Sometimes I think I should write a leadership book. Not because I think I am somehow especially spectacular at leadership, but mainly because it seems you can write a book about the sometimes obvious aspects of leadership and get rich doing it. You know, I could title the book “Teamwork is Helpful”, then just rant for 10 chapters about how good teamwork is and what not. I could even get paid to lecture by promising the audience the secret to success only to finally reveal that the secret is…. Trust, or hard work, or love, or whatever really. But I probably won’t do any of that, because I think I can sum my whole view on leadership in a short blog post. So lucky you. But the picture is not me leading, just me and my war buddy Shannon having fun.
Rewind back to 2003 and my unit was called to active duty to deploy to Iraq. Prior to that, I was working as a new supervisor for about 6 months at my job. So really just jumping into the world of leadership. Thus, Iraq could not have come at a better time. As a Corporal, I was in charge of 4 to 12 Marines at any given time and thus had to maintain that leadership role. Like most new leaders, I was trying to do things right. However, I was also making some key mistakes that were basically quickly corrected by our Platoon Commander, Captain Sean Day. I think he is Lt. Col Day now, not sure, pardon me sir if I didn’t get that right.
After a brief ordeal where I failed to ensure my squad had their night vision goggles on them during a training exercise at Camp Pendleton, Capt. Day didn’t bother to go into a long lecture which he was fully intellectually qualified to do. No rather, he got in my face, and told me these 4 words, “Be Bold, and Lead.” He might have said damn it afterwards, not sure so don’t want to quote him on that and make it 6 words. But definitely, “Be Bold, and Lead.” I stewed on it for a while, partly because we didn’t wind up needing our night vision anyway, but mainly because it stuck in my head for some reason.
Then it finally sunk in. Despite all the world of leadership literature and business seminars have to offer, there is no better advice that I could offer on leadership than just that, Be Bold and Lead. Having the audacity to actually lead was a trait not as common as one would think. One Marines insist on in leaders and one that Captain Day made clear to me at that time. So when I returned to my non-profit supervisor job, I took that lesson with me having refined it in Iraq. As I got promoted and moved to new positions in the company, it always remained at the forefront of my method of operation. I have made every other variety of leadership mistake as I was learning and growing, but no one will ever be able to accuse me of failing to be bold or failing to lead. I may not always know how I am going somewhere, but I am going somewhere, so come to terms with it.
Now this is not meant for someone to be overbearing or harsh. Rather, to just not be embarrassed to do the job they most likely signed up to do. Namely, lead. Then as I looked around at new young leaders popping up around, all with the various ranges of skill sets, I noticed the same thing. So many of their mistakes stem from a seeming bashfulness to lead or be in charge. They want the leadership job, but they don’t want for people to feel that they are trying to be in charge. Fascinating. Ask yourself how much confidence you would have in a CEO who didn’t do what he knew needed to be done because he didn’t want to come off too CEOish.
Sometimes you have to ask people to do things that they wouldn’t normally want to do. For us in our Platoon, this daunting task fell to another great leader, Staff Sargent Shane Brown. I think he too was Gunny before he got out, but I remember him as Staff Sargent. You see, us in 2nd Platoon were an unruly lot. You know that scene at the end of the credits from the Avengers Movie where the alien guy is reporting to Thanos about humans being all rebellious and stuff. Well, I don’t want to brag, but I am pretty sure he was talking about 2nd platoon. But SSgt Brown had the task of getting us to do things that no one would want to do. But apparently having known this whole Be Bold business for sometime now, SSgt Brown made it happen. I can’t imagine the grey hairs and near heart attacks we gave this leader, but SSgt, now Gunny Brown, definitely lead.
So there it is. There is my leadership book in 4 words, maybe 6 if you want to cuss. You see you have all the time in the world to learn the skill of a leader. But to be honest, by the time you step into leadership, we don’t really have a lot of time to spend waiting for you to quit being embarrassed to do what the position implies, namely lead. Leadership is much more easily learned by trial than it is taught. So you are going to have to finally jump in at some point and take your hits along the way. But for goodness sake, as soon as possible, Be Bold, and Lead.