Would You Lie In The Mud To Inspire Your Team?
his illustrious career included a period as the Chief
Engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers during the
rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
This wrong-side-up reversal of rank in Saudi desert
began as a practical solution to a logistical problem.
“We found soldiers lying down underneath a bucket
loader, sleeping in the mud … we didn’t expect or plan
for the fatigue factor.” VanAntwerp’s battalion was
responsible for the massive job of cleaning the earth
moving equipment and trucks that supported a 50,000
troupe division. Adding pressure to the situation, the
work had to be completed in seven days; otherwise
his battalion would not be allowed to return to The
States on its scheduled departure date, after the war.
Fusion leaders understand that organizations optimize
their potential when those in their charge show up every
day to manifest the Vision, placing the success of the
organization as among their highest priorities.
“Some of us called it the Battle Against the Department
of Agricultue of the Nation of Saudi Arabia, because we
had to get our equipment clean enough to clear Saudi
customs and bring it all back.” VanAntwerp and his
chain of command had devised the reversal of rank
idea in an attempt to relieve the troupes and apply
more hands to the job.
The significance of his decision to direct his
commanders to work side by side with his front-line
soldiers was later cited by a commanding general who
spoke at a change in command ceremony honoring
VanAntwerp. The commanding general concluded his
remarks, noting “that’s what leadership is all about.”
VanAntwerp shared this story along with historically
important and fascinating stories about the Army
Corps’ rebuilding of New Orleans in Fusion Leadership
Unleashing The Movement of Monday Morning
Enthusiasts, released by Greenleaf Book Group in
2017 and co-authored by myself and Steve Taylor.
As the title implies, Fusion Leadership explores the
behaviors of leaders who successfully “fuse” their
teams together around a shared Vision.
Fusion leaders understand that organizations
optimize their potential when those in their charge
show up every day to manifest the Vision, placing
the success of the organization as among their
highest priorities. Leaders who attempt to build this
type of organizational culture fixate on the question
as to what behaviors inspire others to commit to an
organization’s vision and how do those behaviors
differ from those that drive people away from
The remarkable culture of shared commitment
VanAntwerp and his officer corps created within
the 326th Engineer Battalion during those cold Saudi
nights provides a compelling example of “fusing”
teams together. “When you have a leader who gets
dirty like that, you have a commonality because
you’re sharing the work, and that means you can
communicate on a different level. … That experience
helped shape how I approach leadership.”
In hindsight, VanAntwerp’s commanding officer said
it well: that is what leadership ‘is all about,’ making it
less of a surprise that America’s top leaders would
ask VanAntwerp to lead the corps and the national
priority of rebuilding New Orleans. Inspiring indeed!
Dudley Slater co-authored, with Steve
Taylor, Fusion Leadership Unleashing
The Movement of Monday Morning
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