How to build Team Morale at Work – a WWII story

Whenever the task can mean life or death, whenever the end is uncertain, whenever the decision is to risk one and save the rest – weak leaders push others to the forefront. Strong leaders take the forefront themselves. This is the primary method on how to build team morale at work

In his article “The Principles of Leadership” Colonel John H. Carruth (1942, Dec) mentions this story:

Now, let me give you an example of leadership.

In 1915, I was a Second Lieutenant of the companies of Engineers stationed at Texas City, Texas. My company was camped on the northern shore of Galveston Bay, just opposite Galveston. On August 16, storm signals were put up by the Weather Bureau Station in Texas City, and we were warned that a hurricane was approaching the coast of Texas, and that a tidal wave would probably strike that part of the coast. I was a carefree, happy-go-lucky “shave-tail” and did not pay much attention to the warning; but I do remember that we tightened the ropes of our tents, and drove some extra nails in our tent frames.

About one o’clock in the morning one of my classmates came by my tent and woke me up, shouting: “For God’s sake, get out of here, or you’ll be drowned.” When I got out of my bed, I stepped into about 2 feet of water. The Captain (now Colonel) was one of the great men of the Corps of Engineers. His name is Ernst “Pot” Graves. I went over to the company where he was. The water at that time was about waist deep. The wind was blowing at about 75 miles per hour, and it was dark as pitch, except for the occasional flashes of lightning. The only place of safety to which we could go was a cold storage warehouse, which was about half a mile from our camp, but there were a number of large drainage ditches in between.

Captain Graves’ solution was to order the Supply Sergeant to get a coil of 2-inch rope from the supply tent. He tied the rope around his waist and went to the head of the company, and all the men grasped the rope in a long column. Leading the way through the storm and wreckage, he took the entire company over to the warehouse where they were safe. We lost one man by drowning on the way, he probably fell off the rope when struggling across a drainage.

That is an example of leadership; of how a strong man will rise to meet an emergency and take command of the situation

Now think about your organization, how many of your leaders will take the hit when it comes to it? How many would take the frontlines and dive into sheer danger so that the team behind him/her could be led to safety? If you have enough of them, you’re probably working for a great company.

Learning how to build team morale at work is more of a character building exercise than it is a technique. It is however, highly learnable. But do you have the guts to do what is needed?