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Stories From the Road: From The Field of Battle

3 min read

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to identify and leverage the inherent strengths of our people. We then need to take action by matching operating environments, missions, and metrics with the right team members.

This year I’ve become a librarian of sorts. A collector, really. A collector of stories from business leaders who have shared heroic lessons with their colleagues and teams.

Meet Raphael (Rafi) Ezry.

Rafi is Director, Business Performance Services at IBM. He participated in our Leading with Presence program earlier this year and told the following ‘story within a story’. It was an inspiring moment.

We are in a small conference room mid-morning on day 2 of the program. Rafi begins:

Imagine an executive leadership meeting at a previous company where I served as President. The agenda is performance reviews. Tom*, a manager in our customer service department who has consistently been a poor performer, is being discussed. His operational and administrative weaknesses are cited as his biggest performance problems. Several of my colleagues are advocating for his immediate dismissal.

My position is that Tom is a good man in the wrong role. I believe his ethics, creativity, and deep understanding of our target market could prove useful in achieving our overall goals.

To make this point to my colleagues, I share a personal experience from my time in the army:

He takes a deep breath.

I’m leading a team of infantry, including a soldier named John*, back from an unsuccessful ambush in enemy territory. It’s a routine activity. We set up and lay in wait hoping to intercept terrorists en route.

Sometimes the chosen ambush location is based on specific intelligence, which increases the chances of engaging the enemy.

This is not one of these times.

It’s a long night – we get back to the base at the break of dawn. We are wet, cold, and tired. I unload my men’s rifles and release them to their quarters.

I head to the Commander Office to prepare my debrief about the night’s events and I’m livid. I’ve had it with John. His lack of discipline and disregard for safety procedures will not be tolerated further. Frankly, I am ready to court martial him and send him to jail for a couple of weeks. And as I’m thinking about this, I hear the alarm sound.

Rafi takes a long pause and makes eye contact with everyone in the room. We all lean in to hear what happens next.

Intel has observed an unidentified squad heading south to a border town. There is no time to put a new response team together, I gather the night crew. John arrives first and helps the others with their equipment. He is ready to engage.

It’s an intense event; John springs into action demonstrating bravery, comradeship, and initiative at levels that can only be described as exemplary.

Rafi’s face transforms as he remembers the events of that morning.

My relationship with John changed that day. I didn’t court martial him and we still keep in touch from time to time.

What I learned that day is that circumstances and timing can differentiate a ‘hero’ from a ‘zero’.

And then Rafi seamlessly links this lesson back to what happened at the executive leadership meeting where Tom’s career hung in the balance.

The story convinced the executive team to give Tom another chance. But this time, in marketing. He excelled in the new role, driving some of the most innovative and impactful campaigns in the company.

Tom was a creative mind who needed a platform for his ideas. John was a crisis management expert who needed a chaotic high-stakes environment to shine. Both were good people, but in the wrong roles.

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to identify and leverage the inherent strengths of our people. We then need to take action by matching operating environments, missions, and metrics with the right team members.

I can feel an emotional shift in the room as Rafi’s team bursts into applause. When the clapping dies down I remind the team of our definition of Leadership Presence: To connect authentically with the hearts and minds of others.

And then I ask if that isn’t exactly what happened here in this room today. Everyone agrees it had.

Rafi is an excellent example of a business leader who understands the power of stories. His openness to share his own life lessons motivated his team in a way that a PowerPoint presentation with the words: “Identify The Strengths Of Your Team” never could.

We’d love to add your story to our library. Write to us. Let us know about the day you too met a hero.



* Names and identifying references have been changed at Rafi’s request to protect confidentiality.

** The story in this posting belongs to Raphael Ezry and doesn’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.


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