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NOW of work – Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership

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3 November 2023

Before you listen to this episode, give yourself 5 minutes to read an incredible story. 

One of the defining moments of the Afghanistan War occurred in a mere second inside a single battle that raged for 7 hours. Then 37-year-old United States Army Captain Will Swenson found himself a commander in what would become known as the Battle of Ganjgal. An early morning meeting connecting the Afghan government with native elders in the Ganjgal Valley near the border of Pakistan turned into a brutal ambush of Swenson’s 100-person coalition. Surrounded by as many as 60 well-armed Taliban fighters unleashing a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades, mortar, and machine gun fire, repeated calls for overheard artillery support were denied for fear of civilian casualties. Denied all day, in fact, while Swenson and his men fended for themselves under unrelenting artillery fire. 

Rare helmet-cam footage from a medical evacuation team caught much of the extraordinary scene. Including Swenson repeatedly waving a bright orange flag to guide a military rescue helicopter into a safe landing zone to retrieve the injured and pull out the dead. Swenson waved the brightly colored flag throughout the day, making himself a highly visible target to enemy fighters but ensuring the helicopter could load injured and dying men to receive medical attention. 

At one point, we see Captain Swenson loading Sergeant Kenneth Westbrook into the chopper. Westbrook, a father of three, had been shot in the neck and was bleeding heavily. He also had four broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a shattered left shoulder. He would die 29 days later from these injuries. But this day, Swenson hoped he could be saved. He is seen carrying Westbrook onto the helicopter, and the GoPro camera on the med evac’s helmet captured another fleeting moment almost no one would have seen. Swenson is seen leaning into the helicopter and giving Westbrook a kiss on his cheek before the helicopter side door closes. A moment never intended to be captured on film. A moment Swenson himself hardly remembered. A moment of true leadership.

Swenson’s kiss on a battlefield was a catalyst for Dr. Kirstin Ferguson to write her latest book, Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership. Our own Jess Von Bank met Dr. Ferguson at Oracle CloudWorld just weeks ago. Dr. Ferguson was fresh out of books that afternoon after a successful book signing, so she sent one to the restaurant to be handed to Jess later at dinner. Jess carried the book all over Las Vegas that night, dying to tear into its pages, and today they finally bring this conversation to the Now of Work community. 

ON THIS EPISODE, WAIT UNTIL YOU MEET Dr. Ferguson. Former Flying Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force herself, she went on to become a PhD in Organizational Psychology, CEO of a global consulting firm, and best-selling global leadership expert on the impact of leading from the head and the heart.

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Kirstin is a highly sought after keynote speaker who has opened dozens of conferences and events across Australia and NZ, as well as around the world.

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