Fort Knox: Go for the gold, leave with leadership

Kathryn Luttner (IL Fall '18), senior editor/manager, Yum! Brands

Kathryn Luttner (IL Fall ’18), senior editor/manager, Yum! Brands

I’ll start this blog post by spoiling the ending. When we left Fort Knox, we didn’t find the gold, but a few ticks found us. Now let’s unravel how we got there.

On May 23 at 0900—that’s Army-speak for 9 a.m.—our bus pulled into Fort Knox. Captain A.W. Simmons greeted us with a few jokes told through a bullhorn and sarcastically revealed that his outfit, the prestigious human resources command, is based here. So, when they’re not guarding the nation’s gold reserves, they’re moving other valuable resources—military personnel—around the globe. Every two years, troops are transferred to a different location, and every three years, they change jobs.

But what holds the troops together, no matter the base or the assignment, is the way they solve problems through what’s called “Troop Leading Procedures.” Major Erik Davis presented this eight-step process to us later that morning, which can easily be adopted in a corporate setting. (If you’re curious about the eight steps, click here; otherwise, read on)

Kathryn Luttner, laser-focused on the goal as she makes her way through the Leadership Reaction Course at Ft. Knox.

Once the PowerPoint wrapped, it was time to begin the Leadership Reaction Course. You’re probably familiar with the rules from your days on the childhood playground: Make it across the obstacle without touching the ground, which is imaginary hot lava, a raging river or whatever deadly environmental hazard you can dream up. Only this time, everyone’s an adult (ergo, less nimble, confident and flexible). Oh, and they mandated that you had to carry 12-foot-long wooden planks across with you.

It. Was. Hard. To my knowledge, only one team successfully completed an obstacle, leaving many to doubt if anyone could do it. Several falls, scraped knees and no tangible winners later, we still had a blast. Through the exercise, we learned teamwork and creative thinking and were winners just for trying.

While the obstacle course took up the bulk of the day, there was lunch in between where we ate MREs (aka, Meals Ready-to-Eat); Google it if you want a real treat. And Brigadier General Douglas F. Stitt addressed us with an inspiring message of how we can lead in our offices using these Army principles.

To end the day, we gathered at the Saber & Quill Bar (which, as a writer, I appreciated because the name was a reference to “The pen is mightier than the sword”) for some well-deserved adult beverages. It was here when we discovered the ticks. Evidently, if you don’t use the recommended bug spray and play obstacle course in the woods, you’ll attract a few unwanted friends! But they were easily removed before the bus ride home.

As we drove away, a few of us realized that we never saw the building which houses the gold that Fort Knox is so famous for. But, in my mind, we got our gold through invaluable leadership lessons.

Thanks, Leadership Louisville and US Army, for a memorable day!

Troop Leading Procedures: 8 step process

1. Receive the mission from your superior, asking, what needs to happen and who else needs to know?

2. Issue a warning order, otherwise known as a “WARNO,” to your team as soon as possible. This should cover, at minimum, the mission, instructions for movement, any rehearsals and a generic timeline.

3. Make a tentative plan. There’s a lot to this part, but the key takeaway is don’t rush to failure. Make a plan.

4. Initiate movement. Decide what you can do right now and what requires coordination.

5. Conduct recon, or as we say in the corporate world, research. Essentially, figure out if your plan is good or bogus. If it’s bogus, scrap it or refine it to fit the situation.

6. Complete the plan.

7. Carry it out through an operations order.

8. Supervise and refine. You lead from the front and command through your subordinate leaders.

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