With every passing September 11 anniversary, I cannot help but to think about the story of the Man in the Red Bandana.
“What would you do in the last hour of your life? Where would you be? Who would remember you? What would it look like?” are the questions that the narrator led off with in an ESPN Sports Center (SC) Featured that I watched several years go. The story was about one of the many heroes of the September 11 attacks, one that would forever be etched in my heart and mind.
Welles Crowther started carrying a red bandana that his father had given him at the age of six. He could be found roaming the sports fields of his hometown or hanging out at the local firehouse. At the age of sixteen, he signed up to be a Junior Firefighter. He would go on to play lacrosse at Boston College. After graduating college, he took to Wall Street as an equity trader.
His office was on the 104th floor of the South World Trade Center Tower. His father recounted in the SC Feature that he felt his son had a, “piece missing.” He wanted to become a New York City firefighter. Welles told his father, “If I sit in front of this computer for the rest of my life, I will go crazy.”
The trajectory of Welles life, as so many others, was tragically altered on the morning of September 11, 2001. The first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, hit the north tower at 8:46 p.m. Shortly after, he called his mother and left a message to let her know he was okay. Then, at 9:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 struck the south tower between the 78th and 84th floor.
The Man in the Red Banana
Ling Young, a survivor of that day, was interviewed. Between the smoke and the fire, she and so many others saw no way out, they had lost hope. Then, a man emerged from the chaos. He yelled out, “I found the stairs, follow me, only help the ones you can help” the man said. Young said he just said it in a way that, “we just got up and followed.” She went on to say that he led them down the only operable stairwell to safety.
He returned to help more people. At 9:59 a.m., the south towner collapsed. His mother just instinctually knew that Welles was still in the tower when the news broke. Six months later, they would find his body in the rubble next to the bodies of several New York City Firefighters.
Welles’s mother was reading an article in the New York Times in May of 2002 when two simple and recognizable words jumped out at her. A survivor named Judy Weems, stated “this mysterious man wearing a RED KERCHIEF was calling out…setting up a triage.” His mother would go on to send the survivors mentioned in the article pictures of Welles. Ling Young confirmed Welles identity as the, “man who saved her life.” Welles was the Man in the Red Bandana.
Here are six leadership lessons from this amazing hero’s life:
Be Calm Amid Chaos
The first thing he thought of was to call his mother. He left that message simply letting her know that he was okay. There was not an ounce of concern in his voice. Everything was not okay, but he remained calm amid chaos. Calm is always contagious in chaos.
Put Others First
Both survivor accounts highlighted in the SC Feature said that he encouraged people to help others, to put them first. He didn’t just use his words, he used his actions. Welles showed others the way, not just told them the way. His priority was to save others.
Run in When Others Run Out
I would have to imagine that the traffic down the stairwells in those critical moments exceeded the traffic up them. After delivering Young and the other survivors to safety, he made the decision to return for more. He could have easily escaped to safety, but chose to run in as others were running out. He must have been a bright light in a dark situation for those who he returned to.
Be Willing to Lay Down Your Life
Welles’s father labeled his son’s sacrifice as, “A pure form of compassion and love.” He also cited one of my favorite versus in the Christian Bible. John chapter 15, verse 13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” We all have the ability to lay our lives down for others, the great differentiator is our willingness.
Quality, Not Quantity
Welles was only twenty-four years old when he died. Sometimes we can get too caught up in the aspiration of longevity in life and not the impact of it. There are people that walked the face of this earth for far less time who have literally CHANGED THE WORLD. It’s not always quantity of our life that counts, it is the quality that does.
Leave A Legacy
Towards the end of the episode, the narrator says, “Welles is remembered by the people and the places he touched.” What if we could all aspire to live our lives in such a way as to be remembered like this.
Whether it is in pictures hung on firehouse walls, being named posthumously a New York City firefighter, the Annual Red Bandana Run at Boston College, on a tattoo located on his father’s chest, or in Lin Young’s beating heart, Welles Crowther lives on. He was a Little Known Hero, who made a big difference. Welles left a legacy that will never be forgotten.
We may not be saving anyone from a burning building today, but we do have the awesome responsibility to lead people. We hold the livelihood of those we lead in the palm of our hands, we carry the weight of their burdens across our shoulders, our belief of them in them our spirits, and their well-being on our hearts.
In talking about his son, Welles’s father said that, “He took off the equity trader hat, picked up his fire fighter’s helmet and went to work.” In the face of all the challenges that come with leadership, take the advice of Mr. Crowther. Take off the hat of your position and go to work as The Person that People Want to Follow.
Find out more about the story of The Man in the Red Bandana here.