Red’s Devils: 4 Implications

In the mid-1960s I was fortunate to have a local youth center where I spent most of my adolescent years learning about sports and teamwork. We were even luckier to have a youth leader named Bill “Red” Gagnier. He was a big guy in his late teens, with a wonderful sense of humor and he was also a natural leader. One day we were engaged in some group athletics and one of the team members was lagging behind. Red stopped us and said, “You can only move forward as fast as the slowest person.” We didn’t get it and actually complained, but when he kept looking at us silently without a smile, we slowed down and waited. All together.

The truth of his words was never more important than they are today. The implications for business leaders are profound:

  • To progress in business you have to know where the “slow” part of your organization is, and address it. This ranges from encouraging people to be in the best position within a team to leaving and finding a better position elsewhere.
  • Your team members need to embrace Red’s dictum. By doing so, they can help each other as issues emerge. This is a day-to-day recalibration, not an annual performance appraisal process.
  • When a team member leaves for a period of time or permanently, their role must be clearly assessed in terms of the team perspective, not simply a job description. How will your team progress (or not) with a new person on board?
  • Teams should relentlessly focus on accountability within the team to assure that the level of honesty is also respectful, even in the case where someone leaves. Classy departures can be as positive an experience as new team members joining the effort.

I lost touch with Red when I entered high school in 1966 and he joined the Army. His unit, the Red Devils, was sent to Quong Tri in Vietnam’s DMZ, where he lost his life on September 11, 1968. Soon afterward, Red was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for valor in action. As you might have guessed, he was killed when he left his position to help a fellow wounded soldier who had fallen behind. At 16 years of age I remember reading his obituary and not believing it could be true.

Forty-plus years later I still think of him. He was funny and generous, and he never lost sight of the importance of living and working in integrity with other people.