Leadership-MattersI 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:

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Your manner should reflect alertness, competence, confidence, and control. When people first meet you, the manner in which you are perceived will set the tone for the future relationship. If the first impression you make demonstrates that you are assured of your abilities and have the capability to accomplish any task you are assigned, you will quickly be seen as an asset and important member of the team. Reflect anything less than these traits and you will spend much of your time building your reputation and having to prove your worth to the organization. So, the old adage that first impressions count is especially true in business.
Hold yourself to the highest standards of personal conduct. Everyday your leadership will be on display to your team. It only takes one misstep to damage everything you have spent years building. Never compromise your values. You can overcome a miscalculation on a report – you will never overcome a loss of your integrity or ethics. Once trust is tarnished, you will never shine again.
Never be content with meeting only the minimum requirements. Anyone can reach the lowest acceptable standards. But if you want to lead your team to excellence, you must demand excellence of yourself. So constantly strive to understand all the functions of your organization and how your function fits into the overall success of the business. Stay on top of current trends in your field of expertise and keep learning all you can about how to take advantage of these. Train yourself and train your team. Most importantly, remember, your example will set the tone for your team so let your bearing shine.[/message][su_spacer]

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.


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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  1. The transition strategy from the old to the new leader depends much on the context and, in the world of work current serves a more widespread driving skills which informs about himself the management, which on one hand is engaged in the management of complexity, on the other side should draw on elements of leadership to cope with the uncertainty continues. First of all, then, the new leader should diagnose the situation he find and identify clearly the problems and opportunities. Assess his strengths and his own weaknesses, and identify the most relevant personal vulnerabilities that could penalize him in the new situation. Once understood how to “read” the new organization, summarizing, I would say that the main things to do are: to promote ourselves, adapt the strategy to the situation, accelerate own learning, get some initial successes, build coalitions by setting up a network of support among managers and employees.

  2. Len, as always, your perspectives are right on target. I wonder if this quote from our second point, “Never compromise your values. You can overcome a miscalculation on a report – you will never overcome a loss of your integrity or ethics. Once trust is tarnished, you will never shine again.” could append itself to the other points because your values and integrity are like mainlining quality traits into your experience. Surely they will affect first impressions, and second, and third, and you character impacts your work ethic (working above minimum).

    • Jane – You make a very good point – strong integrity and ethics is the very foundation for exceptional leadership. Thank you for this wonderful insight – this is how we can grow in these forum – when good ideas are willingly shared.