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As I thought about September 11th and what it means to each of us, I remembered the following story I read in Lyn Boyer’s book Connect: Affective Leadership for Effective Results. I asked her to include the inspiring story and comment on its significance. She gladly agreed to be a guest contributor for my blog this week. Read an excerpt of her book below:

On September 11, 2001, Ling Young stood in the Sky Lobby of the seventy-eighth floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, anxiously waiting to take an elevator to the ground floor.

The North Tower was already in flames, and despite announcements to remain in the building, she and others began to evacuate. Then United Airways flight 175 crashed into her building, and Young was knocked to the floor and badly burned. Looking around her, she realized that many people were dead. She recounted that at one point an elevator door opened and flames shot into the lobby killing some of those standing in front of it. She and those around her were frightened and confused.

After several terrifying minutes, a young man carrying a woman on his back burst into the area and in a firm, authoritative voice instructed everyone to follow him. Young and the other survivors obediently followed him down about fifteen flights of stairs where he gently placed the injured woman he was carrying on the floor, handed Young a fire extinguisher, and instructed everyone to help the injured and continue walking down the steps to safety. Carrying a red bandana, he hurried back up the steps to find others who needed his help (Botelho & Hinojosa, 2005; Porteus, 2002).

By the time the young man returned to the seventy-eighth floor, he had placed the red bandana over his nose and mouth. There, he found other survivors including Judy Wein, who had sustained a broken arm, cracked ribs and a punctured lung. Again, he spoke calmly and with authority as he instructed the survivors to help those they could help and to descend the obscure flight of stairs that he showed them. He left the group, saying he wanted to help other people.

This mysterious young man was not identified until May of 2002 when Young, Wein and others told their stories to New York Times reporters. They explained how they thought of him every day. Wein said she checked pictures on the Internet trying to find the penetrating eyes and distinctive eyebrows of the young man who saved her life.

Allison Crowther, who read the Times article, desperately wanted to know what had happened to her twenty-four year old son on September 11. Having called his father shortly before nine o’clock that morning, he called her at twelve minutes after nine, just after the plane hit the South Tower. He told her where he was and that he was okay. His body, which was not identified until March of 2002, was found with a group of firefighters in a command center.

Like his father, her son always carried a bandana in his pants pocket. His father carried a blue one; he preferred red. Because of the bandana and his probable location in the building, Mrs. Crowther sent his picture to Young, who confirmed her son as the mysterious “man with the red bandana” (Botelho & Hinojosa, 2005).

The young man was Welles Crowther, who worked as an equities trader on the 104th floor at Sandler O’Neil and Partners. Crowther had trained as a firefighter and had mentioned to his father that he would like to make that his profession. After his death, his family found an application to join the fire department in his apartment.

Survivors reported that, with his steady voice and commanding presence, Crowther took control in a horrible situation. In addition to directing and leading survivors to safety, he instructed injured and frightened people to gather fire extinguishers and help other survivors.

For his actions, which saved the lives of at least eighteen and possibly dozens more, the New York City Fire Department posthumously named this courageous young man an honorary FDNY firefighter (Fire Department, 2010). His brief encounter with those desperate survivors forged an immediate and profound connection. This inspiring young man possessed unique qualities that allowed him to influence people to take action in extreme circumstances and in spite of paralyzing fear.

Other people have similar qualities, part of their day-to-day behaviors that enhance business, government, families and communities. These leaders make connections with others so that together they are able to change the future (Dunham, 2008).

From Connect: Affective Leadership for Effective Results by Lyn Boyer, 2011

As we remember those who died that terrible day and honor the heroes who risked their lives to save them, we ask ourselves:

  • What do or can I do to make a difference in the lives of others?
  • What skills do I have?
  • What resources can I draw upon?
  • What kinds of connections do I make?
  • What do I value? How do I live my values?
  • How can I have the greatest impact?
  • How do my actions change the future?

Jefferson Crowther, the father of “The Man in the Red Bandana, said that his son’s “experiences and the lives he saved were the legacy of his too-short life.” As I think about the need for contribution and for leadership in our world, I ask: What will YOUR legacy be?

What are your thoughts and reflections? How do you create meaning from this tragedy?

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Botelho, G., & Hinojosa, M. (2005). America remembers: The man in the red bandana. Retrieved June 23, 2010, from CNN.com: http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2002/america.remembers/stories/heroes/welles.html.

Dunham, B. (2008). Leading in a changing world. Coral Gables, FL: Newfi eld Network Alumni Series.

FireDepartment, N. Y. (2010). Welles Crowther “The man in the red bandanna” posthumously named honorary firefighter. Retrieved June 23, 2010, from New York City Fire Department: http://
www.nyc.gov/html/fdny/html/events/2006/121506a.shtml.

Porteus, L. (2002, Sept. 10). ‘Man in the red bandana’ died saving others. Retrieved June 23, 2010, from Fox News. com: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,62579,00.html.

It was my best shot. My mom had gone to Ernie’s Grocery Store and I was home alone. My palms were sweaty, my throat was dry, and my fingers were shaking as I dialed our old manual telephone. My greatest fear was that Mr. Olsen would answer. My second greatest fear at the moment was that Nancy wouldn’t remember who I was.

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