Dan Fisher is a recent graduate of the dual Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School. He is a former active duty Infantry officer with the United States Army, having served in Afghanistan. His service continued as a veteran’s field office representative working for US House Representative Joe Courtney. He is an experienced servant leader who provides us insights to his personal development, and his perspective of leading.
Dan’s early experience in High School catalyzed his self image around being a great athlete having succeeded as a basketball player. Looking forward this sense of self led him to re-author his sense of self after leaving Amherst as a Sophomore and transferred to Stanford as an incoming Junior to be able to remake himself. This freedom provided him the opportunity to remove the external pressures of his past worlds as a college athlete and allowed him to open up some mental space.
He described meeting a friend at Stanford who provided a new perspective in political, social, and interpersonal contexts. It provided him the opportunity to experience the perspectives of others and to increase the size of his world.
Following graduation, Dan made the decision to join the United States Army, where he became an Infantry Officer. He began this experience at the ground level and had the opportunity to relearn humility. This was a challenge to his internal perspective of self, that even though he had been told he was smart his entire life here he faced new challenges that he hadn’t been equipped to face.
Dan’s decision to join the Army, at a time when no one from Stanford even considered making such a decision. He decided to avoid staying comfortable and to experience a broader range of experience to become a part of the Army.
During his first experience as an Army Officer he found that he needed to become a learning entity within the organization. He found that just listening, getting input from others, and learning his position and the tasks around him it was a way for him to test his assumptions of himself.
“In order to be a leader in this organization, that establishing credibility was important, and credibility came in many forms… it was about some kind of human dimension where I would have more of it and therefore be more effective if I engaged in the simple act of listening.”
Dan describes the ability to create a sense of relatedness with those in the organizations he led. He found that maintaining a deep sense of humility and humbleness created the space for others to feel comfortable with him, and to feel more invested in the organization.
Dan further described the act of listening coupled with his ability to remain humble, was a means to increase his informal authority. It increased his ability to engage with his subordinates and to move his organization to engage at high levels of efficiency. His work to cultivate a sense of relatedness he was able to build a high degree of trust.
This trust was increased through Dan’s personal acts of sacrifice to be the first one to arrive and the last one to leave. His acts of persistence to make the development of the organization he led prompted others to see that dedication and to support him in his work to make it better.
In preparation for Dan’s deployment to Afghanistan, he sought the counsel of others following some very intense training to gain the additional confidence to know he was ready. As he describes the feedback he received confirmed this for him.
Dan explained that him coming into his own as a combat leader in Afghanistan became about getting into the routine of his deployment. This allowed him to recognize that he could lead people in these difficult situations and to be able to assure them that he was capable of this task, and that he was doing a good job.
When it came to the moment that Dan’s platoon finally took contact he felt like he knew exactly what to do. While there are better things that could have happened, he had the trust and confidence of the people he was leading that promoted this sense of being fully engaged in the moment.
Dan described the sense that people are braver before they see combat. It wasn’t until after he understood what it felt like to be in combat and realized that while it might be an affirmation in the moment of combat but also the sense that this experience was something different what he thought it would be and was indeed overall an undesirable thing.
In his further comments in this episode, Dan explained that his experiences in the Army including his time in Afghanistan not only challenges him but provided him a new lens from which to see the world, a perspective that allows him to relate to other human beings in a way that is far richer than he was previously capable.