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Vol. 7, No. 6
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102  




© 2009 William A. Cohen, PhD  

On June 25th, 1950, Communist North Korea suddenly invaded South Korea with the aim of unifying the country under its rule. The Air Force sent 1st Lieutenant Pat Patterson to the 8th Fighter-Bomber Group in Korea flying the F-80 “Shooting Star,” America’s first operational jet fighter.


Patterson learned something about the power of uncommon commitment on his 100th mission. Patterson was group lead. “We were to hit the bridges on the Yalu connecting China with North Korea. It was the farthest north in Korea I had ever been.” Pat would be leading the entire group of four squadrons over distances and terrain that he himself had never flown. Moreover, the weather was forecast to be marginal, with low visibility on the way to the target and uncertainty about whether they would be able to see bridges at all.


Once they took off, Pat discovered that the weather situation was even worse than forecast. The clouds were so thick that they saw the ground only infrequently. In and out of weather, the thirty-six aircraft sometimes couldn’t see each other. The weather was so bad, that many might have aborted the mission. As group lead, this was Pat’s call. If he continued the mission, he could end up risking his group for no gain, because unless the target was visible, they couldn’t hit it. However, taking out the bridges was critical. Over them flowed the weapons and munitions used to supply a numerically superior enemy that was advancing deep into South Korea.


“I’m sure at least a few of the pilots would have been just as happy if I had made the decision to turn back,” thought Pat at the time. “The weather increased the risks considerably, and we might get to the target area and still not be able to find the bridges. Still, it was worth the risk because of the tremendous problems our troops faced on the ground.” As they flew on, the other pilots realized just how committed Pat was to completing the mission, and it strengthened their own resolve.


Continued Patterson, “I flew a heading I had already planned on the ground. If the winds didn’t change too much, and we maintained the airspeed I had previously calculated on the ground, we should get to the target area on schedule. Unfortunately, our navigation was made more difficult because we sometimes had to alter course due to poor weather conditions.”


Good fortune smiled on Pat that day. His lead flight of four aircraft broke out of the clouds not far from the target. “I’ve got the bridges at 11 o’clock!” shouted Pat’s wingman over the intercom. If you visualize a clock’s face with the airplane at its center pointing towards 12 o’clock, Pat’s wingman was saying that he had identified the bridges slightly off the nose of their aircraft to the left.


“I was very much relieved,” said Pat. “The bridges were in plain sight, and we could hit them.” He led the lead flight in a diving attack. Despite the fire of anti-aircraft guns, Pat’s flight dropped their bombs right on the target and knocked one span down. Banking sharply to the left and then back to the right as they climbed to avoid anti-aircraft fire, Pat thought his flight’s work was done and they could go home. He was wrong.


“As we began to reform out of the effective range of the anti-aircraft guns, we saw enemy Mig-15 fighters approaching rapidly. We barely had the fuel to return to base and we were no match for the Migs. Moreover, combat maneuvering would eat up more fuel. However, if we didn’t fight the Migs, the rest of the Group would be in serious trouble. They would attack our guys just as they rolled in on the target. I had to make an immediate decision. If I stayed to fight, I would be betting the safe return of our four aircraft against our ability to fly through the weather and land safely with minimum fuel.”


Pat turned his flight to intercept the Migs. At the same time, he alerted American F-86 “Sabres” which were flying top cover. Then, he warned his other F-80s that were just entering the target area. Pat’s pilots knew that in delaying the flight’s return, their risk of returning safely was diminished. However, because Pat was extraordinarily committed, they were too.


“We opened fire while the Migs were still out of range. The Mig’s scattered and their leader made a very bad decision. They flew straight up  . . . right into the waiting guns of the F-86’s.” Pat’s job in the target area was finally over. However, his problems were not. “I could hardly keep my eyes off the fuel gauges all the way home.” It was a close thing, but everyone made it back.[1]


What made the entire group follow Pat’s lead unquestioning, despite the risks? Pat had the experience, he knew what he was doing, but above all he displayed uncommon commitment. When the leader does this, others will do the same. They will follow. Thanks to Pat’s showing uncommon commitment, the bridges were destroyed and many American lives were saved.


On January 15th, 2009, the world saw another flier with uncommon commitment who saved lives, but not in war. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, took off from La Guardia Airport in Manhattan, New York captain of US Airways flight 1549 bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. Almost immediately the plane ran into a flock of Canadian geese and both of the Airbus 320’s two engines quit. Sullenberger first sought to return to the airport, but he realized at once that he didn’t have sufficient altitude. Then he spotted another airfield in New Jersey, but he mentally calculated that there was insufficient altitude to make that one either. With seconds to make a decision, Sullenberger didn’t hesitate. He told the crew and passengers, “Prepare for ditching.” You can count the number of successful ditchings of modern jet airline aircraft, not on one hand, but with one finger. However, even the co-pilot saw Sullenberger’s calm demeanor and uncommon commitment. Captain Sullenberger not only ditched his aircraft successfully in the Hudson River, but all 150 passengers on board survived the emergency landing with minimal injuries, as did the five crew members. Sullenberger, by the way, had served as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot from 1973 to 1980.[2]

Napoleon Bonaparte knew this. In his Maxims he declared: “. . . An extraordinary situation calls for extraordinary resolution . . . How many things have appeared impossible which, nevertheless, have been done by resolute men . . . “[3]


Does this Natural Law Work in Business?

“Okay,” you say, “If the leader shows uncommon commitment in battle, it motivates. Followers echo the commitment of the leader and the organization has a much better chance of performing the task successfully. But that’s not going to work in business where people have distractions like their families, earning a living, or just having a good time. Then, they’ve got to know they must perform or else! The leader’s showing uncommon commitment has nothing to do with it.” Well, let’s wait and see. It’s my contention that extraordinary commitment motivates not only followers, but others with whom the leader comes in contact. This including bosses, associates, money lenders, and others far removed from his or her own organization. And as we will see, Patterson’s extraordinary commitment to a project outside the Air Force helped him achieve what others thought impossible.


Patterson Shows Uncommon Commitment in the Business World

The Air Force eventually made Patterson a general and he retired from military service. Later, he became president of Ohio Precision Castings in Ohio. The company contracted to supply a new type of fuel pump for the then new B-1 bomber. Several million dollars and many jobs were on the line.


As Pat explained, “Molding these new pumps was no easy task. It had never been done before. No matter how carefully the molders worked, many of the pumps did not meet the specifications. There were so many rejects that we got behind schedule and were losing money. I was pretty worried.”


Pat could have renegotiated the contract. He could have asked for a delay. He could have scaled back the number of units he was required to supply. All of these alternatives would have meant profitability, but would have hurt the company’s reputation. It would have delayed production of the B-1. It would also have meant laying off some of his workers.


Others, faced with similar problems, did these things. Pat didn’t. Instead, he put everyone to work as they had never worked before. “I met repeatedly with the production crews and engineers. Everyone got into the spirit of solving the problem. I knew there had to be a solution and we tried all sorts of crazy things.”


Pat’s employees took note of his commitment. They saw he wasn’t going to quit. So they didn’t either. As his followers had done years earlier in the clouded skies over North Korea, they stuck with their leader. Finally, Pat’s experts found something interesting. Since they were dealing with a single molding material, normally the formula and molding temperature for each part was the same for all. Only the shape of the part varied. This time this wasn’t working. But what if they changed the formula and temperature to optimize it for each separate part?


Through experimentation, they found they could meet the specification by varying the temperature and formula for each individual part this way. But there was still a problem. Since each part required a different temperature and a different formula, it was not clear that developing and using so many different casting formulas simultaneously was possible. It had never been done before. Some of Pat’s people thought that this meant they could not succeed. One said, “Well boss, I guess this means we’ve got to re-negotiate the contract?”


Pat thought otherwise. Because of his uncommon commitment, they kept at it. Everyone was obsessed with finding a solution. They not only worked overtime, they worked night and day. Eventually, they discovered the correct formula for each separate casting. “We posted it near the molding production machine for each part,” Pat said. We molded each part differently. The number of rejects began to decline.


Then, they ran into yet another problem. Pat’s engineers found that air contacting the exterior of the aluminum molds caused the molding temperature to vary. Varying temperature caused minor differences in the parts. Minor, but out of tolerance again. Consultants said that nothing could be done. They said that air always leaked around the exterior of the mold to some degree. “The specifications required,” they maintained, “are just too tough.”


Pat wouldn’t give up. Because he wouldn’t give up, his workers wouldn’t give up. Because he was totally committed, so were his employees. “Finally, somebody came up with the idea of using ordinary plastic Saran Wrap to stop the air from escaping,” Pat says. “We tried it, and believe it or not it worked.” Pat’s company got back on schedule and delivered the pumps on time. The company not only made a good profit and kept its reputation, but Pat’s employees kept their jobs.[4]


Why don’t more leaders in business do this? Jacques Naviaux was Director of Business Planning at Hughes Aircraft Company and a retired Marine Corps colonel who fought in combat in Vietnam. “In all too many circumstances, civilian leadership has been reluctant to make the extraordinary commitment required for sustained success,” he explains.[5]


Heroic Leadership Means Uncommon Commitment

You don’t have to read much military history to see that successful leaders in battle are extraordinarily committed to their jobs. This goes far beyond simple determination to succeed. The successful battle leader lives, breathes, sleeps, and eats his or her mission. That does not mean that after the project, task, or mission is completed that the leader doesn’t relax. This natural law does not require the leader to be a “workaholic.” As a matter of fact, it is interesting that these many of these heroic leaders do have so much time for friends, family, and recreation when not completing an important task. But extraordinary commitment seems to attract others to participate, work, and fight to achieve the organization’s goal. As explained by retired army Brigadier General Edward Markham, Director of Management Information Systems in Lubbock, Texas: “A leader must take a bulldog approach to accomplish the mission.”[6] When the leader does this, others do the same.


Battle Leaders Point the Way in Somalia

American forces were sent to Mogadishu, Somalia as peacekeepers. Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart were part of Task Force Ranger and the United States Army Special Operations Command. Ranger leaders have a history of showing uncommon commitment going back to the French and Indian Wars of the 18th century when they were organized and commanded by Major Robert Rogers. If you want a job done, you give it to the Rangers, because their commitment is 110%.


On October 3rd, 1993, two American helicopters crashed during an attempt to capture Mohamad Aidid, a warlord. On the ground, the downed crews were subjected to intense fire from automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades from hostile forces. The two sergeants, crewmen on another helicopter circling to provide air cover, learned that friendly ground forces were not in position to rescue four critically wounded personnel in the helicopter at the second crash site. Both sergeants repeatedly volunteered to leave the safety of their helicopter to go to the aid of the wounded Americans who were defenseless. However, any rescue was far from easy. There was a huge and growing number of armed men closing in on the crash site. There was no way of breaking through directly. They finally received permission to try, but due to the heavy fire, the first attempts to get them to the crashed helicopter failed.


Eventually, they were successfully landed about 300 feet south of the downed helicopter. Equipped only with small arms, they fought their way to the wounded Americans and pulled them from the wreckage. They set up a protective perimeter around the wounded and defended them from the hostile forces firing at them. Because these two leaders were totally committed, so was everyone else. But, more and more forces belonging to the warlord advanced on the tiny band of Americans and the two sergeants defending them until the two defenders were simply overwhelmed. Against hundreds of attackers, they fought to the last. An American force eventually broke through and rescued the pilot, who was the only survivor. For the two heroic leaders and the rest of the crew, it was too late. They had run out of ammunition and both had been fatally wounded.[7] [8]Their sacrifice was not in vain. Other Americans “peacekeeping” in Somalia adopted a far higher standard of commitment to their mission. While American forces eventually withdrew from Somalia, it had succeeded in preventing the death of millions of inhabitants by starvation.  It did not overthrow the warlord, but it did moderate his actions. The full story of that fateful day were documented in the book, Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999), and the movie of the same name.



The Magic of Showing Uncommon Commitment

What’s so special about showing uncommon commitment?  Why do others follow a leader who demonstrates this quality both on and off the battlefield? Psychologists have identified two main reasons why showing uncommon commitment yields such dramatic results:

  • It proves that the goal is worthwhile and really important.
  • It proves that the leader isn’t going to quit.


Others Follow Because They Know the Goal is Important

People don’t exert themselves for little, unimportant goals. They work hard, take great risks, and let nothing stop them only for big, important goals. That’s why leaders who try to play down the difficulty of a task make a big mistake. Those who practice heroic leadership know that it is far better to tell people exactly what is expected of them, no matter how serious the situation or how much the effort would require. “Then,” according to Walter “Buz” Baxter, President of the Baxter Seed Company of Weslaco, Texas, and formerly a major general in the Air Force, “You’ve got to hold everyone, including yourself, responsible for their own actions, and accept nothing less than their best effort.”[9] That’s the essence of showing uncommon commitment.


During the darkest days of World War II, Winston Churchill told his countrymen, “I have nothing to offer you but blood, sweat, toil, and tears.” Churchill was 100% committed, and the English people knew it. Showing uncommon commitment is how one proves that the goal is important enough to sacrifice for it.

Others Follow Because They Know the Leader Won’t Quit

People won’t follow you if they think that your commitment is temporary, or that you may quit the goal short of attainment. Why should they? Why should they invest their time, money, lives or fortune in something if the leader isn’t going to lead them there anyway? Others will only follow when they are convinced that you won’t quit no matter how difficult the task looks, or no matter what obstacles you encounter along the way.


There will always be obstacles. Someone said, “There are no dreams without dragons.” When you show uncommon commitment, followers know that their investment of time and effort won’t be wasted. They know that you won’t walk away . . . that you will see the task through to the end. Yes, there may be dragons. But your uncommon commitment gives everyone confidence that with you, they can, and will, slay them.


W.H. Tankersley was Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of Sterne, Agee & Leach, Inc., Investment Bankers in Montgomery, Alabama. He previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and was a rifle and mortar platoon leader in combat in the Korean War.  He continued to serve in the Army Reserve and retired as a major general. His advice: “If you want to inspire confidence in those you lead, you’ve got to have the commitment which expresses itself in physical and moral courage, and display both.” Do this, and those you lead will know that you won’t quit.[10]


If your team is convinced that the goal is important and that you are not going to quit until you reach that goal, then watch out! There is nothing they won’t do to show you that their commitment is equal to yours, and nothing will stop them until they reach that goal or accomplish that task with you.


From Nowhere to No. 1 in Cyberspace in Six Months

Only six months after its  founding, the Dell Computer Corporation became the number one retailer on the Internet. Sales from the Dell Web site grew at the rate of 20% each month. In one year, revenues exploded 47% to $7.8 billion, and profit 91% to $518 million.


What was Dell’s secret?  Founder and CEO Michael Dell said, “Speed is everything in this business. We’re setting the pace for the industry.”[11] Michael Dell showed such uncommon commitment to what the company calls, “velocity” that his competitors simply couldn’t catch up. At the same time, he structured speed to translate into lower cost. Dell employed its own brand of just-in-time manufacturing. Dell didn’t even start putting the computers together until an order was booked. That was a major innovation.  This meant that he didn’t begin to order parts until right before assembly. As a result, Dell’s components were on the average 60 days newer than those of competitors. That saved inventorying costs. Because component prices can fell so rapidly, Dell saved more money. Next he speeded up his distribution channels. He got many of his suppliers to warehouse parts only fifteen minutes from the production line. Everything that could be done to speed things up, was done. For example, Dell didn’t take delivery of monitors to be shipped with his PCs to the customer. Instead, when Dell received an order, it e-mailed it to the supplier. The monitor arrived at the customer the same time as the computer direct from the supplier. More money was saved. For high cost items, he switched to regional suppliers. That saved more time. Since customers ordered over the Internet, he was able to get his products to the customer fast, much faster than competitors. He also converted the average sale to cash in less than 24 hours. Compaq Computer Corporation, a division of Hewlett Packard, sold mainly through dealers. In those days it took 35 days to get its money. Even Gateway 2000 which sold by mail, took 16.4 days to duplicate Dell’s operation. No wonder Andrew Grove, then Intel’s CEO said: “I have bruises on my back from Mr. Michael [Dell] when we can’t keep up with them.”[12]


It was Dell’s absolute commitment to this concept that motivated his employees to an equal commitment to get the job done in a way that won the respect of customers and competitors alike.[13] In 2008, Dell had faltered over the years. Dell claimed the position of number one PC provider in the U.S. and number two behind HP worldwide.[14]


His Public Commitment Changed Cellular Phones Forever

Irwin Jacobs, chairman of Qualcomm, Inc., co-founded his company to develop digital wireless technology in 1985. U.S. industry had adopted a system known as time-division multiple access (TDMA) as its digital standard. It had greater reliability than others, and this was considered the most important factor.


Jacobs stubbornly developed his products based on a less popular system called code-division multiple access (CDMA) based on compression technology. Jacobs was convinced that his system had far greater potential because of its increased access capacity. No wishy-washy “definite maybes” for Jacobs. He declared to everyone inside and outside the firm that this was the way they were going to proceed. He made a public commitment both inside and outside of his company and continued to base his products on CDMA regardless of development setbacks or criticism. It is very difficult to back down after you’ve made a public commitment, and everyone knew it. He was so committed that others stayed with him, even though some outsiders said that Jacobs was nuts.


Four years later, Jacobs approached The Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA) to present his concepts. He had made compression technology working reliably. His timing could hardly have been worse. The CTIA had just completed its own internal fight over standards and technologies. The main competitor to TDMA, was the general standard for mobile communications (GSM), the European standard. Jacobs’ CDMA was not even considered. The fight had been bitter, but TDMA had finally prevailed. That’s when Jacobs wandered in with a proposal that they now consider CDMA again. They wasted no time listening to Jacobs or a presentation on CDMA. According to Jacobs, “They threw us out on our ears.”[15] But Jacobs didn’t quit. He again publicly claimed his compression technology would increase networks’ capacity many times over that of other systems. He showed uncommon commitment while the entire industry ridiculed him and belittled his development. His supporters didn’t desert him.


After two more years of struggle, he convinced the wireless division of Pacific Telesis to put up $2 million to build a trial network in San Diego. The results of the trial convinced the CTIA to do something it had once hoped to avoid. It reopened the standards debate. Two years later, CTIA approved CDMA as a second standard.


Contrary to helping Qualcomm’s interest, reopening the standards debate almost caused the roof to fall in. Several corporations had already sunk millions in TDMA. They viciously attacked CDMA as too expensive, too complicated, and susceptible to jamming. Jacobs was even branded a fraud by these powerful groups of self interest.


However, when you show such uncommon commitment, somehow others will continue to  follow your leadership. That’s what happened. Despite everything, two companies, Northern Telecom Ltd. And Motorola agreed to license Qualcomm’s CDMA technology. Actually, their licensing didn’t amount to much. They were simply covering their bets in case CDMA was real. However, this was a success of sorts for Qualcomm, and with this success, Jacobs went to Asia to look for more business. His detractors tried everything to prevent additional sales. Letters were even sent to likely prospects warning of CDMA’s problems and suggesting that CDMA be subjected to the closest scrutiny and that Jacobs’ claims not be believed.


Still, objective testing began to support everything that Jacobs said. Then came a major sales breakthrough.  Major carriers of digital wireless, including PrimeCo and Sprint PCS signed on to use CDMA technology. However, even these adoptions created a problem. No one made CDMA handsets, and Sprint and PrimeCo needed tens of thousands. What to do now?


Not to worry. Remember, Jacobs was still publicly committed. So, he didn’t falter. Instead, he convinced Sony to put up 49% in a joint phone-making venture. Qualcomm was now in the cellular phone making business with a hefty multi-million order for Qualcomm phones, a product they hadn’t even previously considered.


Even this success still did not come without problems. There is a learning curve in manufacturing, and companies which have previously only been in the research development business invariably find they have lots of new challenges. A Qualcomm shipment of thousands of phones was halfway across the country as Jacobs tried desperately to meet a delivery deadline for Sprint. Suddenly it was discovered that each and every phone had a defective menu screen. The truck had to turn around and speed back to Qualcomm’s plant in San Diego for rapid reprogramming.


That wasn’t all. Ten days before PrimeCo’s national rollout of its phones, someone tried one of the buttons on a Qualcomm phone. An ear-piercing screech nearly deafened him. A second phone was tried with the same results. And then a third. Testing uncovered the problem. It was in the software. So, every single phone was affected. They all had deafening screeches. With 40,000 phones already shipped, it was too late to ship them back to San Diego. So, engineers flew out to PrimeCo’s Florida warehouse with a just-in-time fix. It took four days to reprogram all 40,000 phones with help from every set of hands they could find to turn screws, open up the phones, and make changes. Again, they managed to just barely make the deadline.


However, despite all the problems, showing uncommon commitment has its rewards. Most of the new generation wireless systems built use Jacobs’ CDMA technology which continues to grow even today.[16] Qualcomm revenues were more than $11 billion in 2008. The company has won numerous awards such asIndustry Week’s 100 Best Managed Companies and Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in America.[17] Irwin Jacobs, Chairman of Qualcomm is still committed. And because he is, so is everyone else in his company. One of his sons is today CEO and another is Chief Marketing Officer.[18]


Commitment Means Taking Risks

Of course, commitment means taking risks. Some leaders are afraid to show uncommon commitment for this reason. Let’s be frank. Some are afraid to show any commitment at all. Yet, risk is a part of life. Your willingness to accept this risk is part of your responsibilities as leader. It’s acceptance is one clear way of showing uncommon commitment.


How do battle leaders learn to take risks in leading every day? Simple. First, they analyze the situation. Then they ask themselves, what is the worst that can happen? They access whether the worst that can happen is worth the risk. If it is, they accept the risk and go ahead. It is amazing how once you accept the worst that can happen, if your goal is it, you will have much less difficulty accepting this risk. Then, you will have no difficulty making and showing an uncommon commitment.



If you want others to follow your lead, it doesn’t even make any difference whether you have formal authority over them. Showing uncommon commitment will help you lead them to any goal. To do this:


  • Keep going when the going gets rough
  • Let them know it’s a big tough job, not a little easy one
  • Make a public commitment
  • Accept the risk


In case of doubt, push on just a little further and then keep on pushing. – General George S. Patton, Jr.


Never forget your basic purpose in these actions:




[1] Patterson, George K., letter to the author July 26, 1993

[2] Michelle Maskaly, Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press, “US Airways Plane Crash-Lands in New York City’s Hudson River, Everyone Survives,” January 16, 2009. Accessed at,2933,480078,00.html , January 20, 2009.


[3] Bonaparte, Napoleon, “Maxims of Napoleon,”  LXVII, published originally in Paris in 1830 and translated into English shortly thereafter in Jomini, Clausewitz, and Schlieffen (Department of Military Art and Engineering, United States Military Academy: West Point, 1954) p. 89.

[4] Patterson, George K., telephone conversations with the author April 4, 11, 1996.

[5] Naviaux, Fax to author April 9, 1996.

[6] Markham, Edward, letter to the author July 27, 1993.

[7] Congressional Medal of Honor Citation For Gary I. Gordon, Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, ( The American War Library, 1996).

[8] Congressional Medal of Honor Citation for Randall D. Shughart, Sgt First Class, U.S. Army ( The American War Library, 1996).

[9] Baxter, Walter H., letter to the authorAugust 3, 1993.

[10] Tankersley, W.H., letter to the author, January 1, 1993.

[11] McWilliams, Gary, “Whirlwind on the Web,” Business Week (April 7, 1997) p. 132.

[12] Ibid. P. 134.

[13] Ibid. P. 132, 134, 136.

[15] Schine, Eric and Peter Elstrom, “Not Exactly an Overnight Success,” Business Week, (June 2, 1997), p. 133.

[16] No author listed, “CDMA Technology,” CDMA Development Group, Accessed at , January 20, 2008.

[17] No author listed. Qualcomm Web Site. Accessed at, March 30, 2005

[18] No author listed. Qualcomm 2008 Corporate Overview, pg2 Accessed at , January 19, 2009.



For more information, contact me directly by e-mail at or telephone (626) 794-5998. Yes we do give international seminars — The U.S. country code is 01.



In case of doubt, push on just a little further and then keep on pushing

                                                                           – Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.