Pushups Till the Sunrise—
A Soldier’s Journey from the Front Line to the Bottom Line

[Our guest blogger is John Durfee. John is an Operation Freedom War veteran and a manager for Airsplat. He offers a perspective not frequently articulated on leadership.]

I left the military as a noncommissioned officer and I hold that as a point of pride. That position meant that I was in charge of anywhere between 8-20 men during my deployments. Today, I find myself in quite a similar position working in an office as a department manager. Instead of patrols and firefights, I find myself working up reports and competing with other companies for customers—the mission still being to "win hearts and minds" and defeat the enemy. The leadership skills I learned in the military helped me become a driven and focused leader. Here are some pearls of wisdom I've acquired from drill sergeants, instructors, and commanding officers during my time in the service:

Being A Leader Is:

  • Being a leader is a privilege not a right
  • I've seen many both in the military and civilian life who do not apply this mindset. They are the ones who think promotion to a higher position means less work. In the military, being promoted means you have the same duties you had as before plus new responsibilities. It's a privilege given to you by showing your potential for greater responsibility. A real example would be on my second deployment. I had just been promoted to squad leader in a new group and we needed to do vehicle repairs and maintenance. Instead of just assigning tasks to everyone else, I was lying on my back in the dirt changing the oil, fixing radiator leaks, and getting about as tired and sweaty as the rest of my crew.

  • Being a leader is trusting the team you manage
  • Sometimes there are leaders who can do it all, and who very much try to do it all. It's not the fact they lack the skills (most are usually amazing multi-taskers), it's just they can't trust the work to anyone else. Working over someone's shoulder is not really letting others do work. It's working by proxy through your employees.

    Here's a prime example from my first deployment. When clearing out a suspicious building, it's usually the squad leaders' jobs (those who work directly under an officer) to set up a perimeter immediately after. Due to proper leadership and training, the squad leaders know to do it without being told. If an officer needs to tell where to place every individual man, that's an example of micromanagement and poor leadership. They're wasting time tasking work that should have been the squad leader's job in the first place. Time and attention is taken away from the bigger picture. A good leader should know who to trust with positions of responsibility so they can manage the bigger scope of the mission/assignment.

  • Being a leader is giving the best training possible
  • If you're a manager, there's a good chance you get to choose who to hire, or at least bear the responsibility of training them. If your employees make a mistake, the responsibility not only reflects on that worker, but also on yourself. For example, if I had one of my patrolmen caught asleep on guard duty, I would have to be out there with my patrolmen pulling a double shift the next night. Now in a workplace, such forms of reprimand rarely ever happen. But you will have to answer to your CEO or superiors when quarterly reviews or performance assessments come about.

  • Being a leader is setting the standard
  • This leads me to my next point: You set the standard of performance that comes out of your unit or office team. If you're unsure in your decisions, you'll have a team that will question your orders, or not execute them with speed and determination. If you're a lazy leader, your team will reflect that. I make sure to be clear, level-headed, and determined—even at points when internally, I wasn't. Imagine getting caught by surprise in an ambush. Which would you prefer, a squad leader that shows his fear and hesitates, or the one that forces it aside and starts giving clear commands. To be a leader is to become the best possible version of yourself as a soldier, as a worker, and whatever your job requires of you.