A great lesson from a military friend

If you are like me, every time I am in an airport and see a military man or woman in uniform, I am compelled to go up to them and thank them for their service.  And many times, I actually do thank them.

In my mind, that is the ultimate service one can give—dedicating one’s life to serve and defend others.  And behind every serviceman or servicewoman is (hopefully) a strong servant leader who is guiding them.

I recently attended a good friend’s change of command from the position he has held for the last three years as Command of the Tactical Training Group, Pacific in the Unites States Navy.  I had never been to something like this before and thought it would be fun to see what it was all about!  I will tell you, it was an honor to attend this event, not only because I was so proud of my friend and his accomplishments, but also to be reminded of the sacrifices that all of the men and woman who volunteer to serve their country make for the sake of others.

My friend, Captain John S. Mitchell, III, held numerous leadership positions during his Navy career, most involving high level operations that required strong leadership to ensure the safety of his team. Although his resume impressed me very much, what inspired me to write this article about him was what his colleagues, peers, and his “manager” had to say about him.  One of his colleagues said that Mitchell’s biggest accomplishment was building a strong team. He said that, “Captain Mitchell never had an us vs. them mentality—it was always WE.”

I couldn’t help but compare this to leaders in organizations around the world, and wonder if they truly understand how important it is to create a strong team and to get team members to feel like we are all in this together.  It is pretty clear to understand the importance of teamwork when lives are in danger, but what about in our daily interactions with our own teams?  Would your team say those same things about YOU and YOUR leadership?

Achievement and humility

What was also very telling to me, after all of the accolades my friend received from his peers and leader, was how humble he was about his accomplishments.  He made a point of passing the credit on to his co-workers, team members, and leaders that helped make his job “easy” and made him “look good.” Mitchell said, “I was just doing my job.”

Humility and praise for others—great qualities of a leader who believe their job is to serve their team so that the team is able to do their jobs better.  How I wish that leaders in organizations understood the importance of their role as a leader and their ability to make or break someone’s self esteem, confidence and even career.

I left reminded that there are so many lessons we can learn from the military service and this day was no exception.   I left the event feeling very proud of men and women in uniform, and the work that they do.  I was also proud of my friend who so modestly impacted the lives of so many in a very positive way.  He made me want to be a better leader…how about you?

About the author:

Kathy Cuff is one of the principal authors—together  with Vicki Halsey—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Legendary Service training program.  Their customer service focused posts appear on the first and third Thursday of each month.

5 thoughts on “A great lesson from a military friend

  1. Thanks Kathy for this timely blog posting. It helped crystalize some thoughts for a discussion I’m about to have with an employee today.

  2. The military is very close to my heart, and you are correct in saying that many leaders today could learn the importance of team building and humilty from them. Good article Kathy!

  3. Kathy; I agree with what your saying and I often find this style of leadership in people who work in violent occupations such as the military, police, fire and rescue services etc. What I don’t know, and if anyone does please let me know, is why is it so uncommon outside of that type of environment, because the team is still the most important thing if you want to achieve.
    Having said that I have one good example, small but significant of this type of leadership, see my post at: http://www.ipsoinsights.com/2012/03/leadership-its-little-things-that-count.html
    Kathy all leaders would do well to read your post and reflect on their own leadership style.

  4. Great story. It gave a valuable lesson in humility to managers. Instead of taking all the credit for the teams successes and throwing team members under the bus for failures, managers should lead as a servant to their team members.

    In other words, leadership should praise and encourage their team members successes to upper management. Also, they should stand in the gap for their team members when they fail in front of upper management.

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