Returning To Active Duty

Leadership-MattersThe Supply Officer had called the Warehouse Officer and me into his office. “Gentlemen, I have decided to have you two swap positions. Lieutenant, you have a lot of potential so you need to become more familiar with how the computerized system works so going to the Stock Control Section to manage the computer input and output will be a good learning experience. Len will be able to help you transition and grow since he will be right next store in your old office. Go ahead and get your stuff together to make the move today. I need to talk to Len about the warehouse.”

The Major paused as the Lieutenant thanked him for the opportunity and left the office. Once the Lieutenant closed the door, I received my instructions. “Len, the Master Sergeant (affectionately known as ‘Top’ in the Marine Corps) in the warehouse is on the ROAD (Retired On Active Duty – means he shows up each day but does nothing to contribute to the accomplishment of the mission). He either needs to make it official and retire or he needs to get back to work. That is why you are going to the warehouse. It is your responsibility to make one or the other happen but I am not going to tolerate his lack of motivation any longer. Do you have any questions?” A quick “No, Sir” and I was dismissed to begin this challenge.

By lunchtime, the Lieutenant and I had successful moved to our new offices and brought our teams together to announce the changes being made. Right after lunch, I invited the Top to join me in my office (which was located such that you had to walk through the Top’s office to get to mine – something I would be able to use to my advantage).

Before I tell you how I approached my problem, let me tell you the things that I took into consideration as I decided what I needed to do to bring the Top back on board.

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  • Know what motivates the person you are trying to re-energize. In the case of the Top, I knew that he took great pleasure in chewing people out for mistakes. I would use this to my advantage until I retrained him to approach corrective action in a better manner.
  • Know the behavior you want to correct and target your action accordingly. In this case, the Top just did not seem to care anymore. He came to work late each morning, left early for lunch but returned late, and left early each day. Once at work, he sat in his office and if he needed to talk to someone, they had to come to his office. I needed to get him out of his office so he could see the problems.
  • Know how you are going to demonstrate the behavior you want so they have a positive example to follow. If I was going to get the Top back on board, he had to know that I was committed to the overall success of the team. I had to have a plan that kept both of us motivated.
  • Know exactly how to correct them when they fail. In all likelihood, the Top would resist at first and might even push back. When this happens, you have to be ready to correct the him in a professional manner that re-enforces the desired outcome. That way, correction is positive but swift. [/message][su_spacer]

So, now let me share my solution with you. As the Top settled into the chair in front of my desk, I began to outline my plan. “So, Top, let me tell you how I will start each day. I will come in at about 7:30 am each morning, get a cup of coffee, a clipboard with a tablet, and a pen. I am going to walk around the warehouse and write down things I find that need to be corrected before the end of the day. I expect you to do the same thing. At eight o’clock, you and I will meet in my office to compare our lists. If you find something that I did not note or you find the same thing that I found, you may call anyone into your office and do whatever is necessary to get the problem fixed by the end of the day. However, if I find something that you do not find, you have to get someone to fix it but you MUST ask them to do so nicely – no yelling, no hollering, no threatening. Then, at 4:00 pm each day, you and I will walk the warehouse together to ensure that everything has been corrected to my satisfaction. Any questions?”

“No, Sir,” he said with a smile.

The next morning, I was sitting in the Top’s office when he arrived for work at 8:15 am. “Good morning, Top,” I said, “we are a little late getting our first meeting started. Get you list and let’s start comparing.”

“Sir, I have not made my list yet. Let me get settled and we can meet in a little while.”

I had expected this was going to happen. “Well, then, Top, your list is empty. Get a tablet and get ready to write while I outline what I found.” The Top sat at his desk and began to take notes on what I had found and what I wanted done to correct each problem. Once I was done, I went to my office to see what happened next. I heard the Top give a list of names to one of the Marines walking by and that he wanted them in his office now. My fun was about to begin.

Once the Marines were gathered in the Top’s office, he began to rant and rave about being embarrassed. I quickly joined them in the office, “Top, please ask these Marines to step outside for a moment. An emergency has just come up and we need to talk.” The Marines filed outside and closed the door behind them.

I smiled at the Top and began to shake my finger at him as I said in a very polite tone, “No way, Top. Remember our rule. You did not find anything this morning so you can’t yell at these Marines. You have to ask them nicely to please fix the problems by the end of the day. So, now, you are going to call them back in here, apologize for raising your voice, and ask them nicely to PLEASE fix these problems and that you and I will be checking on them at the end of the day. And remember, I am right here so I will hear every word you speak.” Now the smile faded and with steely eyes I punctuated my request, “Got it!”

The next morning, when I arrived at 7:30 am, the Top was there waiting with his list. “I am ready for our meeting, Sir.”

“Good, Top, I will meet you at 8:00 am like I told you in the beginning,” as I walked to my office trying to hide the smile on my face. Not only was the Top back on board, but over time, I was able to change the way he interacted with our Marines so that we became a dynamic team.

If you are going to be an exceptional leader, you must learn how to motivate all your people so that they want to give their all every day.


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 ability to manage people has acquired a predominant role when it comes to guiding an organization to achieve expected results. To make the task difficult is above all the fact that the collaborators are not all the same; each of them is driven by different stimuli and nurtures personal expectations towards work. If you add to all this that the manager does not always have a say in the choice of members of his team, it is clear how fundamental it is to know very well their employees, understand their aspirations, motivations and attitudes, to be able to form around a group of competent people, motivated to better interpret and share the objectives of the company.
    A leader, through the exercise of the role and his personality, instructs, coordinates, values and positively motivates his work group. Knowing the interests, problems, aspirations and expectations, individual and common, of the group members will allow the development and enhancement of each person’s abilities and potentials in order to achieve even ambitious strategic objectives.
    The evaluation of the collaborators must therefore be understood as a continuous process, to be deepened and refined in successive stages, each of which adds value to the results achieved and allows to define new objectives and goals. A process that involves all the members of the team, new and old, destined to bring out all the untapped potential.

    • Aldo – Your comment brings out a very important truth – a leader must know their people intimately if they are every going to have the knowledge they need to motivate them to be their very best and thus, create value for the organization. Thank you so much for highlighting this important aspect of leadership that I alluded to in this article. Your insights always hit the bull’s eye.