Still Surprised #1: Crucibles

As noted in my last post, I highly recommend Warren Bennis’ 30th book Still Surprised –  A Memoir of a Life in Leadership.  In past books, Warren has referred to “crucible experiences” as the critical training grounds for future leaders.  In Still Surprised he explores his own crucible experiences. 

One of the first was his time as a WW2 combat leader in Germany.  While agreeing that films like Saving Private Ryan offer a fairly accurate depiction of what it was really like, he stressed one point they tend to miss: the G.I.s basically were cold all the time.  He writes,  “For the infantry, who lived mostly outdoors, the cold was as real an enemy as the Germans.  We were never truly warm that winter, and we shivered in the dark most of the time.  I mean that literally.”

Furthermore, death was everywhere: “I never got used to the broken, eviscerated bodies of boy soldiers or the acrid stench of burning human hair.  By the end of 1944, Germany’s war machine had devoured most of its men.  The dead German soldiers we came across were no more than 14 or 15 and looked like the children they were.”

After the war, Bennis headed to Antioch College, the first member of his family to pursue higher education.  He observes, “Today you hear people declare with angry certainty that the government can’t do anything right.  Nobody whose life was transformed by the G.I. Bill believes that.”  He notes that when he began at Antioch, 49% of all American college students were financing their educations thanks to the G.I. Bill.  Amazing, when you think about it.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld