COHOCTAH -- When businesses want their managers to learn
leadership skills, they typically send them to a rented hotel conference
for a day of listening to a PowerPoint-armed consultant.
Dan "the Shark" Dooling thinks that's boring. Dooling, an ex-Army
Ranger, prefers to arm the office workers with paint ball guns and send
them into some woods to face sniper fire.
Dooling and his partner, Corey "Comet" Clothier, an ex-Marine pilot,
run Task Force-1 Inc., a leadership training business based in Cohoctah.
They base their training on 11 military leadership principles widely
used among U.S. forces. Businesses hire them to reduce communication
problems within the company.
For an average fee of about $450 per person, workers go to a farm in
Cohoctah for a day of military-inspired training.
Dooling said his training is about getting employees "off their
butts, get the blood flowing, away from the golf course and the mini
bar," he said.
Prior to the paint ball game, he and Clothier go into clients'
workplaces to do "recon." They speak to employees at all levels to find
communication breakdown points. They did just that to Coach's
Catastrophe Cleaning of Ypsilanti.
On December 3, 22 employees, including the CEO, of Coaches began
their cold morning inside a military tent.
Each employee got a paint ball rifle. "Love it and it will love you,"
Dooling, the "Shark," told them.
Then the Dooling and Clothier split the workers into two squads,
Alpha and Bravo, and briefed them on their mission. They had to go out
into the woods and fight their way to a specific point.
The goal, besides having a good time, was to reveal communication
breakdown points among coworkers.
There were many. Lynn Jarrett, an executive coach with Excellerate
Associates LLC in Canton, followed along, taking notes on the
performance as part of her extended leadership training.
"They still don't know their mission," she said as the squads entered
As soon as they entered the woods, snipers began shooting at them and
all plans collapsedt. No decisive commands were shouted.
Instead, only the sounds of paint guns and people yelling "Medic!"
replaced decisive commands coming from the team's leadership.
"Gunner" (everyone gets nicknames in the training) was the appointed
leader of the two squads.
The Shark could be heard yelling, "Where's Gunner?!" during the first
"How many are dead?" he repeatedly asked Gunner, who replied, "I lost
track of my group!"
Did they really have a plan? "A weak one," said the Shark, watching
everything fall apart.
Afterward, the employees stood in the cold for a debriefing. Dooling
and Clothier explained how a lack of planning and resourcefulness that
hurt the workers in the game hurt them in business, too.
It was only 10 a.m. The workers still had three more missions to go.
They spent the entire day in the woods.
Potential trainees beware: Task Force-1's training really is
One woman who was giving her all on the battlefield had an asthma
attack, causing a momentary crisis.
Dooling had just commented on how well she was doing protecting the
rear of her squad when she fell to the ground surrounded by teammates.
She was fine a few minutes later.
By the end of the day, they were yelling commands at each other and
executing plans more effectively.
They weren't perfect, but the point wasn't to become expert snipers.
It was to work together under pressure, following orders and not
losing sight of the goal, which was easy to do when paint balls were
exploding on their goggles.
In the paint ball game, Coach's CEO Tim Fagan saw leadership
deficiencies as well as surprising leadership coming from employees who
usually aren't in roles to demonstrate leadership in the workplace.
Back in the workplace, he saw formerly quiet employees going after
"We learned a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of the team,"
Fagan said a week after the training.
Gary Anglebrandt is a Metro Detroit freelance