Leadership = Relationships

Leadership styles are often measured on a sliding scale. One one end of the scale is the permissive style of leadership and on the other is authoritarian. Ideally one’s personal style falls somewhere in between as there can always be too much of a good thing.

I once had a battalion SgtMaj who was known to be somewhat rough around the edges. He gave some the impression he spent his days happily throwing Molotov cocktails at bridges. One day his voice blared at me over the phone: “I want you to go down there, use your ‘people skills,’ and fix this!” He used the words “people skills” with the same disdain others reserved for handling dog crap with their bare hands. He also knew I was the right tool for the job.

You may have heard leadership is the art of influencing others to do things they might not ordinarily do. Unfortunately, leadership is often confused with impacting others through rage and intimidation. Although I am not above applying a little heat and pressure in order to stimulate a desired outcome, it’s not my primary leadership tool. Influencing others doesn’t require you to grab people by the lapels and scream into their eye sockets every time.

As a company gunny, my clerks would constantly try and spin me up. They wanted to see if they could get me to go off on the various commodities they claimed refused to honor our requests for support. Young Marines generally find it entertaining to watch their leaders rip the hide off of insubordinate gate keepers who outrank them (Marines just like to hear someone get their ass chewed as long it isn’t them).

Inevitably, I would disappoint my clerks by resolving the situation without acting like an outraged Drill Instructor. I’d ask them to imagine a world where we developed¬† relationships with the commodities such that, they would actually want to support us when we asked for it. Therein lies the art of influencing others.

I also had a company commander who had no concept of his impact on those around him. As a commander he made a great staff officer. I spent my days following him around the battalion repairing all the damage he did rubbing the support shops the wrong way.¬† What made it crazy was he had no idea he was doing it. He wasn’t malicious, just completely devoid of any ability to develop professional relationships and oblivious to the fact it hampered his ability to command.

We sometimes forget the military is composed of people not robots. I prefer to develop an environment that encourages enthusiasm vice intimidation. As leaders our sphere of influence is capable of extending beyond our command and into higher and adjacent units. When subordinates and peers have special trust and confidence in you, they’ll strive to not let you down.

Semper Fidelis!

America’s SgtMaj


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