Leadership and 9/11


This week, we pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the horrific event of 9/11. Yesterday, I came across an interview on a morning show with Joseph Pfeifer. I was glued to the TV as he shared his story as FDNY chief and his rescue efforts on one of the darkest days in American history. In his book Ordinary Heroes, A Memoir of 9/11, he tells the story of watching the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Through his eyes, we see the horror of the attack and the courage of the firefighters who ran into the burning towers to save others. We see him send his own brother up the stairs of the North Tower, never to return. And we walk with him and his fellow firefighters through weeks of rescue efforts and months of numbing grief, as they wrestle with the real meaning of heroism and leadership.


Pfeifer was asked about the role of leadership during this event. Thinking he was going to talk about President Bush, I was impressed with his answer and quickly grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down what he said. After giving his first order, he realized he needed to stop and intentionally think about the situation. He said, “I had to stop, take sixty seconds, and needed to slow down and deliberately think on what to do next.” I thought that was powerful. In the midst of crisis, we instinctively do what comes to mind. To be a great leader, you need to really think through the plan, thinking of consequences and outcomes, the challenges, and what matters most.


Little did he know that day would dramatically change his life forever. But prior to that day, you wonder how he led others. I believe he did the same. When you practice skills in the small things of life, it pays off when the big things of life blindside you. Leadership skills on the mundane days of life need to be practiced the same ways as in big events. And how do you do that? Taking time out, whether it’s 30 seconds or 60 seconds and deliberately thinking about the consequences and outcomes, the challenges, and what matters most.


I applaud Joseph Pfeifer for his courage and leadership that day. May we never forget.