This is one of my all-time favorite stories. It even has full feature coverage in my upcoming book One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (that’s the cover there on the left). You can even pre-order a copy of the book now and get a ridiculously large discount on Amazon (CLICK HERE TO BUY) or Barnes & Noble (CLICK HERE TO BUY). Not sure how long those discounts will last so… you know… Anyway, on to the important stuff.
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. Then things got really interesting…
“No. Maybe you didn’t understand my question private. Where is LIEUTENANT Figliuolo?”
“He’s under the tank, sir.”
“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.