I missed my 21st birthday. I was a Sergeant in the Marine Corps and was at Norton Air Force Base waiting to fly to Okinawa, Japan on the day before my birthday. We took off very late that night and by the time we landed at Kadena Air Force Base on the island of Okinawa, it was the day after my birthday.
But I was not worried about missing this important milestone in my life. I was confused. I had been stationed at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Tucson, California. The Captain I worked for had assured me that I would not go overseas during my first enlistment because he had talked to the monitor who assigned Aviation Supply Marines. He had been told to allow me to finish my first enlistment at my current duty station because of the important role I played at the organization. But, a year later, here I was at MCAS Futema in Okinawa, Japan. Luckily, the Captain was also stationed here and I was sure he could help me understand how this had happened.
Once I completed my check in process, I was now ready to report to the Aviation Supply Department. Now, I would be able to solve this mystery. I checked in with the administrative folks and then made my way to see the Captain since I was told he was going to assign me to my new position. I knocked on his door and he motioned me in to his office. I properly reported for assignment and he told me to stand at ease. “Welcome aboard, Sergeant Bernat,” he said as he extended his hand to welcome me.
“Thank you, Sir,” I replied, “but I am a bit confused. When we were stationed at Tucson, you told me I would not get orders overseas and a year later, here I am overseas. Do you know what happened?”
The Captain laughed. “Sergeant, you did not listen very well. What I said was that as long as I was at Tucson, you did not have to worry about going overseas until your first enlistment was complete. So, let me ask you, where am I now stationed?”
Still puzzled, I replied, “Why, you are here in Okinawa, Sir.”
He smiled, “And where are you, now?” A wave of realization washed over me. “That’s right. I specifically asked for you to be transferred here after I got here. Sergeant, our keypunch section is awful. They will key in anything you put in front of them and never bother to ensure it is the correct format or information so as you can guess, most of what goes into the nightly update errors out. I knew I needed a good Sergeant to bring the training and the discipline that it takes to get this section back in line and cut our error rate. And that is when I just knew I needed to get you transferred to Okinawa. So, Sergeant, quite whining and go fix your new section.” He gave me directions on how to find the keypunch office and sent me on my way.
Before I tell you what I did to get their attention, let me discuss the important leadership trait of bearing. Bearing is the way in which you conduct and carry yourself. It is vital to making a good first impression. So, always remember:
So, I knew I needed to use my bearing to set the tone for my new team so that they would understand that my arrival meant excellence was going to be the new norm. So, I walked to the open door of the office and saw three Marines laughing and joking with their backs to the door. I quietly placed my briefcase down, placed my hands on my hips and just stared at them. Slowly, one of them turned around and saw me. Instinctively, he quickly jumped to one of the keypunch machines and pretended to work. The other two turned around and then did the same thing. I took one step into the office and said, “The next time I walk into this office, we will start the process of becoming the best keypunch section in the Marine Corps. Pass that on to the night crew Marines. Then prepare yourselves – the fun is about to begin.”
Yes, they were full of apprehension – they had no idea what to expect. But they knew immediately that the new Sergeant was about to take them on a wild ride toward excellence and they were either going to get on board or be left behind. In the end, they quickly responded to my training and guidance. Very soon, we were viewed as a valuable asset to the supply operation. And the Captain who requested my transfer to Okinawa told me after the first 30 days that I had lived up to his expectations and then some.
When preparing to take over a new leadership position, remember that your first impression, the manner in which you are perceived on day one, will be so important. So, to be an exceptional leader, use your bearing to announce to the world that outstanding leadership is not just a catch phrase spoken to impress but that it is a way of life for you.