Respect must automatically be given and it must be earned.
I saw a question on Quora this morning and it got me thinking about my time in the Army.
The key is that this line about respect goes in two different directions. A leader must give those he/she commands respect upon assuming the position. And then, the leader must earn their respect. A leader never assumes they automatically get respect as a person — the position they assume has respect built in to the institution, but never personal respect and the leader must earn that institutional respect or else lose it.
I found in the Infantry and Special Forces that I was never let down when I automatically gave respect to my soldiers upon assuming command of a unit. My mantra was: You’ve got my respect; all you can do is lose it.
I never said anything about getting their respect. I just had to earn it.
I took over a Scout Platoon that was reputed to be a bunch of losers and had just failed a major test. I noted something during the sign over of equipment. The outgoing platoon leader was hard on the men — he wanted to charge them immediately for every missing widget and doohickey (dohickey’s are important; they are what you use to pound on the widget– every mech infantry guy knows just get a bigger hammer and you can fix it!).
After we signed everything over and he departed, I brought everyone in, tore up the charge sheets and told everyone just make sure the gear was there tomorrow. And it was. I eventually learned they had deliberately failed that test because they hated being treated like children by the outgoing platoon leader.
Leaders always ate last in the chow line. Always. Leaders were the last out of the platoon CP. Leaders were the last out of the motor pool. Leaders got under their APC and broke track. Leaders signed out an M60 for the ruck march and carried more in their pack than anyone in their platoon.
Leaders serve their followers, not the other way around.
Leaders have to listen. When we returned to garrison from my first deployment in Special Forces, I learned something new. In the Infantry I cleaned my weapons. As I started to take apart my rifle, my team sergeant stopped me and told me to give it to the weapons sergeant. I initially didn’t want to — I felt my weapon was my responsibility and he shouldn’t have to take care of my gear. My team sergeant pointed out that it was his expertise. And that I had to respect his expertise. What the two of us needed to do was our responsibility: the After Action Report. Updating SOPs. Analyzing how we had led the team.
I loved how when we were in Isolation preparing for a mission, we could just portion out the mission to the experts. A direct action demo mission? The two engineer sergeants had to figure out how to blow up the target. My team sergeant figured out infiltration and exfiltration. Medics their thing. Commo their thing. Weapons their thing. Intel sergeant gathered the intel. I listened. I learned. But I also had to make the ultimate decisions.
The leader is always responsible. Always.
Originally published at writeitforward.com on April 2, 2017.