What Leadership Looks Like

My friend Tom told me a story about his best friend growing up. His friend joined the Army after high school. It was there that he ran into the meanest, foulest human being he had ever encountered during his young life, his Gunnery Sergeant. He was there to break the young men who had enlisted down and build them into soldiers.

Each day, the Gunnery Sergeant would drill the men under his charge. He worked them hard, and he didn’t give them a moment of peace. He was always there, always challenging them. Late in the day, after everyone had had enough and all were both mentally and physically exhausted, he would start challenging them. He’d start by calling them names and telling them how soft they were, that they weren’t fit to serve in his Army. He’d curse at them, belittle them, and make personal attacks on individuals straight to their faces. And then, he would make the ask.

He’d say, “Which one of you wants to come up here and tangle with me?” He’d continue, “Doesn’t any of you want to give the old man a go? C’mon, let’s see what you’ve got?” He told them to, “Step up. Take one step forward.”

This abuse went on for weeks. Everyone had had enough, but no one wanted to fight the Gunnery Sergeant. One day, he issued the same challenge he’d issued for days and days before. He pushed a couple times, and Tom’s best friend stepped forward and said, “I’ll do it.”

No one could believe what they had just seen. He stepped up to take on a challenge which came with a very low chance of success, and a very high probability of being physically hurt by someone who was clearly better prepared for this sort of contest.

The Gunnery Sergeant turned to Tom’s best friend and pointed at him. He said, “There’s your squad leader,” and he turned and walked off the field. He wasn’t looking for a fight. He was trying to determine which of his soldiers would lead under the worst of circumstances.

Here in the United States, it is Memorial Day, where we honor those who were lost serving their Country. All of them stepped into a situation knowing that their lives may be lost, including my Uncle, Frances Xavier DeVille who was lost in Vietnam in 1969. My wife’s Grandfather wasn’t killed in WWII, but he was a ball turret gunner in a B17 and was shot down over Germany, where he served 80 days as a POW before escaping.

Thank you to all who served their country, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to others.

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