“You can’t pick cherries with your back to the tree”

A Lesson on Leadership and Teamwork

Dr. D. at the Commando Training Facility and School

I had the pleasure of presenting to another group of amazing young warriors this past week. This time I got to discuss leadership and shlichut (acting as an emissary) with two teams from Duvdevan (Cherries) at the Commando Training Facility and School.

These young men are about to face the most difficult weeks of their training. They are working to achieve a dream – to be declared combat active as members of one of the most elite units in the Israeli Defense Forces.

I was given the opportunity to tell them my story. How I chose to move to Israel. How I chose to join the military as a Lone Soldier. How I chose to join Maglan (another of the Commando Brigade units).

How I got hurt. How I found myself facing a life of extreme pain. How my whole life turned upside down. How I found my dreams of Officer School extinguished with my medical discharge. And how I left lost and alone.

How I almost ended it all.

And how I literally picked myself up from the floor and decided to keep on living.

I told them how that choice meant becoming an emissary for other disabled people at Bar-Ilan University, where I created the position of Disability Adviser for the Student Union. How I worked for 20 years with the campus administration to make the campus and learning more accessible.

I told them about the multiple surgeries and spread of the CRPS. How I found myself unable to walk. About facing a new challenge – a life in a wheelchair.

I told them how I perceive my present pursuits – as an educator and an IPSC shooter – as a continuation of my mission. How I believe my journey has provided the opportunity to show everyone I meet that I am more than my disability.

And that I will not let this disability stop me.

I told them how my family opens our home to lone soldiers, providing them a place to stay and pursue their dreams.

Along the way, I got to use my story to teach. To help these brave young men better understand teamwork. How leadership is a process of creating and working towards a mutual vision. And how different followers engage based on the mission and the demands for success.

I got to show them how their teams are more a fruit salad of followers rather than a bunch of cherries all from the same tree. And how they need something that binds them together, something that gives direction and purpose – like the trunk of a tree acts as the binding force for the different branches and fruit.

I got to educate them about leadership and command. How these two are opposite sides of the same coin and must work together to create the framework for successful teambuilding. How leadership must understand and engage each soldier where they are at in terms of their ability to participate in creating a better future.

How leadership isn’t the rank on your shoulder, but the ability to get others to follow you and act as emissaries to create vision.

I got to open their eyes to a future where they are on a mission acting as emissaries for the Jewish people. Protecting us. Fighting for us. Working towards a better future.

And I got to share with them how my life has changed over the last half year. How my Casualty Officer helped me to reconnect with old friends after 20 years of disconnect.

How my return to the Commando School on Veteran’s Day opened the door to a new mission. A mission I didn’t even know I needed. A connection I didn’t know I was missing.

How I have travelled around the country educating commanders and officers. Using my story to teach about Lone Soldiers and about Leadership, Strategy, and Teambuilding.

To share my story and use it to educate so that no Lone Soldier ever gets left alone again.

Dr. D. talking about Leadership and Command at The Commando School and Training Facility

And when I was finished my talk, the Company Commander – a first lieutenant – came up to me and we discussed how he can create that unified feeling of purpose as these young men face the toughest weeks of their training. How he can use his position as an officer to act as a leader.

J.P. Morgan has been credited with saying “You can’t pick cherries with your back to the tree.” These young warriors are facing the tree head on and climbing to the top.

I hope that my talk helped them understand how they must engage to successfully finish their training and become combat active in Duvdevan.

To these amazing warriors I have one message –

Be emissaries for your mutual vision. Believe in your mission and be there for each other. That is how you will find success in the future challenges you face!

עלו ותצליחו!