Loyalty in The Face of Adversity

Leadership Matters-Len BernatAS THE EXECUTIVE OFFICER (XO) of a Marine training command, I had just finished going over the Fitness Report (civilian equivalent of an evaluation) with my administrative officer. I was pleased that I could grade him outstanding (the highest possible grade) on most areas of the evaluation. There were four areas where I felt improvement was possible and I had graded him as excellent in these areas (the second highest grade possible). I had outlined my reason for each mark and provide a positive improvement program that would ensure his next evaluation would contain all outstanding grades. His reaction floored me.

“No, Sir,” he said, “I always get all outstanding marks. You will not like what happens if you do not give me all outstanding marks.”

“Warrant Officer, are you threatening me?” I asked firmly.

“No, Sir, I am just telling you that you need to change this or you will regret it,” he replied.

“The Fitness Report will be submitted as written, Warrant Officer. You are dismissed.”

By that afternoon, the Warrant Officer handed me my copy of a letter he had sent outlining why my evaluation of his performance was tainted by my obvious racial discrimination against black Marines. He had sent the letter to the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, both the Congressman and Senator of the district in the State of Mississippi where we were stationed, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Commanding General of the Marine Corps Education and Training Command, the Chief of Naval Training, the Chief of Naval Technical Training, the Commanding Officer of the Naval Technical Training Center, and finally, our commanding officer (who was now implicated by the fact that “he had allowed it”). Before it was all settled, he would send several more of these shot-gun letters out concerning how he felt I was retaliating against him for making this information known. As a result, there was an in-depth investigation into my leadership and how I evaluated my Marines that would take a toll on the command, my Marines, my wife, and of course, me.

As soon as I realized what was about to happen (I knew based upon the letter that once someone figured out who was responsible to actual look into this matter, an investigation would be coming), I went to my commanding officer. I instructed him that because of this letter, he needed to counsel me on my responsible to be fair and impartial in the treatment of my Marines and in their evaluations. I told him the documentation he was to create to cover this counseling must state in no uncertain terms that the Marine Corps, the command, and he personally would not tolerate racial discrimination in any form. I made it clear that whatever he put in writing, I would sign without question.

“Why? Why would you tell me to do this, XO?”

“Sir,” I began, “I know that I have done nothing wrong but sometimes, that is not always important in an investigation of this nature. I have 18 years in the Corps. Whatever happens as a result of this investigation, I will be allowed to finish my last two years and retire. I may be in some out-of-the-way place, but I will get my 20. However, you are a young officer and have a long, promising career ahead of you. So you need to do this to ensure that when the investigation starts, you can demonstrate that you took immediate action to ensure your command was not going to tolerate any form of discrimination.”

“But, XO, if you have done nothing wrong, why are you telling to counsel you?” The CO was still bewildered by my request. I had a one word answer for him.


Loyalty means that you are devoted to the company for whom you work, to the leadership of your company, to your peers, and to your team members. But for loyalty to be an asset that creates success, we need to understand every aspect of this trait.

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  • Loyalty is not something you insist upon, it is something you earn. Any discussion of this trait must begin with this very important understanding.
  • Loyalty is a two-way street. You have to show loyalty in every aspect of your performance but the organization, the leadership, your peers, and your team must also be loyal to you.
  • Loyalty is not an excuse to compromise your integrity. As a matter of fact, any leader who would ask you to do compromise your values or the values established by the company for the sake of loyalty is not being loyal to you.
  • Loyalty does not take advantage of your loyalty. We all have families and need to have ample time to be with them. We all need time away from work to relieve the stress of our jobs. We all need rest to enable us to have the energy to devote to our jobs. So, if your leaders are constantly asking for more and more of your time and using “as a loyal employee” for justification, they have stopped caring for you and are now taking advantage of you.
  • All organizations have problems but loyalty says you keep them internal. Do not discuss the problems in your company with others – especially your competition.
  • Being loyal to the leadership of your organization means you never talk bad about the leaders in your company to subordinates. If you disagree with one of your bosses, go to him or her and discuss it so that you can present a united front to your team,
  • Which brings us to the last important aspect of loyalty; you may not always agree with the decisions that come from the front office, but if the instructions are not a violation of your integrity or the law, you have an obligation to support and implement the new policy as if you had come up with the idea yourself.[/message][su_spacer]

So, after many months of investigation and over 400 pages of verbatim testimony, I was exonerated of all accusations. It turned out that the Warrant Officer had used this threat every time a reporting senior had pointed out a deficiency and in the past it had always worked in that they would give him the grades he wanted. He was actually shocked that I just would not give into his demand. As he told the investigator, it would have been so easy if I had just given him all outstanding marks like he wanted.

And my CO. He told me as he was leaving and turning the command over to me that he knew it was in good hands because he had never met a more loyal Marine who was willing to do whatever was necessary to protect the Corps, the Command, and his fellow Marines.

[bctt tweet=”To be recognized as an exceptional leader, you must demonstrate uncompromising loyalty.” username=”bizmastersglobal”]

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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