A few months ago, I traded messages with one of my Marines I had the honor of leading in Iraq. He was a 19 year old Private First Class in 2003. Today, he is leading Marines as an officer. In hearing this, I became curious about how he had developed as a leader. I asked him: "If there was anything he remembered or learned from me (good or bad) when I was his platoon commander?
"There is one thing that always stood out to me. And it didn't at the time, but it became more clear as I had more Plt Commanders and began looking back on my career as I approached command. You talked to each and every one of us like we were just like you. College or not. Age or not. You treated everyone of us the same, and you had a genuine curiosity when you interacted with us. That aspect of leadership I think is innate- one cannot fake it, cause your guys will see right through it. It sounds simple, but I truly believe you cannot be an effective leader unless you genuinely care about the people who work for you. You may be able to get the job done without it, they may do exactly what you say, but that doesn't always equate to leadership. You'd be surprised how cold and distant some Marine leaders are. That always stood out to me- the act of being completely genuine; that's what makes people want to work for you."
It was satisfying to know that my actions communicated that I cared for my Marines, but as I reflected on my thinking from those days, I remembered one dominating thought.
"I WAS NOTHING WITHOUT MY MARINES."
An officer of Marines can only be an officer of Marines, if they have Marines willing to follow them. I thought of my platoon as an extension of my body. They were my heart and soul. Taking care of them was the same as taking care of myself.
Did I make mistakes? Your damn right I did, but I learned from those mistakes and carried on. That was my responsibility as well.
My success was only through the success of my Marines. My life depended on their lives. I was 100% responsible for them, therefore, I had genuine care for them. Happily, that care was an unconscious effort. I did not have to force my actions to demonstrate that. I am even more happy that my actions did, in fact, communicate my intentions.
Your organization is nothing without your people. Your position as a leader is nothing without your people who are willing to follow you. If you feel you have nothing more to learn as a leader, you are not serving your people and your organization. Treat your people as if they are your heart and soul, because they are, and they will take you and your organization to a level beyond your imagination.
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