A few weeks ago I posted a few stories that showed some examples of bad Army leadership. One of the readers, Fry, suggested that I post some examples of good leadership.
At one point during my military career we had several days of maintenance-type activities that had to be done in the vicinity of the motor pool. During the summer in North Carolina. Basically we got to spend several days in a row doing heavy work in a giant parking lot. It was hot and unpleasant. So another Specialist and I came up with a great idea. We’d stop at the PX on the way to the motorpool and buy a cooler and fill it with ice and drinks. We’d just ask people to pay what our costs were so that we didn’t go broke providing drinks for our company. We made the purchases and brought them to the motorpool, cheerful and anticipating praise from our chain of command for our thoughtfulness. Since this story is on my site, you can probably guess that this is not how things turned out.
Several NCOs approached me and my friend over this. Did they thank us for thinking of our comrades? No.
Did they comment on how we went out of our way and spent our own resources to take care our buddies? Nope.
They screamed at us. For about ten minutes. It seems that me and my friend, by bringing cold drinks for everybody, had succeeded in making our NCOs look bad. Because we had done more to take care of the soldiers in our company than they had. And they felt that we had done it deliberately.
About half an hour after this happened one of the NCOs came back. She wasn’t mad any more and, in fact, she looked ashamed.
She told us that if we made our NCOs look bad by helping out our buddies then that was a poor reflection on them, not us. She apologized for taking part in the NCO lynch mob and asked us how much we had paid for everything. She then handed me that amount of cash and just gave the drinks away to her soldiers.
Step 1: Be this person. If you screw up and one of your soldiers pays for it, have the decency to admit it, and if necessary, go back and make amends.
Another time I was asked to go to 4th PSYOP Group headquarters. Apparently there was some kind of meeting going on to determine what the new product development workstation was going to have. This was a laptop that would be used by an illustrator to create propaganda. And since I was an illustrator, someone thought my input might be helpful. When I get to the meeting I discover that I am the only enlisted person in the building. So there I am, in a room full of officers, who are very opinionated, and more or less totally ignorant about what the soldiers who were going to use the equipment actually did. So being in possession of more survival instinct than most of my readers would ever give me credit for, I sat very still and tried not to attract any notice. Eventually I failed.
“What are you doing here, Specialist?”, asked a Major with the almost exact tone of voice that you or I would say, “Ewww…I got some of that on my shoe.”
“My team SGT told me to come here, sir.”
“What unit are you from, and why did they send an E-4?”
“Because I’m an illustrator sir.”
And with that, a Colonel sitting on the opposite end of the room took notice. “You’re a 25 mike? Why didn’t you say so earlier?” And he then proceeded to direct all suggestions for the equipment through me because I was “The only one here whose ever gonna actually use this stuff”.
Step 2: Be this person. Sometimes your soldiers will have specialized or specific knowledge that you lack. It’s not beneath you to listen to them when that’s the case. It’s generally a good idea to be on the lookout for lower ranks that know things; they can help you make informed decisions.
And lastly, there is this story that I call “The Best Sergent Major Story Ever.” I did not serve under this particular NCO but I had this story relayed to me by a soldier who did. The chain-of-command had recently held several inspections on the barracks. And many soldiers had been dinged for various infractions. Dust on top of the blinds, shoes not neatly lined up under the bunk, clutter on the furniture. The sort of thing that soldiers get gigged on during an inspection. When it was done, many of the lower enlisted who lived in the barracks were getting reamed out for not having their living areas up to Army standards. During a formation afterwards the SGM gave a speech stressing the importance of always keeping your living area up to inspection standards. He then asked for a show of hands of those who had a cell phone. Confused, the soldiers that did, mostly officers, raised their hands.
“Please bring you cellular phones up here, and leave them with me for the remainder of this formation. Now, everyone who lives on post, you are dismissed, have a great weekend. Everyone who lives off post, please stay here. I will be carpooling out to your homes with you to inspect them. I’m sure that all of you are keeping your homes to the sames standards that you hold you soldiers to. And if any of you call home to have your wife, girlfriend, or pets start cleaning up I will have your ass. I can fit five at a time in my car; who wants to go first?”
Step 3: Sometimes it’s just awesome to fuck with people.