Leadership Lessons From Pearl Harbor Day

Tomorrow will mark 78 years since the Japanese army attacked the United States Army at Pearl Harbor. This is a day that lives in infamy.

The attack left thousands dead. 2,403 soldiers, sailors, and civilians were lost. Over 1,000 more were injured.

Grey warship docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Photo by Curtis Reese

Pearl Harbor Day is a day to look back. To reflect. And to remember those we lost and the terrible act that caused it.

Looking back on history, we can learn about what happened and how to prevent future attacks. You can also use the reflection of what happened to learn leadership lessons.

Today, I want to look back at what happened on December 7th, 1941. I want to look at it and see what we can learn from this heinous act and how we can become better leaders.

Leadership Lessons From Pearl Harbor Day

Surprises happen in leadership:

The attack on Pearl Harbor came as a shock to many. There was no anticipation of an act of aggression. Yet, the soldiers, sailors, and civilians caught in the middle were mostly surprised.

It is hard to be prepared for everything that could happen to you or your team. There will be unpredictable situations that will arise. You will be surprised.

You can read the signs wrong:

One of the saddest things about Pearl Harbor is they had the chance to not be surprised. The Opana radar station had been active only a relatively short period of time before the attack. People were still being trained on the use of radar. No one could have expected what would happen next.

U.S. Army personnel saw movement on the radar. There was approaching aircraft.

The Army personnel believed the aircraft to be friendly aircraft. They were wrong. It was the enemy coming to attack.

We are often given signs in leadership. We, like the U.S. Army personnel at Pearl Harbor, can get the signs wrong.

It is easy to look at something happening at the moment and get it wrong. You brush it off as a one-off event or you may believe you’re looking too deeply into the situation.

Be cautious if you’re brushing off warning signs. There may be something more to it and you’re going to get the signs wrong.

Losses happen in leadership:

We lost a lot of good people in the Pearl Harbor attack. Over 2,000 people lost their lives. They gave their all.

I’m praying and hoping there won’t be any physical loss of life in your leadership. I am here to say you will experience loss, though.

Every leader will experience loss as they lead. You may lose

  • Profit margins
  • Key employees
  • Your time
  • Personal relationships
  • Spreadsheets
  • Databases

Loss is a part of leadership. We have to get comfortable knowing loss will come our way.

Learn to recover from a devastating loss:

The United States did a lot of things right when they were attacked. One of those things being: they knew how to respond.

They didn’t sit there twiddling their thumbs. The U.S. Army sprung into action. They began tending the wounded, figuring out who attacked, and planning the next action steps to take.

The attack didn’t hold the United States back. Instead, it strengthened their resolve.

When you face a devastating loss, what do you do? Do you spring into action, sit around planning, or curl into the fetal position and pray it all goes away?

You have to learn how to recover from a devastating loss. When you learn how to recover, you will be able to move swiftly into the next phase of your leadership.

Question: What leadership lessons have you learned from Pearl Harbor? Share your insights in the comments below.

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