I grew up in West Virginia with a fairly sheltered childhood. I was particularly small, even today I am only 5' 7", and very thin.
I really didn't think my parents could afford to send me to college and it was never really discussed. I knew I had to do something and staying at home just didn't feel like an option. Emphasis on the word "feel". No one said anything to be about the future. No one suggested I should think about what I was going to do after high school. I just knew I had to do something, and something of large proportion.
As it happened, I was in the commons area and recruiters were there enticing us to see the world. I had always dismissed them and today was no different except... On this day, I noticed the Marine recruiter standing at the window looking out at the field below. I went over and asked what had caught his attention. Actually, at the time, I probably said "what's ya look'n at?" To my surprise he responded with "an incredible day". That was it. No strong arm tactic to join his branch of service. No asking me what I was going to do after high school. Just "an incredible day".
I reflected on his response for a few minutes and asked what made it so "incredible". His response was again concise - "because I'm proud of what I have become and what I can still accomplish". I asked if he was referring to being a U S Marine. "No" he said, the Marines had helped him become confident and see the world differently but it was his ideals and personal pride that was motivating his feelings.
"I'm proud of what I have become"... To me, he had made a commitment and dedicated himself to a cause. He excelled at this endeavor and now was reaping his reward. I too wanted that feeling and signed up a week later.
I made rank quickly through meritorious promotions up to Sergeant. Perhaps too quickly but I never felt out of my element or overwhelmed. Then one day after just making Sergeant I was in the main equipment area where I made the lesson mistake of a lifetime.
A Lance Corporal approached me and challenged my order regarding the equipment. Marine Sergeants simply are not questioned! In response to his challenge I proclaimed the following stupidity...
"You don't have to respect me, you respect what's on my collar!!!!" Of course that was referring to my Sergeant stripes. As soon as the words left my mouth I knew I had just displayed a huge hole in my leadership skills.
I did an about face and went into the hall where I cussed and carried on with myself about what had just happened. I then stormed right make into the area, called the Lance Corporal over and said at the top of my lungs - "you and I both know what I just said was misstated". I wasn't wrong mind you but rather tongue tied. What I meant to say was "I need you to respect me and then appreciate my rank".
That has stayed with me forever. It's not the rank that makes the difference but how one is respected for their ability to lead. The leader must act in the best interest of the organization and team without sacrificing the rights and ideals of the team members.
Professionalism is doing all we can to be proud of who we are and what we can accomplish. Team professionalism is being proud of the team,the individual and the accomplishments that only a unified team can achieve.
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