In 2014, I left the Marine Corps as a bitter, angry rifle company executive officer. A First Lieutenant, whoop-di-friggin-doo. Arrogantly, I held myself in a very high regard. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I was peacetime Marine. A one-pump chump. An amphibious veteran with only a few moments of actual operational excitement in my military career. I constructed a narrative that my battalion was dysfunctional and singularly focused on destroying morale and ending careers. I morphed into the ultimate curmudgeon and somehow convinced myself that I was the one with all the answers. Perpetually negative thinking devolved into self-destructive behavior, unnecessary stress and poor mental and physical health. All of that based on a story I told myself.
I decided to confirm what, in my head, I already knew. I scheduled interviews with every Non-commissioned officer and above in my battalion. My questions were initially pointed at the command, attempting to drive home my own agenda. Essentially, I sought to confirm that they, the command, were fucked up.
Well, I wasn’t all wrong. The leaders were fucked up–but it wasn’t always the command. Sometimes, I was the fucked up leader. Sometimes it was my peers. But sometimes, things were fine or good or great! But I discovered that the most interesting conversations had nothing to do with leadership at all. It was all about the men (I didn’t serve with any women, but we’ll get there!) and their path to becoming Marines. What they gained from their service. Who they were and who they eventually became.
I’ve never enjoyed anything quite as much as interviewing my former Marines and comrades. I’ve discovered so much about them, their motivations and drive to succeed and continue serving. Most of all, the importance of absorbing the bullshit, so they don’t have to. If you’re a leader, it is your duty to lead. Not to bitch. Not to make excuses. Not to act as though you have more answers than anyone else. It is your duty to understand the men and women you lead, not to assume they care about your bullshit. Because, they don’t.
Today, I’m not even mad. As it turned out, I had nothing to be mad about. Only grateful, now, that I had the chance to lead extraordinary men. Even more grateful that they still answer the phone when I call.