Sunday, May 15, 2005
Inside the stifling tent somewhere in the Saudia Arabian desert, the American Green Beret and the Egyptian soldier had been engaged for several minutes in an intense arm wrestling bout.
The 6-foot, 4-inch, 225 pound American was starting to give way to the even larger Egyptian, who had been described as a "national arm wrestling champion" by his comrades -- including a general -- who had gathered around to watch. The Egyptian rearranged his grip to give himself an advantage, angering his American opponent in the process.
"The anger I felt at his affront gave me an adrenaline burst. I mustered newfound strength and a drive that came up from the dark reaches inside me. I brutally rearranged our wrists back to their original positions. I was groaning loudly. . . .After a five minute stalemate I had inched his arm slightly back. He was in trouble and I wasn't about to ease up on him."
The Green Beret, now retired Lt. Col. Mark Johnson, 46, of Eudora, won that arm wrestling contest. He wrote the above sentences in an account of the incident in his new book, "Lessons in Leadership: Straight Talk from a Green Beret."
Johnson spent 20 years as a Green Beret officer honing his leadership abilities, serving with other American troops and soldiers in other countries. Now he frequently talks about leadership and the elements needed to be a good leader during appearances as a motivational speaker. In "Lessons In Leadership," Johnson expounded on his leadership messages while including stories drawn from his U.S. Army Special Forces career as examples.
"They kind of build on my leadership formula," Johnson said recently. "I pick out four or five of the more humorous, more entertaining experiences. It's all about my basic leadership philosophy and its key components."
Not all of the stories are about Johnson. He also writes about other Green Beret legends, such as Bob Howard who earned more valor decorations than any American in military history and who Johnson calls "the toughest man alive." The book's foreword was written by retired Green Beret Col. Roger Donlon, who earned the Medal of Honor.
The arm wrestling match took place in 1990, as the United States and its allies were preparing to go to war with Iraq to free Kuwait. He included it in a chapter about the importance of confidence as a key element of good leadership. The arm wrestling match was one of the ways the Egyptians tested a small group of Green Berets who were negotiating with them about how the two nations could cooperate and fight together against Saddam Hussein's army. He earned a Bronze Star fighting alongside the Egyptians during the first Persian Gulf War.
A lack of confidence by someone in a leadership role sometimes leads to micromanagement, both in the military and in the business world, Johnson said.
"I see an awful lot of micromanaging," he said. "If you build people into a team, if you have confidence in individuals, then you will feel free to give them a task and let them go do it. Good things will happen."
The military has turned out many great leaders, but Johnson said he doesn't think military training is as much of a factor as experience in leading, and it doesn't matter whether you are appointed captain of the high school sports team or a business manager. Once you are designated a leader, you are going to have to find a way to lead, he said.
Good leaders also show an interest and concern in the individuals they are in charge of, Johnson said.
"Good leaders care about you and they care about you 10 years from now," he said. "They want you to do better. It's all about having a significant, positive impact on people around you."
Johnson's book will be available at Borders Books, Music & Cafe, 700 N.H. He will sign copies of his book from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Friday night Johnson will throw out the first pitch at the Kansas University baseball game at Hoglund Ballpark. KU baseball coach Ritch Price has asked Johnson to give motivational talks to his teams.
"I think coach Price is the epitomy of what leadership is all about," Johnson said. "He really does care about his players and he's always positive."
After retiring from the Army, Johnson launched his motivational speaking career under the business name, Camouflage Communications Inc., and has a Web site, www.markthespark.com. He also has taught classes at Fort Leavenworth and sometimes works as a consultant to the Army.