Asleep at the Wheel

Leadership is a dynamic process and a learned trait.  All of us are born with a certain amount of talent in a variety of different areas.  What we do with that talent based on the skill we put into it (practice) is what eventually will define us.  You would rather be the person that has gone above and beyond with limited talent than the one with all the talent and little to show for it.

That all being said I think it’s absolutely critical that leaders at every level know what’s going on around them and take responsibility for their actions and those under their charge.  Look, there will always be things that happen that are out of your control; things you don’t directly manage or affect.  However, the responsibility falls back to the “leader” and President Harry S. Truman said it best when he declared “The buck stops with me.”

No leader wants to be embarrassed, ridiculed, or exposed in a scenario where they seem as if they had no idea, training, or experience in what happened.  Murphy’s Law comes into play at times and “stuff happens;” how you deal with that as a leader will define you.  President John F. Kennedy had his own issues when he took office in January 1961.  He immediately was thrust into the debacle known as the  “Bay of Pigs.”   This operation actually began in the Eisenhower administration and was captained by the CIA.  The plan was to use counter-revolutionary insurgents (Cuban exiles) trained by the U.S. to overthrow the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba.  As history tells us this was a complete disaster and many feel JFK was pressured into the invasion by his more experienced senior civilian and military advisors.

Afterward, JFK didn’t deflect the issue to a previous administration, or to advisors that were possibly misinforming him in the hopes of making him look bad.  Rather JFK went on the air and took public responsibility for the failed invasion and said “…we got a big kick in the leg and we deserved it. But maybe we’ll learn something from it.”  People are not dumb; they can accept the truth and most often will welcome it regardless of how hard it is.

Now there are hundreds of other leadership examples out there and you can each do your research and form your own opinions.  Taking responsibility for not only your actions but also the actions of the people and situations you are overall responsible for, shows that you are “manning the helm” and being answerable.  When you don’t take responsibility, defect accountability, or make counteraccusations, all you do is display the perception that you’re “asleep at the wheel.”

As a leader, you have to keep abreast of what’s happening around you.  Many times we surround ourselves with very smart and extremely competent people.  The advantage of this is you can give these folks a direction and distance and they can get the task accomplished with little guidance.  The disadvantage is the left and right limits of the task sometimes get wider, making the target objective larger, and slowing the effort.  Then you also have what I like to call the “good idea fairy” that comes into effect.  Beware of this!  The good idea fairy only complicates the process by adding layers to the objective when you should be “staying the course.”  Simply, plan your fight (task) and then fight (execute) the plan!  If there are changes to be made then take time to make sure it’s the right change and don’t make change because you hit a speed bump.

The Take-Away:

If you’re a leader at any level, know what’s happening around you.  Manage, don’t micro-manage. Ask questions (a lot of questions), look for multiple solutions, and regardless if you made a particular decision or not, it’s your responsibility to be accountable for it.  You may get it wrong from time to time but the leadership value you will learn will assist in your expertise moving forward.

I never kept count of the times I was wrong, all that does is eat at your spirit and fuel a negative leadership style.  What I always do remember is standing there and being accountable for the men and women under my charge and my decisions and their actions.  Believe me, that’s what they will remember most!

I look forward to your comments and an always, Lead from the front! 

We climb! -JB


Keynote I: the highest point of JFK’s Presidential approval ratings came in wake of the Bay of Pigs disaster.  Despite the embarrassing admission, the White House made about the U.S. involvement in the botched invasion, JFK received a bounce in his approval ratings.


Keynote II: we would often say in the military “don’t scrap a good plan at the first sign of gunfire.  This is to be an expected part of what we do.”  The same goes for business.

Just Hustle

When you ask someone to define the word “hustle” you normally receive a variety of descriptions, from a dance move to an athlete running on a competition field.  It’s a word I like to use as a description for myself as well as what I want to inspire in others.  My youngest daughter, Abra, likes to say about our family, “We’re Spisso’s, we always hustle!” Meaning we put in the work and do whatever is needed to get the job done, the right way, with honor and courage. I mean this simply as a way to propel yourself forward, even if you have a shortage of smarts or talent.  Hustle means to have pace, an attitude, and the ability to do things with a purpose as if a Halloween character is chasing you!

The military introduces hustle in new recruits by having them jog from one location to the next, or walking quickly when leaving the chow hall or on a marksmanship range.  As a drill instructor, military leader, and coach I was consistently reminding people that pace and hustle are the foundations of getting things done.  It also affects your spirit!  Hustle is truly the force multiplier; where GRIT meets talents and crushes them like your uncle squeezing an aluminum beer can at a barbeque.   I was recently talking to a young employee who holds an entry-level position at a company, and he asked me, “How do I get ahead?”  I replied, “Well first you need to show some hustle!”  He looked at me confused.  I continued, “Every time I see you it’s like you’re at half speed. Get moving, hustle, go, move, and show some excitement!” 

The basis of hustle is simple:

  • Never be afraid of the hard work!
  • Pick up your pace in life! The way you walk, the way you work, your attitude and demeanor.
  • Be a game changer!! That project or idea you worked on behind the scenes, after hours, where no one sees your effort, finally is brought to the forefront and it’s a home run!


Don’t overthink this.  It’s an attitude, a speed, and a step forward.  Increase your stride, expand your bandwidth, and change the way you see challenges.  A good friend of mine owns a multi-million dollar glass business; designing, manufacturing, and installing designer glass in homes and hotels.  He came to the United States barely in his twenties from Ireland with $400 in his pocket, the only money he had.  He found a job on a construction crew that was doing interior demolition and remodeling for a New York City apartment building.  He was working six days a week and twelve hours a day; scratching, clawing, and positioning himself to get ahead.

The owner of the company asked my friend if he “wanted any side work.”  He said, “Of course,” and took on a side project working a deal for a bonus for each room he completed.  Within the first week, he surpassed the owners’ expectations and was astonished by my friends’ progress!  When it was tough and lonely, my friend resisted the urge to go back to Ireland and play it safe.  He didn’t know anyone in the U.S. and calling home in those days would cost a day’s salary.  Despite the hard work and seclusion, my friend kept his focus and, more importantly, his hustle.   He turned this work into his own trade and his own business.  Today when I see him, he’s still walking with a purpose and focus on success for his family.

There are countless stories like this, and you’re either painting one yourself or have already done so.  Enjoy life, keep your emphasis and your stride, and never forget the good fortune found when you simply hustle!

“Some people want it to happen, some people wish it would happen, others make it happen.” ~Michael Jordan

Bloom Where You’re Planted

As children when we are born, we can’t choose our environment, it is selected for us by our parents or primary caregiver in most situations.  Whether your environment is healthy, or not the best, you can bloom into something wonderful right where you are planted.

I work with many people from all types of communities and believe me, each has their own set of issues regardless if they were born in elite communities or less fortunate places.  All of us have to start by being grateful for the small things; the basic needs of life and you should continue to be happy while the situation is changing (growing if you will).  This is often the time you need to lean hard on your faith, stay positive, and rid yourself of any discontent or hatred.  Your mind, body and spirit need to work from an optimistic and constructive place.  You are not meant to be angry, upset, or think you are entitled.

When a seed is planted in the soil, it can take weeks, months, or even years to see any results.  You don’t give up just because you’re not seeing immediate effects.  Rather you make sure the soil is nurtured, watered, gets sunlight, and kept clear of any weeds, all the while the “real” effort is happening in the dark.  We are a “now-now-now” society that often gives up if outcomes aren’t immediate.  This is a mistake and if you want to reap the rewards of progress, then you need to invest in the work in obscure places.  These are the times when you’re up late to finish a class or a project, or you rise early so you can get your workout finished before the kids awake.  Taking that extra training to advance yourself technically, or reading a book or articles that inspires you and keeps you on the path to success.  You have to learn to balance two key things: urgency and patience.  We are more comfortable with the urgency part because we know how to work hard, pay the price, and put in additional effort.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always lead to immediate success.

Timing is critical in anything, but this doesn’t mean we just scrap our labors.  So we add the critical attribute known as “patience.”  This is the understanding that becoming the best, a winner, a champion, the best salesperson, an amazing parent, the key employee, etcetera, takes not only determination but also time.  Anything great, anything worthwhile, takes time; champions are not made overnight.

When you find the right balance of urgency and patience, you keep a great attitude, you put in the work, you maintain faith in your spirit, and then success will be the payout.  Continue to be grateful, continue to work hard, and bloom to greatness from where you are planted.


“You can’t control time and there is never enough; all you can do is keep moving forward.” ~E.E. Sergeant Major (Retired), U.S. Army Special Operations

Random Acts of Kindness

Just qualifying for the Rangers is only part of the process; once you the complete selection you have to earn your position in a Ranger platoon every day and when trained enough, you will have the chance to attend Ranger School in hopes of earning the coveted Ranger Tab.  Ranger School is a daunting task and covers over 72 days of patrolling, raids, ambushes, reconnaissance, field craft, survival, graded patrols as well as food and sleep deprivation.  It’s still to this day one of the most difficult leadership schools the military has to offer.

The life of a Ranger Private is a tough one.  You want to prove every day that with guidance and the proper training you can be a combat multiplier to the unit.  You speak only when spoken to and tried like hell not to ask unnecessary questions.  You did know, however, that your platoon “had your back.”  Regardless of rank, Rangers were committed to each other and an excerpt from the Ranger Creed specifically says, “I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.”  This wasn’t just a saying; it was a way of life that every man in the unit adhered to.

We had a rare weekend off after a very successful week of airborne operations and training in the field, preparing to meet the enemies of our Nation on any battlefield at a moment’s notice.  While some Army units were enjoying the new Army “business-like” feeling from post-Vietnam, the Rangers were training for combat!  This is what we did, we were the modern-day Commando; this is what we loved to do.  Our barracks were relatively quiet on the weekends which I personally enjoyed.  All the guys that had families or lived off-post were enjoying their time away and most of the men that lived in the barracks were trying to find reasons to get away and blow off a little steam.  For me, it was the simple things like being able to wash my clothes and prep my gear for another long week, and enjoy a few movies in the room in relative peace.

My Saturday was destined to be the peace and quiet of getting my laundry done.  The barracks laundry room had two washers and two dryers to service over 30 men.  You can do the math and see that this usually doesn’t work well.  The room was in disarray and packed with military OD Green laundry bags with dirty, wet, and dry clothes were thrown all over the place.  It was your own personal responsibility to do your laundry.  The rule was, if you don’t watch your laundry, someone can bump you, which means multiple bags were sopping wet with clothes.  The place was disgusting and not the standard for a Ranger barracks.  For the next three hours, I washed, dried, and neatly folded the laundry for about 7 or 8 Rangers, who obviously were out doing more important things on the weekend (and I don’t blame them!)   I completed my laundry as well and left all the other laundry neatly lined up on the drying table and separated by the load.  Some bags I knew who they belonged to by their name tags and some others I had no idea.  It didn’t matter to me; it was the right thing to do.

Sunday morning I got up at about 0730 (which is considering sleeping in from our normal 0515 wake-ups) and did a nice workout session at the Ranger gym with my roommate.  We then showered, changed into civilian clothes, and hit the RDF or Ranger Dining Facility (fancy name for the chow hall) for Sunday Brunch.  This was the best meal of the week, and you could load up on food and for the most part, no one was going to inconvenience you.  It was Sunday and even God and the Command Sergeant Major took a break!  We finished our food and were now looking forward to the Sunday afternoon nap!  All my gear was ready for next week, my clothes were washed, and now to take a few hours of relaxation!!  I just nodded off and I hear “Ranger Spisso, front and center!”  I was like “huh? Did a Sergeant just call my name? And please tell me it wasn’t Sergeant MacCarthy!” 

Sergeant MacCarthy was a combat veteran as a Private in the Rangers, jumping into Grenada as a Machine Gunner.  When he went to Ranger School a few months after Grenada, he had already been awarded his combat patch (worn on the right shoulder of your uniform and signifies you’ve served in combat) and received flak from the Ranger Instructors.  “Sergeant Mac” as he was known, wasn’t a big man, but as solid as a fire plug and had the brash and bravado to back it up.  He was ultra-fit, tough as nails, could fight men twice his size and win, and looked as good in civilian clothes as he did in uniform.  As Ranger Privates you stayed away from Sergeant Mac because he would quiz you on Ranger History or a weapons system and you would end up doing hundreds of push-ups.  He was a cross-fit machine before there was cross-fit, a tactician and simply knew how to Ranger, and could back it up!

I hear it again, “Spisso, front and center! I’m not going to call you again!”  My roommate looks and me and says, “JB, you better go before he comes down here and strangles us both!”  Good idea!  I didn’t want to get strangled!  I yell out “moving Sergeant!” and go tearing out of my room and down the hallway.  I stop at the intersection of our platoon entryway a few feet from Sergeant Mac and assume the position of “Parade Rest,” the proper position when speaking to a Non-Commissioned Officer.  I respond with “Ranger Spisso, as ordered, Sergeant.”  At this point, I haven’t a clue why he wants me and was going through in my mind everything in my weekend that I possibly could have screwed up?.

Sergeant Mac says “Spisso, were you the one that did everyone’s laundry this weekend?”

I replied, “Yes Sergeant.”

He then says “Did you know my laundry was a part of that?”

I replied, “No Sergeant.”

He goes on and asks, “So why would you do everyone’s laundry and not just leave it there?”

I replied, “Seemed like the right thing to do Sergeant.”

Then, like in the Christmas cartoon the “Grinch,” I see a little smile come across Sergeant Mac’s face which I’ve never seen before and he responds with “Random act of kindness, I’ll be dam!  Good job Spisso and thank you.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond and thought awkward thanking him back for thanking me, so I did the best response for an 18-year-old Airborne Ranger and just said “Hooah Sergeant!”

Sergeant Mac then says “I’ll see you at PT tomorrow Spisso, go enjoy your day. Move out!”

I arrived back at my room, my roommate was surprised I’m still alive, and I hit the rack for my Sunday afternoon nap knowing my random act of kindness made a difference on even the toughest of warriors!

Hooah!  I hope you enjoyed this blog and remember that YOU can make a difference!


Note: When I attended the 75th Ranger Regimental selection it was known as RIP or Ranger Indoctrination Program. It has since been changed to RASP or Ranger Assessment Selection Program.