Is that you John Wayne?

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Photo By: Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos, USMC

There are those people who want more out of life. There are those who want to be challenged. There are those who want to see if they can lead others. Then there are those are satisfied with their current station and quite happy there, and that’s okay too. We all have our roles to fulfill.

Since I’m a former military officer I’m going to be a bit biased and say that I think the military is a great way start to your life. If you let it, it will mature you and hone certain parts of your character, and develop and sharpen skills that you will use for the rest of your life. Not to mention all the VA benefits and the knowledge that at least once in your life, you stepped up to a challenge and overcame it.

I love it when I get military or former military personnel in my classroom. I know that with a few exceptions, they are going to be squared away and often times, respectfully, challenge me so that they can learn more.

There are five branches of the military service: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, which are considered the armed services, plus two uniform services: United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps. Let’s not forget the Merchant Marine Academy while we’re at it. Within the armed services there are plenty of jobs do not require you to go into combat so if that is not your thing, think about going into a Military Occupational Specialty that doesn’t require combat. There’s still no guarantee that you won’t be in an area where combat happens though. For those who want to avoid any form of military or uniformed service altogether there is still the Peace Corps, and I’ve seen some students go that route with great results.

Of course, you do not have to join the military to learn to be a great leader, it just helps a lot. Great leaders emerge from all walks of life with personalities as diverse as you can imagine. Their formal education spans from university degrees to high school diploma’s (Ermey 149).

  • Forget everything you’ve heard about so call “born leaders.” Leadership cannot be taught, but leaders can evolve (Ermey 150). Anyone can grow into a leadership role over time through the lessons they learn from their own successes and failures and by observing how others before them acted and reacted in particular situations (Ermey 150). I believe that the principles of leadership can be taught, but the individual has to embrace those principles – doing it is harder than reading about it.
  • Leading by example is done with your actions. Your chance to motivate others comes as you show them how you take on the tasks facing the team and show them that it can be done and how (Ermey 150). “Leadership is more than giving orders and being in charge: it is a matter of character, earned respect, doing the right thing and always giving the best for your self and others,” (Ermey 151).
  • If you want to be a leader you will naturally surround yourself with people who expect more from you (Ermey 154). However, when you surround yourself with people who expect the less from you are in a gang – get out. Now. But just being put into a position of leadership doesn’t instantly make you a leader. You have to be prepared in knowledge and character (Ermey 151-152). Ermey uses the example of Private Cowboy in Full Metal Jacket, who, when suddenly thrust into a position of leadership while in Vietnam, isn’t prepared for the position and puts his troops into a bad position (Ermey 158).

The one thing I appreciate about military is that no one in a leadership position of the military was transferred in from civilian life into that senior leadership role. They all had to start either in Boot Camp or one of the officer training programs – they started at the bottom and working their way up. 

“At the end of the day, everyone in leadership has walked in the shoes of those they command. Their position of leadership has come after a gradual process of evolution. They’ve all been there, done that. Which to me, is the way it should be,” R. Lee Ermey (Ermey 159)

After reading nearly 50 books in 50 weeks and nearly being on this planet for nearly 50 years, I think I’ve stumbled across a fundamental problem with our government and corporate America. Often times in the Senior Executive Service of the American government (these are the top level bureaucrats that run everything in the country), and the chief executive officers of America’s  largest corporations, they have rarely actually done the job that relates to the product or service that they produce. In fact, when you apply for a job at the SES level the application explains that essentially the government is looking for good corporate officers, not good subject matter experts. Let’s ask FEMA how well that worked out for them with Hurricane Katrina. Lots of outstanding personnel in the FEMA ranks, but leaders without experience in the role.

Somewhere along the way, probably some consulting firm, convinced government and corporate America that the skills necessary to run these large organizations have nothing to do what they produce or provide (that just sounds like BS doesn’t it). Therefore, you get a bunch of people who are allegedly good at running organizations but not good at running a business. Running a business means providing quality goods and services to the consumer. I don’t think we see a lot of that today. I don’t think most of these business leaders were ever small business operators – the ones who are are usually the ones that are still succeeding.

Think about it. How often can you buy something of actual quality anymore? I think the next American revolution will not be against the government but will be by the American consumer. Since when should a TV only work for one year and we should be forced into one of the biggest scams of all, which is buying these maintenance and service plans? When did companies quit making good products and start selling insurance for the crap that they produce? When did it become okay to toss out things that cost hundreds and thousands of dollars and replace them after just a couple years of use, thus forcing us to buy more of the same thing? Nothing runs or works as long as it lasts anymore. We’re making things even more technologically complex, but all that gee whiz stuff starts to break after a couple of years then we have to buy more. And we wonder why the country is in a multi-trillion dollar deficit.

There are plenty of plug-and-play CEOs out there who will continue to be shoveled from one failing and bankrupt company to another. Maybe one day all of us will just quit buying stuff until they make something that is of the quality we used to hold ourselves to.

The companies that are the true leaders today are the ones with the CEOs who understand how the product or service works and understand their own industry. You don’t have to be a subject matter expert in everything that the company does nor do you even have to be the best at it (rumor had it that Steve Jobs was a pedestrian engineer at best) but you have to understand your product or service and your customer. Whether you are running business or the United States Government.

Ermey, Lee, and Lamar Underwood. Gunny’s Rules: How to Get Squared Away like a Marine.Washington, DC: Regenery, 2013. Print.

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