What Makes a LEADER…?


Today’s COVID-19 environment has been brutal on your business… right?


I hope you’ll take some time off to relax, let your brain reset and hopefully read this story I’m about to share with you.


It was passed on to me by a former military guy who became a marketing guru.  It’s an amazing account that provides a “beacon of light” over today’s crazy environment.


As we navigate through this pandemic, we are dealing with:

  • mandatory shutdowns
  • riots
  • protests
  • civil unrest


…and even family instability… especially if you have school-aged kids.


As a result, we are living our lives in the “fog of war.”


I hope, after reading this story, you’ll STOP.


Take a BREATH.


And, then, contemplate the MESSAGE.




It occurred in 2003 during a class inside Thayer Hall at West Point Military Academy.


A group of 30 top cadets (officer candidates) were being instructed by a decorated military strategist nicknamed “Mr. T” — when he delivered an absolute “death blow” to their inflated egos.


It came in the form of a simple question.


He asked the group of military officer candidates:


“What is the SINGLE distinguishing characteristic of a leader?”


“Communication!” one of the cadets quickly yelled out!


“Oh, really?” Mr. T responded.


“So your battle plan was a catastrophic mess but you communicated it perfectly to your troops. Congratulations, cadet. You just killed your entire platoon. I see glory in your future. Anyone else?”


“Leading by example!” another candidate chimed in.


Mr. T turned slowly toward him and said, “Not a terrible answer, really. But, clearly you didn’t listen to the actual question I asked. I mean, if all of your troops pay as little attention to details as you just did, will you be able to trust they will not get you killed out on patrol?”


So, Mr. T continued in his snide manner, “Anyone want to try who actually knows how to listen?”


He asked again even louder, “What is the SINGLE distinguishing characteristic of a leader?


One by one each of the cadets’ answers were shot down with merciless sarcasm and ridicule.


After 30-minutes of this mental torture everyone fell silent as if the air had been sucked out of the room.




“I thought you smart officer candidates were supposed to be the best-of-the-best from your respective units. Yet none of you have answered this one question. Not one of you…!”


With this one simple question he had annihilated the entire group of cadets.


But, he was about to reveal an indisputable profound truth.


Mr. T continued to scold them, “So, you’re about to lead your troops into a desperate life or death struggle, but not a single one of you can answer the simplest question about leadership. Let that sink in, hot shots.”


But, then, his face began to soften.


When he finally delivered the ultimate “ah-ha” moment, the cadets would never be the same again.


And, perhaps, neither will you…


His thunderous voice lowered to a whisper.


Slowly and with obvious deep emotion, Mr. T explained to the cadets how he dropped to his knees when he first laid his eyes on the endless sea of graves at the American World War II Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, France.



For 20 minutes he described the scene of 9,238 graves representing battles, sacrifices and young lives lost.


“In this moment I truly understood how many lives are at stake … How solemn the words of our ‘oath of office’ are… How seriously I needed to take my duties as a leader.”


His visual description was powerful and effective.


You could hear a pin drop. Some cadets were actually moved to reluctant tears.


And, then, Mr. T bellowed: “Now! Allow me to put you out of your collective misery and help save the future of the US Army Officer Corps!”


He picked up a giant poster board and a black marker. In huge capital letters he wrote 3 words:






Mr. T just smiled.


“So, which of you understand this? And for God’s sake don’t answer unless you’ve really thought this through.”


Eventually, one cadet raised his hand.


“You’re obviously brave, cadet. Let’s find out if you’re smart, too.”


The brave cadet began….


“Sir! You asked, ‘what is the single distinguishing characteristic of a leader.


By this you mean, it’s the one thing that the leader must do that separates him from those who follow him.


Everyone needs to be able to communicate well.


Leadership by example is one of many leadership styles but, not a distinguishing characteristic.  And, the rest of our answers were basically the same.


So, none of the answers my candidates and I have given so far are the single distinguishing characteristic.  Many were essential traits of good leaders, but none were the single distinguishing characteristic.


“The responsibility to see the battlefield – that is, to truly understand what is happening on the ground in the moment – and dynamically navigate toward our objective – rests solely on the leader.


The individual soldier is usually only responsible for a single field of fire, or a single simple task or very narrow range of tasks.


But, the leader needs to see the battlefield in its entirety — or, he will lead his troops to catastrophe no matter how well-trained his troops are at their individual jobs.


It’s not possible for an individual soldier to perform his task well and see the battlefield at the same time.


That’s because his attention must be solely focused on his immediate task and the limited situational awareness of his immediate surroundings.


The leader, however, must see the larger picture of the battlefield. At least as much of the battlefield for which he is responsible.


And the higher up the ranks, the larger the chunk of the battlefield the leader must see.”


“Exactly!” exclaimed Mr. T.

(Special thanks to M. Joyner for this story)


Take from this what you will.


Whether you operate a large facility with a staff — or are a solopreneur, playing both roles of soldier and leader — so many of us have NOT taken the time to stop and really look at the “battlefield.”


Our industry is radically changing.


But, we’re so busy with narrow-scope tasks just trying to:

  • keep the doors open
  • accommodate clients
  • run daily operations


… that we risk not seeing the “big picture” (the battlefield).


Let me just come right out and say it…


The fitness marketplace (battlefield) is going digital at an accelerated pace.


It is quickly shifting to an online environment — at least partially — and in some segments, fully (100%).


The successful LEADERS are already making the battlefield adjustments by either transitioning existing services or adding new products and services “ONLINE.”


Here’s just a small list of ONLINE items the LEADERS are at least thinking about (and many have already deployed) to generate multiple streams of ONLINE REVENUE:


  • Live Stream Group Workouts


  • 1:1 Zoom Consulting (Nutrition and/or Exercise)


  • Video Inventory Individual Exercises (:20-seconds)


  • Memberships (Web-based Multiple Levels)


  • Facebook Groups (private)


  • Affiliate Links to Multiple Home Equipment Vendors


  • Affiliate Links to Multiple Food Delivery Services


  • Apparel – branded (onsite/offsite fulfillment)


  • Supplements – branded (onsite/ offsite fulfillment)


  • Online Courses (Onboard 101, CPR, Training Certs)


There are many more products and services to come as the battlefield / market environment continues to change based on the new demands of the online consumer.

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