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“He’s under the tank, sir” – Lead by Example

December 20, 2007 3 Comments

(This is Part 2 of Leadership Principles)

My platoon was out in the field on training exercises. We had been out there for about two weeks so we all smelled kind of “ripe” at that point. One of the more senior officers in my battalion came to my unit’s area to see how things were going. This “gentleman” personified the term – he was an “officer’s officer” (versus being a “soldier’s officer” which we’ll explore in a moment).

He sauntered up to my 18 year old driver (a brand new buck private – the lowest ranking man in the Army) and said “Where’s Lieutenant Figliuolo?”

My driver pointed toward our tank. A pair of boots was sticking out from underneath the vehicle. The officer in question became irked.

“No. Maybe you didn’t understand my question private. Where is LIEUTENANT Figliuolo?”

“He’s under the tank, sir.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said he’s under the tank, sir.”

The senior officer barked “Lieutenant Figliuolo!” I almost smacked my head on the underside of the tank because I was startled by his call. I quickly scrambled from below my tank and stood at attention before my superior.

“What were you doing under that tank?”“Fixin’ track sir.”

“Why are you fixing track?”

“Because it needed fixed and I’m already done with all my other responsibilities.”

This senior officer shook his head somewhat befuddled at what an officer would be doing turning a wrench. He left me with a brusque “Carry on.” Needless to say the story had circulated among all the enlisted men in the company by lunch and across the battalion by dinner. Suddenly Lieutenant Figliuolo had street cred. I was “one of them” – a regular working guy who just happened to have an officer’s bar on my shoulders. The simple act of crawling in the mud to turn a wrench earned me respect for who I was rather than respect for what I wore on my uniform. It made me a “soldier’s officer” – an officer who truly cared about and cared for his soldiers first and foremost.

It’s a simple principle, really. Accept the fact you’re no better than anyone else. No one. And no one is any better than you. We’re all people – we just have different skills and responsibilities. You’re not above any work you have the skills to perform. Acting like you are will earn you nothing but disdain. Showing that you’re not will endear you to all the folks who make you successful and make you look good – your team. So when the occasion calls for it, get down in the mud and turn the wrench.

– Learn more about how to create your own set of leadership principles in my book One Piece of Paper. Buy your copy here.

– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

3 Responses to ““He’s under the tank, sir” – Lead by Example”

  1. ghegedus2e says:

    It’s the easiest way to earn street cred, getting your hands dirty with the troops – whether it is out on a military training exercise or doing an all night software install in the corporate world. It’s also fun, and shows you care.

  2. Mike Figliuolo says:

    @GPaisley – thanks for the thoughts. This is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. Sharing the pain with your team demonstrates commitment as well as the notion that you don’t see yourself as better than them. I applaud both your commitment as well as your willingness to try to educate your colleague on how they can improve their performance. Again, thanks for the thoughts and I hope the project goes well.

  3. GPaisley says:

    I have been working on a project where I travel to one of our field locations every week for three days to meet with the project team and get things done. I routinely have a team of eight show up twice a week to a 90-minute team meeting while I am in the office and then on a 30-minute conference call when I am back home.
    One of my colleagues travelled to the same location (a 4.5 hour flight each way) for a 2-hour meeting to which precicely no one showed up. I tried to tactfully show him that when he doesn’t appear committed, no one on the team will be committed. I have had great success and have a lot of traction with this team because they know that I am making a personal sacrifice (3 days a week away from my family over a 4-month project)–how can they fail to show up to just a couple meetings?

    This isn’t exactly the same thing as Mike’s talking about, but I think the effect is the same.

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