We Had to Get Rid of Those Clowns

In April, when azaleas, dogwoods and redbuds bloom beneath green towering pines, Augusta, Georgia is one of the prettiest places in the world.  April is also when the Masters is played on the Augusta National Golf Course and, in April of 1970, I began Military Police school at nearby Fort Gordon.

Having completed Army basic training at Fort Bragg, I was anxious to get away from there.  I knew that MP school would be interesting and certainly easier than the training I had just finished; boy, was I ever mistaken.

In its infinite wisdom, the Army had established the Leadership Training Detachment made up of trainee volunteers who were put through a one-week leadershiptraining program.  The concept was to develop leaders by having trainees serve as squad leaders.  What an idea!  To pick someone without determining if he had any leadership experience, jam him through five days of some kind of schooling and then put him in charge of a squad of trainees.

When the bus arrived at the CQ of the company to which I was assigned, a loud, squeaky-voiced, pasty-faced, 18year-old drill sergeant wannabe greeted me.  As we off-boarded the bus, we were formed into squads under the command of a trainee squad leader and marched to our barracks where we were given five minutes to unpack before reassembling to “police” the parade grounds.  It took three minutes to unpack and two minutes to decide we had to get rid of these clowns.

Thus began a concerted campaign to make life miserable for our squad leaders.  If they commanded “right turn”, we would go left.  If they said “attention”, we would stand at ease and if they said “stand at ease”, we would come to attention.  Observing that the troops were out of control, one at a time the squad leaders were relieved of their duties and the regular company cadre took over.  It took only a week until there were no more trainee leaders.

There are natural leaders, there are people who have over the years developed leadership skills and there are appointed leaders.  Of the three, the appointed has the lesser chance of being an effective leader.  You can’t “wish” leadership upon somebody and you stand the chance of losing a good employee when you try to do so.

A typical response to a leadership void is to “appoint” a good worker to the job: “Joe’s quit, we need a new yard foreman, so let’s promote Jim.  After all, he’s our best yard employee, makes few mistakes, doesn’t miss work and is always on time.”  But, can he lead?  If Jim doesn’t have the skills to lead, then the odds are that you are going to end up with another leadership void while losing your best employee at the same time.  It’s better to have a void in leadership than an incompetent leader.

The “troops” will recognize and rebel against bad leadership long before the management does.  I had a “hard-luck” sheet-metal crew foreman.  On every job there would be a problem: the ductwork wouldn’t fit right; a supply-air register would be scratched; floors would be damaged.  Then, when the foreman quit, the problems ceased.  The crew had launched a successful passive-aggressive campaign to rid themselves of their foreman.  Unfortunately, the company suffered as well as the incompetent crew leader.

Whether as a parent or boss, the most important leadershipteaching tool is the example you set.  I once had a boss who was a great guy, an innovative thinker but a poor leader.  He would insist on timeliness but would always be late; we would have to work late to achieve deadlines he set but he failed to meet; his correspondence was careless, containing mistaken information and the list goes on.  His vision was brilliant but his leadership was poor and the organization suffered for it.  When he left, his successor was not near as smart or innovative, but he set a great example of leadership and the organization prospered.

Identifying, training and mentoring leaders is a challenge .  A challenge that is easy to put off for “more important” things.  However, the long-term health and survival of any institution, including a family, is dependent upon assuring good leadership.


“The manager administers; the leader innovates. The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective. The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why. The manager has his eye on the bottom line; the leader has his eye on the horizon. The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.” -Warren Bennis


2 responses to “We Had to Get Rid of Those Clowns

  1. great article Billy and oh so true..

    • Developing leaders is one of our most important tasks; especially as parents. Good parents focus on grades, good manners and hygiene. They also should make a conscious effort to focus on teaching and modeling leadership skills.

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