The Motivated Leader: Three Strategies for Your War Story

Look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if thou wilt ever dig.

-Marcus Aurelius

 On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember those who gave of themselves in service for the fight of freedom. Their narratives of leadership, heroism and sacrifice, or war stories, can yield lessons on the power of motivation. As an army veteran I honor those with whom I’ve shared the pledge to ‘support and defend.’ Plus having led through other life ordeals, I’ve found that just as in the military—win or lose— it’s critical to have a strategy to stay motivated; in spite of being forced ‘to do the thing we wish we didn’t have to do.’

Leadership also can be a battle, against forces internal and external to our situations. The venue doesn’t matter. Whether inside of an organization with its varying range of people and performance issues, or within families struggling to raise children as good citizens in spite of compromising influences— yes, this work can be difficult. Other personal factors mirror these situations. Trying to achieve our dreams in these uncertain times wreaks havoc on our mental foundation. Warfare against human nature, good and bad, favorable and unfavorable, stack up as odds. Then there’s the stuff we wage battles against in our own camp of trials and enemies. Sometimes we have to lead ourselves out.

From my family I learned about staying motivated during battles as well. During our holiday gatherings, the older members spend a lot of time sharing anecdotes centered around the family’s early trials and their lessons learned from tough times. In a way, they served and sacrificed for a better future and more freedoms for us of the next generation. So I’ve found those narratives inspiring and strengthening when it came time for me to deal with my own challenges. My late uncle, known affectionately as Hardcore, a combat Vietnam Veteran who’d retired from the army, usually dominated the talk and everyone listened (though a few occasionally nodded out) as he recounted those admirable ‘war stories’.

Hardcore’s tales were a point of focus, a remembrance that helped him to tackle the next obstacle. During his two tours in Vietnam, while leading others on reconnaissance missions through jungles of infectious swamps with bullets flying, something deep inside kept him going. With an intense desire to survive and help others do the same, then get back home to his family and continue his career, he leaned on his faith and his grit (thus the nickname Hardcore). Yes, he was extremely motivated!

Remembering our own times of adversity and the actions we took to get out of personal lowlands, can be encouraging as our war stories—because no one else can truly hit the mark of doing that for us. Our motivators are connected to our strengths or best attributes. They shelter us when we’re doubtful of our course.

I offer up the following questions as strategies to consider in developing your war story:

  1. Think about what keeps you going in the toughest of times. You found yourself in a challenging life battle at work or in a personal situation, and you relied on this motivator to pull you through.
  2. What traits, attributes, or characteristics keep you on course?
  3. You said to yourself, “Indeed I can do this or knock this obstacle over because…”


The will to win...the will to achieve...goes dry without continuous reinforcement.

-Vince Lombardi


How do you stay focused by remembering your strengths during adversity?



Parts excerpted from my book, Hardcore Leadership: 11 Master Lessons from My Airborne Ranger Uncle’s “Final Jump”

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