Leadership Matters-Len Bernat[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap] GO WAY BACK with computers (a nice way of saying I am old). I remember keypunch cards. As a young Marine, I was there when the first aviation supply department conducted the very first wall-to-wall inventory using computer generated inventory aids – keypunch cards. As we were getting ready to start counting in the warehouse, a problem came to light. It seemed that some of our keypunch operators had been arrested at a party in town over the weekend and we now had to find someone to man the machines and that someone would be me. I let the Lieutenant know that I did not even know where the keypunch machines were located. He showed me and with help from the one available keypunch operator and the Sergeant in charge of our section, I was soon operating the machines like a pro.

I learned an important leadership trait that day without even realizing it. That is, as a leader, you have to seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions. I can tell you that on the day that the Lieutenant took me to the keypunch office, I could tell by the tone of his voice that I had to succeed because his reputation was on the line. I was determined from that point on to succeed at this new task. Two weeks later, the inventory was finished on schedule, the inventory was considered a big success, the lessons learned were shared with other aviation supply departments, and I was officially on my way to becoming a keypunch operator having demonstrated the proficiency needed to be assigned this field as a secondary Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). I had met the responsibility head on knowing my actions would determine the results.

So, if you are going to be a responsible leaders, here are some things that will be important to your development toward this goal.

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  • I said this before and I will say it again. Learn the duties of your immediate senior so that should the opportunity arise, you will be able to move up into that position. If you never get the opportunity, you will at least have a better understanding of the organizational structure and how your functions contribute to the success of your organization.
  • Seek different leadership positions that will give you experience in accepting responsibility in different fields. This can be done at work or in a volunteer capacity. So, join the Chamber of Commerce and work on one of their committees with the intention to someday lead that committee. Volunteer at your local church in a behind the scenes role that is matched with your natural talents. Find a non-profit that touches your heart and give freely of your time to help them in events. Opportunities to lead abound!
  • When given an opportunity, take it. You may think that it is outside your comfort zone or beyond your capabilities but you will be surprised at how successful you can be when you muster the courage to take the chance. So, if your boss asks you to head up a special project, don’t be afraid to say yes.
  • Perform every act, large or small, to the best of your ability. When you accept a responsibility, it is your chance to shine – so shine. Your reward will be increased opportunities to perform bigger and more important tasks in the future because you will be seen as the kind of person who always gives their very best effort to make a team successful.
  • In the absence of clear instructions, take the initiative to perform actions you believe the person who placed you in this position of responsibility would direct you to perform if he/she were present. Remember, you goal is to be successful, not to elevate yourself by making your boss look bad.
  • Should one of your team members not perform up to your expectations, carefully evaluate their failure before taking action. Make sure you did not contribute to their apparent shortcomings. Ask yourself if your instructions were clear, were the proper tools provided in a timely manner, did you follow up to see if the person was on task. Always look at a team member’s poor performance as a way to evaluate and learn new ways to improve your leadership. And if the failure is because the team member did not perform their task properly, then provide them with constructive feedback and corrective action. Remember, you may have to work with this person again in the future and would like better results, not resentment.
  • Finally, and this may be the most important tip I share with you, stand up for what you think is right. You must have the courage of your convictions because in the end, the one person you must confront every day of your life is you. I once was asked to do something I knew was illegal. When I refused, I was warned that my behavior would make me appear like I was not a team player. My response was simple. If this is a team building exercise, send me an email asking me to take the action and I will be glad to do so since it will be under your authority. Of course the response was, “I can’t do that!” Mine was, “Then you did not ask.” See, I know that each morning, I have to look at myself when I wash my face, shave, and brush my teeth, and I wanted to like who was looking back at me. If I were to lose my integrity, my honor, my sense of self, then I would never like the image I see in the mirror.[/message]

So that you know how important this is to me, let me share a final story with you. When Hazel and I became empty nesters, we got a puppy. Our youngest daughter came by to meet little Norm and was playing on the floor with him. I heard her say, “So, Norm, if you are going to live in this house, you have got to be responsible. If you pee on the floor and get your nose rubbed in it, it is your fault – you are totally responsible for your own actions and the results.” I laughed and she looked up in horror that I had heard her say what she did to the dog. But I could not help telling her, “Well, I know now that you were listening”. I am proud of the responsible young woman she has become.

Be responsible for your actions and succeed.




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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