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We Didn’t Come Here to Win the Boot (Business Lessons From ROTC)

May 16, 2013

3. Keep the Correct Goals in Mind

28 out of 30

That’s how many times the BYU ROTC Ranger Challenge Team has been regional champions over the past three decades, including my year in 1990 when they went on to be crowned national champions. You could say they were dominate.

That’s why you could hear an audible gasp when during the first event of the first competition in 1990, BYU finished last. It wasn’t even close. The competition was held at University of Utah. The weather was perfect. From the 20-25 cadets who had showed up the first day of practice, twelve had stuck with it to the first competition. Nine men competed in each event.
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The first event was the rope bridge. Basically, you string a one inch thick rope between two telephone poles about 50 feet apart and then each team member crosses the rope. Then, you tear down the rope and get everyone past the finish line. A good time was 90 seconds. A GREAT time was under 60. We were in the 75 second range.

But, there was just one problem. When the team went to tear down the bridge, somehow an extra knot had gotten into the rope. Any knots left in the rope are a 30 second penalty. We should have dropped the rope and taken the penalty. Instead we spent 5 minutes trying to get the knot out and were awarded last place for that event.

Unlike later competitions that would include multiple events over multiple days, this event was only four events.

1. Rope Bridge
2. Weapons assembly
3. Grenade throw
4. 10K Run in full gear with rifle

Five teams were competing and only the top two would move on to regionals at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. We had just put ourselves into a HUGE hole. You could see the other teams’ eyes light up at the prospect that they were going to take out BYU.

After the weapons assembly and grenade throw we had improved to third place. The 10K run was the final event. Fortunately it counted as two events for scoring purposes. We had to win the 10K and hope that anyone except Utah State took second.

The race course was up to the U on the side of the mountain and back. While nine men are on the team, the rules require that eight men and all their gear cross the finish line. We would typically drop the slowest runner, and the other eight would run as a group, the stronger runners helping the weaker ones.

We won the race in 62 minutes. All those mornings running in the rain up and down the hills in Provo, UT paid off. Then it was a matter of waiting to see who came in next. The team from the University of Utah finished just a few minutes ahead of USU. We had taken second for the competition.

I noticed Major Turbiville, our coach talking to Lieutenant Colonel Norton, the battalion commander. Colonel Norton was not happy.

I wanted to win the boot!

We didn’t come here to win the boot, sir.

The “Boot” was the trophy awarded to the top team from Utah. We felt that trophy rightly belonged in our trophy case.

But, Major Turbiville was right. We weren’t there to win the state competition. He was looking at surviving to the next round of competition. I left the team before BYU went on to win the Regionals, and eventually scored high enough to be declared national champions.

In business, our challenges are not as cut and dried as an athletic event. Typically, you don’t line up with your competitors loaded down with 25 lbs of IT gear and a laptop and have to run a race. But, we do sometimes get caught up in “Winning the boot” when we should be looking at the bigger prize.

I was working for Microsoft in 1999 when they release Windows Millennium. That was a release designed to “Win the boot.” It wasn’t ready for release, but marketing had chosen this really cool name and we were forced to release it before it was ready. In my decade long career at Microsoft, Millennium was the ONLY Microsoft product that your coworkers would actually mock you for using. Microsoft Bob had a better reputation internally than Millennium.

Maj Turbiville understood why we were at the U of U that day and while I’m sure he would have been happy to win the boot, that’s not why he brought us there that day.

Keep the correct goals in mind.

Picture source: BYU Marriott School

This is the fourth in a series of five posts about leadership and business lessons I learned while attending BYU ROTC for a semester in 1990.

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  1. Business Lessons from ROTC | Rodney M Bliss

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