still, often there are other leaders operating in the background that contribute greatly to the success of the team, the business, the organization. Every once in a while, their contributions need to be recognized and made visible.

We Salute You, Lt. Colonel Stempien

To that end, I want to recognize my son-in-law, Lt. Colonel Brian Stempien. This week Brian will assume dual command of two Cobra Helicopter reserve units for the USMC. Not many people will know about this change of command.

True Brian’s wife Sarah, his five children, his extended family and his law partners at Travis, Herbert and Stempien will all know. But I want as many people as possible to know. I’m proud of Brian, his quiet leadership and his 21 years of service to our country. He has proven that he clearly takes the USMC motto “Semper fi” to heart.

And for all of you who have leaders like Brian in your company, your church or your nonprofit organization, why don’t you take a few minutes to recognize their contributions.

Finally, to all of our readers and to everyone else, let me just say as we do in Kentucky, “Happy Derby!”