Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. This week our 35th adult leaders class starts the program! Another leadership journey commences. Also this week we solemnly remember the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, our nation’s second day of infamy. Coincidentally, this year we will remember the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor this upcoming December. In each tragedy, nearly 3,000 lost their lives. Namely, for Pearl Harbor, 2,403 Americans lost their lives becoming the first casualties of World War II. Similarly, on that fateful day 15 years ago, 2,996 victims lost their lives in the terrorist attacks including 71 law enforcement officers and 343 firefighters who responded to save lives in the fiery aftermath.
As we remember where we were that day and the incredible impact on our personal lives since, with all the security changes, I want to reflect on two vignettes that demonstrate a powerful lesson for all leaders to embrace: Let’s Roll…. The first example comes from an exemplary leader who walked the talk, Peter Ganci He was the highest ranking fire department official in all of New York City. He could have stayed at downtown headquarters and “coordinated” operations but with time running out for victims trapped in the towers, in his mind, leaders roll and it was all hands on deck. He responded to the chaos and set up a command post which was collapsed upon by the first tower. Climbing out of the rubble, this top firefighter did not flee but set up a second command post helping save hundreds of lives as victims continued to stream out of the stricken buildings. He gave the order for firefighters to fall back but he stayed in the thick of things to lead by example. Pete, sadly, was killed when the second tower collapsed. He was found beneath four feet of debris. His former supervisor, Howard Safir, commented that Ganci, “Would never ask anyone to do something he didn't do himself. It didn’t surprise me that he was right at the front lines. You would never see Pete five miles away, in some command center.” Pete Ganci was one of the first heroes of 9/11 and epitomized all that leaders do: they respond, they march toward problems, they never shy from a challenge….
The heroes on Flight 93 showed the same unbelievable grit. Onboard the final hijacked plane, the passengers had the opportunity to make ten phone calls from the plane to others on the ground. Word quickly spread onboard the plane on the fate of the other hijacked airliners. The passengers had two choices – sit in their seats and hope and pray for a safe landing or fight back. The leaders of the plane grouped together in the rear of the plane and opted to take matters in their own hands. That is leadership. Arming themselves with utensils, hot coffee and flight attendant carts, the passengers attempted to wrestle control of the plane back. One leader, Todd Beamer, recorded the actions of these brave leaders by calling a GTE operator for 15 minutes prior to the insurrection and then leaving the phone line open as they attacked the hijackers. What I find so remarkable about these “take charge” leaders is they were not just concerned about saving their own lives, they also wanted to save others’ lives. Knowing they were likely headed to hit a building of significance (most believe the target was the US Capitol), they also did not want to cause any further civilian casualties on the ground so they delayed their revolt until over rural countryside, which ended up being Somerset, Pennsylvania. Sadly, they lost their lives in the revolt as they wrestled to retake the plane but they did save so many other lives in Washington, D.C., including possibly our Congressional leaders.
Fifteen years later, September 11 is a day to reflect on so many innocent lives tragically lost, to reflect on so many lives changed and a nation forever changed. It is also a day to reflect on the resolve of a nation dedicated to liberty and to never forget the immortal words of Todd Beamer when the time had come for Flight 93 passengers to stand up for others: “Are we ready, ok…let’s roll!” Fifteen years later, leaders still roll….
A hero is person who is afraid to run away. ~ English proverb