History extols many problem solvers as heroes. Plato, Da Vinci, Edison, Marconi, Einstein. Those heroes may be religious, political, scientific or business achievers. My personal hero as an effective problem-solver started out in life giving no hint he would ever become famous. Murph was a five-foot-five, 125 pound 18-year-old when World War II started. The puny teenager was an orphan, had never finished high school and was working on a Texas farm while caring for his two younger brothers on what little money he could earn.
With the war on and knowing he would soon be drafted, Murph figured if he joined the Army, he could could help his little brothers. He’d get $50 a month, plus dependent pay of another $50 for his brothers. This was much more than he was earning on the farm, and he knew he could send back at least another $25 a month. In that way, he solved his first problem, to pay a family $75 a month to take in the boys until Murph returned from the war.
After basic training and being assigned to an infantry platoon in the North African campaign, Murph wrote to his brothers’ caretakers that if he was killed, they would get his $10,000 insurance, enough to care for the boys until they grew up. By solving that next problem, young Murph showed his deep sense of responsibility he would demonstrate throughout the war.
When teenage Murph saw his first combat, he was frightened, but persisted to do his best to fit in with the older soldiers of his unit. At first they made fun of him, called him The Kid and Baby Face, because he looked far younger than his 18 years. Then, after the platoon was pinned down by a German machine gun emplacement, Murph crawled around behind, and toting a heavy BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), he killed all of the enemy soldiers.
Murph was promoted to corporal, and his buddies began to take him more seriously, although there still was the good-natured banter that the BAR he carried weighed more than he did. When the North African campaign ended, and his division went into combat in Europe, time and time again, Murph’s bravery and deep sense of responsibility to his buddies impressed his officers.
After less than two years in the Army, Murph, now 19, was promoted to sergeant. He was always the first to volunteer for dangerous patrols, had a quick reaction to danger and seemed to lead a charmed life in combat. Then in one battle in France, his division was ordered to retreat after suffering heavy losses. Covering the withdrawal, Murph told his men to go while he manned a machine gun on top of a burning armored car.
Until the Americans regrouped, Murph kept firing at advancing German troops, killing many and forcing the rest to pull back. When reenforcements arrived, the wounded Murph had fallen from the burning car and was rushed to an aid station. For his heroism that day, the young soldier won the Medal of Honor. Even though he had never finished high school, still 19, Murph was promoted to lieutenant.
Audie Murphy, the most decorated GI in WWII, became a movie star after the war, and starred in “To Hell and Back”, the story of his WWII exploits. So, what does Murphy’s story have to do with the theme of this essay? Very simple. He was the ultimate problem solver, and because of his bravery and leadership under fire, he certainly earned every honor he was awarded. In less than three years, he rose all the way from raw recruit buck private through the ranks, was commissioned and won of his nation’s highest honor. He is an absolutely perfect example of how a problem-solver earns promotions.
Of course, very few of us could achieve what Audie Murphy did in just a few short years, whether on the battlefield or in careers in the working world. However, his example has parallels in business. Like an Army recruit with determination to attain higher rank, an ambitious new employee can plan a similar route. If that person works beyond what is expected, shows leadership and solves problems along the way, he/she will attract the attention of management and will be considered for promotion.
Audie Murphy didn’t do his problem solving acts for glory, but because he felt responsible for the lives of his buddies, and the harsh requirements of his job. A good leader in business earns respect from his colleagues by serving as a good example and taking responsibility in his/her work and maintaining relationships with others.
When Murphy was offered the promotion to lieutenant, at first he turned it down, saying he didn’t have enough education, and wasn’t as qualified as a newly-commissioned West Point graduate. Of course, his combat record proved he was much more deserving than an untested officer, no matter how thorough the college education.
However, in today’s working world, the problem solver should not necessarily emulate Audie Murphy’s modesty. Admirable as it may be in some situations, self-effacement in the office or shop may actually delay the process of earning promotions. In fact, when a hard-working person proves to be deserving of higher rank by constantly solving problems and showing leadership, modesty can be self-defeating. He/she should make every effort to be sure management knows about those achievements as they occur in the workplace.