Are You Sure?

Leadership-MattersI had invited my Master Sergeant (“Top” as they were affectionately known) to join me on the upstairs catwalk that ran the length of our warehouse. I had an important question for him.

“So, Top, who would you say is the hardest working Marine assigned to our warehouse?”

“Why, that’s easy, Sir. Lance Corporal Smith (not his real name). He is a self-starter who keeps busy all day long,” he replied with confidence.

“I knew that would be your answer. That’s him walking to the table on the receiving floor, right?” The Top answered in the positive. “So, I am going to turn my back to the warehouse. I want you to stand here in front of me as if we were having a long discuss but I want you to watch him without being too obvious. Let me tell you without looking what he is doing. Right now, he is going through the papers in the basket on the table. Let me know when he picks out a piece of paper.”

I paused for the Top to let me know. “Now he is walking just outside of the warehouse bay door and will pause to watch them work on the aircraft over on the flight line. Let me know when he starts walking again.” Another pause. “Okay, now he will walk to the customer service desk where he will talk to the other Marines working there for a while. When he starts walking again let me know.” Pause. “Now he will slowly walk to the back of the warehouse while looking at the paper in his hand. If someone comes out of the offices below, let me know because he will stop and talk to them. Okay, right about now he is at the back wall. So he will turn to his left and begin walking across the back of the warehouse. When he gets behind the tall mount out boxes, he is going to stop for a while. I have no idea what he does behind those boxes but I want you to let me know when he becomes visible again.”

We waited about five minutes when the Top said he saw him again. “Now, he will begin going up and down each aisle of racks, looking at the paper and the shelves as if he were looking for a specific location but he will not actually go to a location.” I paused again. “Right about now he should be getting back to the front of the warehouse. He is going to put the piece of paper in his hand back in the basket on the receiving table and get another piece of paper. And now, he will make the same trip all over again – just watch.”

“How long have you known he was doing this, Sir?” the Top said shocked by the revelation.

“Well, Top, I have been the warehouse officer for a week so it has been a week. My question for you is why didn’t you know?”

The Top had fallen for the oldest trick in the book when it comes to a work environment that is so spread out and fast paced. He had a person who knew that if he kept moving, the assumption would be that he was working. So, how do you ensure that your folks are actually working when faced with the challenge of this kind of work environment? Here are some tips.

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  • Create small teams with a designated team leader. This has so many benefits. It ensures that each member of the team will be given productive work to accomplish and that they have someone on the team checking on their progress. Additionally, you will have the opportunity to mentor your team leaders to teach them how to grow so that they will be ready for greater responsibilities in the future. Finally, you want the team leader to begin training and mentoring his/her replacement so they can accept a promotion when a position becomes available.
  • Visit each team leader every day and review their work schedule. This will allow you to ensure they have the priorities set that match the priorities you received from your superior. This also allow you to evaluate their planning skills and their ability to execute their plan effectively. Finally, you will be able to observe their ability to distribute assignments fairly across their team so that the team is working together and everyone is contributing to the team’s success.
  • Observe from a distance. Having a second floor catwalk for my warehouse enabled me to just stand up there and observe all the interactions taking place on my warehouse floor. So, find places where you can just observe the everyday progress of the different teams. It will not take long to find a weak link if you just watch.
  • Finally, be out on the floor. I know that there are times when you will have important paperwork or business that must be conducted in your office. But do your best to walk your area as often as possible and engage every worker. This allows you to get their feedback, to find out how things are really working, and most importantly, to engage them about life outside of the work environment so that you will have your pulse on the general welfare of all your team members.[/message][su_spacer]

As you can guess, Lance Corporal Smith was provided “special instruction” on work ethics and was assigned to a Sergeant who was responsible for ensuring he was productive. The Top began to spend more time on the catwalk just watching and keeping things running much more smoothly. And me, I watched a warehouse operation that was faltering begin to blossom into a highly effective team that worked together toward success.

If you are going to be an exceptional leader, you must make time in your daily schedule to observe every aspect of your operation. It does not matter how large or how busy your area of responsibility is, exceptional leadership means you must stop, look, and listen. Be an exceptional leader.


Len Bernat
Len Bernat
LEN 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. Upon his retirement, Len worked in several positions before finally starting a second career in governmental procurement. His experience and leadership skills enabled him to be recognized as the 2011 Governmental Procurement Officer of the Year for the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and opened doors for him to teach at many of the association’s conferences. Len was also called to the ministry and was ordained at Ashford Memorial Methodist Church in November of 1999. Today, Len is the Pastor of Maxeys Christian Church in Maxeys, Georgia. Len has been married to his wife, Hazel, for 36 years and they have three daughters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Grab your copy of Len's new Book – Leadership Matters | Advice From A Career USMC Officer. Using his life experiences as examples, Len takes the eleven principles of leadership and the fourteen traits every leader should possess—which he learned during twenty years in the Marine Corps—and teaches the reader how he was molded and shaped by some of the best leaders the Corps had to offer.

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