Stories from the Greatest Generation

Tom Stewart: Maybe the best boss I … I ever had was a guy who told me this story from the Second World War.  And this is an example of the war being a crucible of leadership.

He was a … a pilot, and he was training pilots.  And they had these sort of two-seater, dual-control planes.  And there was this …  And basically, in order to be able to fly for the military, you had to be able to land.  You had to be able to take off, fly the thing and land.  And if you failed at any one of those things, you were out.  And basically you had three attempts to land.  And there was this guy who was a good pilot who – whenever we would come down for a landing in this dual-control plane – would clutch and the instructor would have to pull him out.  And … and this was it.  This was his last chance he was gonna wash out.  And Pat … now 90 years old – but then in the war, then in his 20s, I guess – was the guy in the back seat when this guy came in for his last landing.  And he … Pat broke off the stick, and then he tapped the guy on the shoulder.  And he turned around and Pat showed him the stick and he threw it overboard, and the guy landed the plane.  There are a whole lot of people in various parts of the world, and it’s … who are getting that kind of test and crucible.  And it may be at a General Electric where they’re getting … responsibility at a young, testing age.  But it’s more likely to be in a not-for-profit organization in Bangladesh, or you know, in some other way.  And we’re gonna get some people out of there who …who mainstream establishment organizations should get hold of.  I don’t think we right now have an intake process there.  We have an intake process from Harvard Business School to PepsiCo, but I don’t think we have an intake process from Soweto to PepsiCo.  And getting that is gonna be … . is … is a pretty exciting opportunity.

Recorded on: 6/22/07

Tom Stewart talks about his views on the Great Generation and tells the story of true leadership.

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