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Life’s Lessons as I Leave the First Sergeant’s Role,

Life’s Lessons as I Leave the First Sergeant’s Role,


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Published by: api-6245257 on Jan 09, 2009
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Life’s Lessons

As I leave the First Sergeant’s role, I would like to take a moment and share some thoughts and life experiences with you. During my tenor as the First Sergeant, I attempted to provide the leadership and guidance that would have benefited me the most when I was a young Soldier in the Army. There are times when we all need a boot in the rear or a pat on the back. The hard part is figuring out which one to do, who to do it to and when to do it. At the end of the day, I relied on my past experiences and my real concern for your growth as a Soldier, and just as importantly as a person. Leadership is easily explained, but not so easy to practice. Some of you are supervisors now, but are you leaders? Please take your responsibilities toward your Soldiers seriously, their future and the Soldiers who will serve under them in the future will depend on it. The points below are there to remind you of important matters that I have learned over my career and I have tried to share with you on different occasions. 1. It is better to give then receive. I have learned that you will get more out of your career and life if you simply learn to help others and put your wants and needs second. I have learned that you will receive much more in life by giving then by always wanting to receive. 2. Knowledge, discipline and persistence will lead to success. I have learned that the better you can focus on these three attributes, the more success you will have in your career and life. I have not been overly impressed with “intelligent people”. The smart people talk and talk, but I haven’t been blown away by their ability to actually get things accomplished. Knowledgeable people on the other hand, learn what needs to be done and then they find the discipline to focus their efforts to do it day after day, and with persistence they accomplish a great deal in their life. Just learn to stay with it, whatever it is, believe in your self and don’t give up. That is Success! 3. Do what you say you are going to do! Most people speak without really thinking through what actions will need to be done to fulfill their promises. Do not do that! When you make a promise, think about it carefully, and if you believe that you can do it, then you damn well make sure you do it. These small matters come up everyday. Timeliness, getting a project completed, picking up the children. Life is full of people who do not keep their promises, think about how you perceive those people. If you want people to respect you, your actions, not your words will get it done. Under promise and give people more than they expect, don’t underestimate how important this point is. 4. Your actions demonstrate who you really are; your words tell us who you want us to believe you are! We all know people who talk a big game, but when it comes time for action, there is nothing there but hot air. If you truly want to understand someone, watch them. The action that a person takes truly tells you all you need to know about that person. What they say is nothing more than what they want you to think about them. Words make us feel good or bad, but actions are what make us who we are. Listening is important, but watching will tell the real story! 5. Success! How do we define success? Each person will have a separate answer for this. I am sure many of you think that I define success by how much money you have invested, or how disciplined you are with your fitness, or maybe how much rank you have achieved by the end of your career. None of these are even remotely close to how I define success. Success to me is simple. How many people were you able to help in your lifetime! I think we are here to help each other grow and learn and achieve. The hard part comes into play when you fight the quick help so you may help a Soldier down the road. That is where discipline comes into play. The ability to help that person down the road with your discipline and guidance today will pay off much more

than giving them a pat on the back today. I grade people on how much they help others, period! 6. Give a man a fish, you feed him today. Teach a man to fish; you feed him for a lifetime. I say this often, it is at the core of my beliefs. I believe the best thing you can do for someone is to help them, help themselves. Does it take more time than just giving them a quick answer, or in this case the fish, sure it does. The truth is, you will probably live a long life and what you learn today can easily pay off handsomely in the future for you and your Soldiers. Do not be short sighted and just try to be happy today. Life is a lot like chess, the winners are always a couple of moves ahead of everyone else. 7. Proactive, not reactive. If you spend your days simply trying to deal with what needs to be done right now, you will always be a step or two behind. You have to train your mind to look ahead and plan and prepare for what might be coming down the pike. I would tell you that most of your day should be spent preparing for future jobs, missions, etc… Again, this is a mindset, you have to train yourself to do, but if you do, it will certainly change your life. Deal with tomorrow’s problems today, they are never as bad as you think! 8. If your life is a mess, it’s your fault! Take full responsibility for your life and expect it of the people you interact with as well. Many things that happen to us happen in an indirect way. How you deal with a person or a problem today can have major consequences 2 months from now, maybe 2 years from now. You decide how people interact with you based off of your attitude, personality and competence. Your ability to work effectively with all kinds of people will shape your life in a positive or negative way. It all rides on you! 9. The most successful people I have known, were the one’s who worked well with others. Not the smartest people, not the most aggressive, not the prettiest, not the most cut throat, but the one’s who could work well with everyone. This is the greatest skill for you to learn as you age. This skill can dramatically change your life if you throw yourself into it. How you deal with a person today, could easily pay you back 2 years from now when that person is in position to help you. Treat each person, young or old, rich or poor, a lot of rank or very little, as if they will be your boss in 5 years. Take a moment and think about that, it may change the way you see them next time. 10. Believe in yourself, but realize that the world is changing as you read this. When we see older people complain about the youth of today, it is easy to shake our heads and just call them old farts who don’t have a clue. One day you will be one of those old farts! During your lifetime you will experience incredible change, some you will like, and some you will not. Your ability to change and learn as you get older will shape your world. The way you don’t become one of those old farts is by taking the time to understand what is new and embracing new idea’s and new ways of doing business. The Army will be very different in 5 years, incredibly different in 10 and hardly recognizable in 20 years. It is a challenge to you to stay current with life and learn to embrace change. It is coming whether you like it or not! 11. Throw yourself into what you do. Enthusiasm is something that is hard to fake. It is contagious and a must if you want to motivate people to go that extra mile. We all see those people who seem to love what they do and it can almost drive us crazy to watch them enjoy their work so much. We can learn from this. The most success I have had was because I gave all of myself to that position. You can show up and put in the hours or you can truly integrate yourself into your work. I have done both and I am here to tell you that if you want true success and true fulfillment in your life you have to give all that you have to get it. The more involved, the more you have at stake, in the end you will receive so much more from that commitment. Will it be

perfect? Don’t count on it. Will there be headaches and great challenges ahead? You bet! The bottom line is that you will receive only the amount that you are willing to give. If you haven’t known real job satisfaction, look in the mirror, you are the person holding you back, not the boss, not the co-workers, not the family, it is you! 12. Educate yourself on human nature and human beings. I learned to understand the difference between reality and theory. In a school house and in a book you can study theory, it sounds good and it fits neatly into how life should be. In reality, human beings are involved and it is a lot messier. When you conduct yourself and work with others, always factor in the human element and understand their responses to what you will do. Understanding the reality of life versus the theory will help you to succeed, although it may be a rough road that you take. The road of life is quite bumpy, don’t expect anything different. 13. Be organized. Your ability to be a professional and to be a leader will require you to be organized to the minute detail. Good leaders have all of their personal and professional business taken care of quickly so they can focus on their Soldiers problems and assist them when necessary. Poor leaders are not organized and therefore they spend too much time trying to get their own stuff in order and are a step behind in trying to help their Soldiers. 14. Are you a leader? It is not easy. If it was, most supervisors would be good leaders. The reality is that you have to build a foundation of qualities and then be able to stand up for what you believe in. That means making decisions. Showing candor when others shrink away. You have to know what to do, hold yourself and your Soldiers to that high standard, and complete the mission while dealing with problems along the way. You become a quality leader gradually. It takes time, you learn from your mistakes, and you learn from men and women who have come before you. It is always a work in progress, you are always learning and changing as the situations change. 15. Lead by example. The single greatest attribute of a great leader in my mind is the ability to lead by example. I have never known a quality leader who did not lead by example. Soldiers are always watching to see if you are doing what you tell them to do. You have to show them that you are not a hypocrite and you are not too good to follow the rules as you require of them. Of course, anyone who has been in a leadership position knows, there is more asked of you that Soldiers are not aware of and they don’t see the other work involved. So what, they see what they see, lead by example or you will lose the respect of your Soldiers. 16. Nobody is perfect. Leaders are expected to be perfect and when they make mistakes it is quickly pointed out by their Soldiers. It is very easy to point fingers at our leaders and tell them when they are wrong, any moron can do that. It takes guts to be a leader and stand up to the scrutiny of others who simply want to complain and find fault. The best way I know of to handle the inevitable mistakes is to identify it in public, laugh at yourself a little, and let your Soldiers know that you screwed up and you will try to fix the problem quickly. Do not hide mistakes, Soldiers know and they will not look favorably on you unless you just come out and say that you screwed up. They will forgive and everyone moves on from there. 17. Fitness is mandatory. Show me a leader with a gut and I will show you a leader who has lost the respect of his Soldiers. Lead by example and get fit and stay fit. Fitness shows discipline, persistence, and the ability to overcome laziness. A leader who is fit is has shown other abilities just by being fit. A fat Soldier demonstrates laziness, a lack of discipline and someone that will falter when times get tough. Fitness will help a leader in all facets of their professional career. The first impression you make on someone is how you look. It is imperative to have the right look; Soldiers demand that of respected leaders.

18. Money. In our system money is very important. It can cause you a great deal of problems if you do not learn what to do with it. Take the time to understand what to do with it or you will never have any. Set aside a tidy some for the emergencies, they will come, I promise. If you are not prepared, you will go into debt and this will affect your performance as a leader, be guaranteed of that. If you truly want to get ahead in life, learn and understand how to invest your money so you can build a future that is full of greater opportunities for you and your family. Sacrifice today for a better future tomorrow. Many people before you have done it with less pay than you make. It takes discipline, commitment, and persistence. Hmmm, that sure sounds familiar! 19. Leaders are readers. Knowledge is a very powerful tool. Soldiers expect you to have all the answers. Of course that is impossible, but you can help them to find the answer and your ability to know comes from reading. Great leaders have come before us, read about them, understand them, and then develop your own leadership style based off the attributes you find to be most important. Become a balanced person. A balanced leader is one who is strong in many area’s, not just one like physical fitness. Become a well rounded leader, it will assist you in helping more Soldiers along the way. To be well read is to have a better understanding of the life around you, and that certainly includes understanding the psychological make-up of your Soldiers. 20. It is a journey. There will be bad days. There will be days where you make mistakes. There will be days where your Soldiers let you down. There will be days where the officers drive you crazy. That’s life, it has happened to everyone else before you. Start each day anew, give Soldiers another chance, and never give up on a Soldier. Never give up on yourself! You have to learn to enjoy the journey and embrace the time you have in a leadership position. There is nothing more important, aggravating or rewarding as the opportunity to lead Soldiers. When you are old and retired, you will look back on your experiences and with hindsight what will you say? My intent is to say that I kept learning and kept working for each Soldier, as if they were my son or daughter. To watch a Soldier grow and mature into a fine young man or woman is a wonderful sight to see. Understand that they will cuss you at times, certainly they will say things behind your back that are not flattering, but rest assured when they need help, you were there to pat them on the back or kick them in the rear. I have learned to enjoy these times and I truly enjoyed my time as the First Sergeant working with you fine Soldiers. I wish the best for all of you and I would like to remind you that life will continue to throw you some curves; you will get knocked down a few times. Get up, shake yourself off and remember that some of the greatest achievements were made by men who failed many times in their life. They did not quit. I will leave you with this short biography about a man who did not quit even though he came from poverty and his life was full of failure. He did not quit!

This man was a 22 year old business failure. The same year he ran for the legislature and was defeated. The next year he was a business failure once more. Three years later he was said to have suffered a nervous breakdown. Two years later he lost in an effort to become Speaker of the House in the State Legislature. Five years later, he ran for Congress. Again it was in vain as he lost badly. Three years later he ran for Congress and won, only to lose his re-election bid two years later. Six years later he ran for the U.S. Senate and lost. He ran for the Vice-Presidential nomination and lost that, too. One more time he ran for a Senate seat, he lost again. Still not quitting, two years later, that man became the sixteenth President of the United States. That man was Abraham Lincoln.

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