It’s The Little Things That Make A Difference

“Sir, I have an Out Of Bounds Request” from one of our students. His grandmother is having emergency surgery this Saturday and his family has requested he be present. His instructor, the course supervisor, and I have all discussed this matter with him and he understands that he must be back and in the barracks by the Monday morning muster. He has attached his airline’s tickets to show he has round trip transportation for this emergency. All we need is your signature.” And with that, the Command First Sergeant handed me the paperwork.

I took a quick look at the request and the tickets. With a smile, I looked at the First Sergeant, “I want PFC Smith (not his real name), the instructor, the course supervisor, and you in my office at 1300 today to discuss this.”

“Is there a problem, Sir?” the First Sergeant asked with an uneasiness that indicated he knew I had caught something. I reinforced that we meet at 1300 and stood up to go to lunch.

When writing a report, preparing an important presentation, or gathering information for a discussion at a meeting, ensuring you look closely at your work is critical. Your professional reputation is on the line each time you put your name on any work product. So, let me share some things that you can do that may ensure you shine each time.

  • Spell check is good. Grammarly.com is better. You have these wonderful free tools in your toolbox so use them. Nothing will distract from your intent more than poor spelling or grammar.
  • Have a trusted co-worker read over your report or presentation. Encourage them to look for mistakes in spelling, grammar, and those wonderful homonyms that mess us up every time i.e. there and their, be and bee, etc.). Listen to them if they point out something is not clearly stated or might be confusing. Remember, you are trying to persuade with your words so ensuring your words are conveying the clear message is important.
  • Once you have perfected your work product, give it to someone who may know nothing about the subject at hand and ask them to read it. Then, have the person tell you in one short sentence the main purpose of the report or presentation. If they are able to articulate your desired purpose, you know that the person receiving the information will comprehend and understand your intent.
  • If you are gathering facts for a meeting, report, or presentation, ensure you check and double check that you facts are accurate. In this day where anyone can post to the world wide web, there is a lot of disinformation floating around. So, look for multiple sources that confirm your data.
  • If you are doing a presentation, practice so that you know your material and could present just from the slides if you lost your notes. This will truly make your presentation credible.
  • Finally, set the material aside for a day and then reread it yourself. Ask yourself this important question. If I were receiving this, would I be impressed with the professionalism of this work product? If the answer is yes, you are ready to present the material.

So, let me finish my opening story. I received the Out Of Bounds Request on the Thursday before the student was to leave. So, my first question to myself was why, if this is emergency surgery, are they waiting until Saturday? What doctor wants to schedule a Saturday emergency surgery? That made me look closer at the tickets. Now the fun was about to begin.

When all the Marines were gathered in my office, I began my presentation. “PFC Smith, you may not know this but I started my career as an enlisted Marine and attended this very school where today, I am you Commanding Officer. While attending the school as a Private, I filled out an Out Of Bounds Request and clearly stated that my intent was to see my girlfriend. My instructors were so surprised that I was dumb enough to list my girlfriend as the reason for wanting to go home that they forwarded the request recommending approval just because they wanted me to learn a valuable lesson. I did. The Commanding Officer approved the request because, and I quote, ‘for the first time, one of the students was honest.’ So, son, let me ask you one question and I really want you to be honest with me. Your request is not for an emergency operation for you grandmother. You just want to see your girlfriend, right?”

PFC Smith swallowed hard and very softly said, “Yes, Sir.”

I picked up my pen, signed the request, and said, “Then, you shall see your girlfriend. Now, if you will return to your classroom, I would like to talk to these gentlemen for a minute. You are dismissed.”

As soon as Smith left, the First Sergeant spoke, “How did you know, Sir?”

“Did any of you bother to even look at the airline tickets? If you had, you would have seen that they were purchased a month ago. So, unless Smith is clairvoyant and saw his grandmother was going to need emergency surgery this Saturday, he had to be telling a story. And come on, emergency surgery that can be postponed until the weekend? That alone should have set bells off in you head! Attention to detail, gentleman, would have enabled each of you to figure this out long before you let it get to me. I expect you to also learn from this and never let it happen again. Dismissed.”

If you are going to be an exceptional leader, then ensure your work product demonstrates your professionalism and attention to detail in a manner that sets an example for your team to emulate.

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.


  1. It truly is the little things that can mean a lot. I had an employee that told me her grandmother died five times in one year. I was amazed. Love your story Len it is very eye opening. I like that you do storytelling. I grew up on a farm and storytelling was about the only entertainment we had. It was also how we learned. Thank you for sharing

  2. The lesson learned in this article is such an important one. Honest is the best choice. And it is not what you say but how you say and present it. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Len. I love wisdom presented in stories.

  3. I always found that when something has to be done, and it has to be done now there is always something else going on. When a salesman does this, they want you to stop thinking and buy. When business associate does this, they want you to stop thinking and commit.

    When given time, we all are rational. And to some, being rational is just not a good thing.

    • Chris – Good point. But, as I have said more than once to someone who stated that they needed something right now, “You lack of planning is not my emergency”. And that is usually the case. Thanks for your comment.

      • I love the direct approach. But I can’t get away with this because the sort of people I work with can be very Machiavellian. Instead I say “Oh really? How long have you been sitting on this?”. The usual reply is a few weeks. Then I go “Okay. I’m assuming you don’t want to wait a few weeks for me to do this. You dropped this in my lap without giving me any warning. You know what I’m like, right? I’m a guy that dots the eyes and crosses the tees. You’re not going to get this in the time frame you want. Let’s set up a meeting and drag in a few of the other guys to hammer this out.”

  4. Once again, a valuable lofe-lesson from someone well-versed in disciplined management with a keen eye for detail! Thanks a lot, Len Sir!

    As an aside, with all due respect Len Sir, a small query out of mutual respect and friendship: It seems grammarly failed to deliver the goods on this article as I see some typos left unchecked.