Have you “the leader” ever experienced the situation where amongst all your hopes for a successful project there appears to be a “Hill just too steep to climb?” You encountered an unexpected failure, the kind that might hit at the core of the organization, or an outside force places an unexpected barrier in front of you like an industrial accident where you are suddenly at the mercy of OSHA, or investors who fail to bring forth the expected funding, or during a military operation where you were surprised by enemy action that wasn’t anticipated in your campaign plan nor predicted in your intelligence reports? It all looked good and suddenly you found yourself wandering in the desert. How do you persevere through these times that may threaten the very existence of your organization?
The example with which I am most familiar is that of the United States Special Operations Command, born out of a desert experience. The modern special operations story began in the aftermath of the failure of Operation Eagle Claw at the Desert One site in Iran in April of 1980. In those day, special operations as we know it today did not find the favor among our military leadership as it does today. But there was a broad group of dedicated special operators from all services who through many years and in various venues persevered to form a national capability that today is second to none. Those roots go back to those who “Had the guts to try.”
The real tipping point came after Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada in October of 1983. While this operation was tenuous but successful, it came under extreme scrutiny in the aftermath. But the faith and perseverance of one man, Army Major General Dick Scholtes made the difference. General Scholtes was the Commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Grenada and he was questioned time and again as to why the operation didn’t go more smoothly. There were a number of reasons, but it was General Scholtes’ testimony in Congress delineating the problems and a future path to success that eventually resulted in the establishment of USSOCOM. But it took many years thereafter before the commitment, faith and perseverance of the warriors of the special operations community resulted in a visible success in Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989. This then was followed by successes in the Iraqi desert, Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991, and then on to those trying yet consistently successful missions beginning in 2001 in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and any number of places in the world today. If you don’t think there is faith, dedication, and perseverance among the special operations community, just ask any of those Army Special Forces Soldiers, Navy SEALs, Marine Special Operators, or Air Force Special Operations Airmen serving under difficult and dangerous conditions around the globe today.
There is another great leader who had to persevere through what seemed to be insurmountable difficulties and that was Moses from the Old Testament. After having seen the power of God when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, Moses led them on to the promised land of Canaan. At this point, he sent 12 spies across the Jordon River to assess the land promised to His people from the days of Abraham. When the 12 returned they reported that indeed the promised land was a land of “milk and honey.” But all the spies except Joshua and Caleb took counsel of their fears concerning what they thought were giants in the land that the Lord would not be able to overcome. This report was more an indication of the hearts of all the people as much as it was a concern of those 10 returning spies. Now Moses was directed to wander 40 years in the desert until the old generation of Israelites (except Joshua and Caleb) had been replaced with people of faith and commitment. After 40 years, Moses again led the people through the desert to the Jordon River where he was taken by God after only having seen the promised land. It was left to Joshua and Caleb, the ones that believed the promise of old, to put their foot in the water and lead the people across the Jordon with a new-found trust in God. Of all the characters in the Bible except Jesus and His death on the Cross for us, Moses demonstrated the greatest amount of perseverance where he wrestled daily with a disgruntled and disbelieving people.
So where did Moses find the strength to persevere? Maybe a relationship with the ONE true God? Where do you find the strength when you find yourself exercising leadership in an organization that seems to be wandering in the desert? And why do the greatest steps of faith happen in the desert; where you learn the most?