Bringing it All Together

principles-written-in-cloud-Len BernatI have now shared with you eleven leadership principles that I learned while serving in the Marine Corps. These principles helped me lead my Marines in difficult situations and helped me be successful in my career outside of the Marine Corps. So, let me give you my most challenging experience and see if you can come up with the same solutions I did.

I was selected to head a test project. An existing division in the Aviation Supply Department would have its mission changed to become an internal audit division working directly for the Supply Officer. This division would be the eyes and ears of the Supply Officer to ensure the Assistant Supply Officer was operating the supply department according to the established Marine Corps orders. This was a dramatic change since in the past, all divisions worked and answered to the Assistant Supply Officer with no one holding this position accountable for operational decisions.

The Assistant Supply Officer for whom I was working was very upset. He did not like the idea that in this new position, I could report problems I found directly to the Supply Officer without every discussing the problem with him. I assured him that any officer who would use this position as a “got you” against another officer would not be able to effectively do this job because of the internal strife it would cause in the supply department. He was not buying it and he made it clear he was not going to support this test.

Since higher headquarters had insisted I be the officer heading up the test, the Assistant Supply Officer had no say in my assignment. But, he would have to provide me with the Marines who would be working for me during the test period. On the morning we began the implementation of the test project, my fellow Captain called me to his office and told me that my team was being assembled and taken to the office space we would be using. With a smile that can only be described as evil, he said, “Good luck making this test work.” With a chuckle, he dismissed me.

When I went to my office area, here is the team he had provided me. A Vietnam veteran Master Sergeant with a bullet still lodged in his back who the Captain was trying desperately to have discharged for medical reasons since he could not run (the fear being the bullet might shift and paralyze him). As you can guess, the Master Sergeant was no fan of the Captain. A Gunnery Sergeant charged with molesting his step-daughter and facing a General Court Martial who would be spending a lot of time at the base legal office. A Staff Sergeant with lymphoma who spent much of his time at medical appointments and a Staff Sergeant charged with negligent homicide, also busy with his legal team. Finally, my team was rounded out with a Corporal facing a General Court Martial for raping a 16-year-old girl and two Lance Corporals facing charges for selling drugs.

As I stood there, I knew I had to come up with the right words to ensure I immediately had this team ready to go to work in spite of everything else that was going on in their lives. So, I ask you. What would you have said to ensure you could successful test this important change that everyone from Washington DC to the local command was watching and expecting a fair and accurate assessment of an internal auditing division?

Before I tell you what I said on that very challenging day, let me remind you of the leadership principles that I have been discussing that would provide the best solution to this very precarious situation.

If you are going to lead, you need to start by looking inward and assessing yourself. You need to prepare yourself for leadership by following some very specific principles that will ensure your team, no matter how diverse, will follow you in the most difficult of situations. These five principles are necessary if you expect to be a successful leader;

  1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement
  2. Be technically proficient
  3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions
  4. Make sound and timely decisions
  5. Set the example

Once you have worked on preparing yourself for a leadership position, then you need to remember these six principles that will help you lead a winning team, a team that works together to be successful.

  1. Know your employees and look out for their welfare
  2. Develop a sense of responsibility among your employees
  3. Keep your employees informed
  4. Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised and accomplished
  5. Train your team
  6. Employ your team in accordance with its capabilities

So, have you thought about what you would have done when faced with the team members that the good Captain had provided me? Here is what I said and how I handled these Marines.

“Gentleman, each of you faces a time in your life where, whether you know it or not, you will be looking to me for help. See, whether you are facing a medical review board or a jury of your peers, I will be called upon to testify as to your value as a Marine and your potential in the future as a Marine or in the civilian world. I hold the keys to your discharge or punishment; I can make a difference in your future. It is my desire that I can make a positive difference in your life (principle – Know your employees and look out for their welfare).”

“But, what happens is completely up to you. If you give 100% to me as we test this vital function in the supply department (principle – Develop a sense of responsibility among your employees), I will give 100% to you when I am called to testify on your behalf and believe me, you will know exactly what to expect when I take the stand because I will have let you know if I believe you gave me your all (principle – Keep your employees informed).”

After that, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. I reviewed each inspection checklist before we went into any division (principle – Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised and accomplished), conducted training on how to investigate each inspection requirement and answered their questions so that they were prepared to conduct each audit (principle – Train your team). Finally, I assigned each task based upon my reading of their understanding of the task that we were about to undertake (principle – Employ your team in accordance with its capabilities).

What about my fellow Captain? After each division audit, I sat down with him and briefed him on our findings (principle – Know yourself and seek self-improvement). When problems were discovered, we formulated a plan of action to correct the problem and implemented the plan together (principles – Be technically proficient; Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions). Finally, we briefed the Supply Officer on what we found and how we had corrected the problem (principle – make sound and timely decisions). Together, the Captain and I formulated local training that needed to be conducted at all levels of the organization to improve our effectiveness as a combat aviation supply department (principle – Set the example). In other words, to his amazement, the Captain realized the new audit division was necessary and paid great dividends when teamwork was the end goal.

When the final brief was made to all the higher commands, the recommendation was that this would be a vital and necessary change that would improve combat readiness within the Marine aviation community.

The principles I have shared with will make you the kind of leader you have always wanted to be and will help you be the kind of leader your people have always wanted you to be. Be an exception leader – lead with these principles in mind.


Originally published at Bitzcatalyst360


Len Bernat

Len Bernat

Len Bernat is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. The secret to his success was his focus on creating leaders who were trained to know all aspects of their responsibilities and then providing them the support they needed to be their very best while being held accountable for results. His ability to quickly ascertain how each individual could be motivated allowed Len to be creative in his leadership approach so that the end result was a team whose focus was on team success and not individual accolades and whose loyalty to the mission carried them through even under extreme conditions. Today, he carries the lessons learned into his civilian position at Jackson County, Georgia. As a member of the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and its 2011 Purchasing Officer of the Year, Len is sought out for guidance in matters of leadership and procurement law and policy.

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