According to a 2016 Cone Communications study, three-quarters (76%) of Millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work. Furthermore, 75% of employees who volunteered through their employer feel better about their company. While it might be challenging to correlate employee service and sacrifice for the greater good to financial success for the company, examples from military history provide lessons that could apply to the private sector.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the “Defining Courage” performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Jeff MacIntyre and ABC7-Los Angeles News Anchor David Ono take the audience on a journey of the tragic yet uplifting world of heroes who fought prejudice at home and the enemy abroad. The performance was an immersive live event highlighting the journey and legacy of the Nisei Soldiers of World War II. Nisei refers to those Japanese Americans born in the United States to first-generation Japanese immigrants. Nisei Soldiers fought in segregated Japanese military units, including the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). These soldiers demonstrated extraordinary service and sacrifice, and their wartime experiences offer practical lessons that can serve private sector companies well where profits are a primary focus. Developing teammates willing to serve and sacrifice for the greater good can serve for-profit companies equally well.
“Defining Courage” includes many stories of service and sacrifice at levels beyond anything one would expect in the private sector. However, individuals and teams dedicated to selfless service for the greater good can play an important role in the resilience and success of private sector companies, subsequently improving their financial performance.
Among the many heroes highlighted in the “Defining Courage” performance were Private First Class (PFC) Sadao S. Munemori and PFC Barney Fushimi Hajiro. Both Munemori and Hajiro were Medal of Honor recipients, and they provide examples of selflessness that transcend both the military and corporate worlds. PFC Munemori, like many other Nisei soldiers, demonstrated selflessness while his parents and siblings were forced to live in an internment camp. The United States government policy at the time unjustly placed over 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps. Despite the treatment of Japanese Americans, Munemori wanted to serve his country. His mother bid him farewell as he went off to war, saying, “Live if you can, die if you must, but never bring shame to our family and our country.” Sadly, during the Italian Campaign, Munemori died in an act of extraordinary valor when he jumped onto a grenade to protect his fellow soldiers.
Private Sector Example
Who in your private sector company would “jump onto a grenade” for their co-workers? While it is difficult and an extreme example to compare Munemori’s service to actions in the private sector, there are instances of individuals serving and sacrificing for the greater good.
One example is Lauren Simmons, a former equity trader at Rosenblatt Securities, who made history in 2017. She became the youngest and only full-time equity trader at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). As the first to shatter gender and age barriers in this industry, she could have maintained a low profile and focused on her success. However, she advocated for diversity and inclusion in the financial sector. Lauren served for the greater good by encouraging women and underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in the financial sector.
Barney Fushimi Hajiro
Another hero who was highlighted in the “Defining Courage” performance was Barney Fushimi Hajiro. After several other American units were unsuccessful in rescuing the U.S. “Lost Battalion” encircled by Germans in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France during WWII, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team “Go for Broke” was given the mission to rescue the battalion. The 442nd was successful, but the cost was high. The 442nd suffered approximately 800 casualties, including those killed, wounded, and missing in action. Company I had over 130 Soldiers, including PFC Hajiro, who led the attack to rescue the “Lost Battalion.” PFC Hajiro was one of only eight soldiers from Company I to survive the attack. On June 21, 2000, Barney Fushimi Hajiro received the Medal of Honor. Ultimately, 21 soldiers of the 442nd received the Medal of Honor. The delay in recognizing these Medal of Honor recipients was due to several reasons, including discrimination and the reassessment of their acts of valor.
Private Sector Example
Who in your organization would “lead the attack” and take the risk necessary to make your company successful? While there are no direct comparisons of Hajiro’s willingness to lead the attack against a formidable enemy and take the necessary risks, there are clear examples of risk-takers working for the greater good, which ultimately helps for-profit companies improve and become more successful.
One example is Susan Fowler, a former Uber software engineer who wrote a blog in 2017 entitled “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber.” She wrote about her experiences with workplace harassment, discrimination, and unethical practices at the company. Her blog went viral and sparked a massive public outcry. There was an investigation and a change in leadership and Uber’s corporate culture, which helped to reshape the direction of one of the world’s largest ride-sharing companies. While Susan was a junior employee in the company (like PFC Hajiro, but in a very different environment), she “led the attack” for change at great personal risk. As a result, Uber became a better company.
Lessons for Business
“Defining Courage” highlights the service and sacrifice of Nisei soldiers and their families. There are several lessons that businesses can take away from the rich history of the Japanese of the 100th, 442nd, and the MIS. Leadership, teamwork, resilience, the power of diversity and inclusion, and ethical behavior are among the many lessons that businesses can learn from and use in their organizations. And it is never too late to recognize and appreciate those on your team who may have been overlooked.
Lastly, “Defining Courage” made clear that we must continue to share and learn from these stories of selfless service and sacrifice. At the end of the “Defining Courage” performance, the audience had the honor and opportunity to hear from Terry Shima, a 442nd Regimental Combat Team member. At 100 years of age, Terry walked onto the stage and eloquently shared personal, poignant, and inspiring remarks. He concluded the evening with a reminder of the importance of sharing these great stories and lessons with others. These stories of the Nisei soldier in “Defining Courage” remind us of the strategic imperative of serving and sacrificing for the greater good because it is vital for our country and important for business.