Ever been in a 23-hour firefight with the Taliban? If you have, you know they suck.
My unit and I managed to get through one of those on Election Day in Afghanistan—September 18, 2010. Our job was to protect Afghan voters as they risked their lives trying to get to the polls.
The Taliban knew what you and I know: elections are decided on turnout. But their political marketing strategy was to kill everyone not voting for them. Best we could tell, our unit of 160 paratroopers was engaged with around 500 Taliban insurgents, every one intent on controlling turnout through murder.
After more than 20 hours of fighting along the bluffs overlooking Old Ghazni City in the southeastern part of the country, voting was complete and we did not lose a single soldier. I attribute this success to the troops I served with and to the training I received during my 72 days at Army Ranger School.
Since retiring from the military and entering the political profession, I’ve had many occasions to apply the lessons I learned there. After all, the Army Ranger program is, at its heart, a leader development tool designed to take someone to the brink of what it means to be uncomfortable, then hand them a tough mission with limited to no previous experience, and expect them to work as a team, find a solution, and execute.
Sound familiar, fellow campaigners?
Especially in my company’s world of person-to-person communications and grassroots political organization, these lessons are enabling us to “level up” and they’re the reason Stampede Consulting is confident enough to offer the industry’s only Consider It Won ™ money back guarantee on performance.
As a former Army Ranger turned political professional, I discovered there were some powerful lessons learned in Ranger School that apply to working in politics. Here are four you can put to work in your political efforts:
1. Be the “Baddest Predator in the Woods”
During the final phase of Ranger training, we all get shipped off to Florida to live in a snake and alligator infested environment for a few weeks. During that time, we are trained not to fear what’s around us. Snakes, we are taught, are Mother Nature’s version of “fast food.” You can catch, skin, and eat a snake while walking to your objective.
For us in political campaigns, it means don’t let fear suppress good judgment. Prepare for the unexpected and you’ll never be caught off guard. And never let your opponent sense fear, because in this world, they’ll eat you up.
2. Don’t be a Spotlight Ranger
Spotlight Rangers are what we call the guys who shine like the sun so long as the instructors are around, but the moment no one important is looking they shut down, leaving everyone else to pick up their slack.
These guys don’t make it through Ranger School and in our political world they don’t sustain excellence. That means it’s critical for you, from day one, to recognize that only as a team can you succeed. You can be the brightest, most-driven individual in the world, but if you don't have a good team, you won’t win.
3. Hope & Praise
When things are their darkest, even the tiniest bit of hope or praise will have a magical affect on your team.
At Ranger School, the way to give others hope was through food. It’s common for Ranger students to drop 30 lbs. during training. My Ranger Buddy just couldn't help himself. He’d eat his three MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) all at once and be hungry for the next two days. On day two, I’d always share my crackers with him and it would completely change his demeanor. And that was just crackers.
Very seldom in political campaigns do we offer hope and praise to our staff or volunteers. Instead, we usually let the stress get to us and we rain the misery down on others. If you’re leading a team in battle, that’s a recipe for defeat.
4. Ranger Up
This is a term we use to remind us to reach down deep, pull out all the stops, and give it everything you have, every time. In other words, in the military man’s vernacular, grab your big boy pants, put ‘em on, and let’s get it done.
The most powerful lesson we take away from Ranger School, a program designed to develop the soldiers who’ll lead others into combat, is that the outcome – success or failure – is a state of mind.
“Ranger Up” means that there is no challenge too great for people challenged to greatness. Only you have the power to give up. And if you refuse to give up, others will follow you anywhere.