How I Got Promoted by Nearly Staging a Mutiny
I’d had enough. There we were. Again. Just sitting there. Another day of doing nothing. My blood was slowly starting to boil.
I was a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps in charge of four other Marines. It was one of my first times officially in charge of anyone. I could see their morale slowly seep out of them a little more each day. I had to do something.
So I asked our brand new platoon commander, a Lieutenant, if I could take them out and train them or work out or give them a class…anything!
“Naaa, stay here,” he said. Again.
He didn’t tell me why we couldn’t go train. He didn’t give a reason. Then again, he didn’t have to, but it would have helped.
My blood was now in a slow-rolling boil.
Finally one day after another day of doing nothing I said “Sir, we’re leaving. We’re going out to train. We need to do something to get out of this building.”
“Lance Corporal, I told you to stay here. You’re flirting with the M-word now.”
Being a part of the U.S. Department of the Navy, the Marines use nautical terms such as hatch (for door) and porthole (for window) and mutiny (for what I was trying to do).
OK, I got the point. But I kept pushing, perhaps with more tact now, that we needed to engage as a team in something. Morale was at rock bottom. Marines, like most people, aren’t built to do nothing for long.
So I thought about it a bit more wisely and asked the Lieutenant if I could develop a training program for his review.
“Sure, write something up and let me look at it.”
Wow, OK. So I did.
It was run through the chain of command and it was approved.
And soon we were out in the woods running land navigation courses and other training exercises.
Everyone was happier. Morale was higher.
Soon after that I was meritoriously promoted to Corporal before I was supposed to be promoted because of “proven leadership.”
5 Leadership Lessons Learned From This Episode
Everything I learned from this has come into handy in my subsequent leadership positions in the military, corporate leadership positions after I got out, and even volunteer leadership positions I’ve held.
Here are the lessons learned:
#1. A leader needs to take initiative
If you are a leader and you see something that isn’t right, simply do something about it. Leaders take initiative, period. Leaders act even in the absence of orders using their intellect and judgment to guide them.
If you are a leader who has a boss who doesn’t appreciate initiative, then rethink things a bit. Find a way to take action that works for your boss as well. Sometimes you just have a bad boss who micromanages, thus doesn’t appreciate initiative.
If that’s the case, don’t let it discourage you. Never lose the spirit of initiative as that is the hallmark of a leader. Eventually someone will appreciate this quality in you.
#2. Sometimes to get things done, play the game
I could have done things correctly from the beginning of this episode if I’d just approached the Lieutenant with a training plan first instead of getting all mutiny-like.
In many organizations, there’s simply a process they have for doing things and many aren’t interested in people stepping over that process because of some unrecognized genius who has a great idea today.
It just is what it is here. Sometimes you have to fill out those forms, follow procedure, stand in line. In this way, you can get things done more effectively for you and your team. So don’t always buck the system. Choose your battles. Play the game how it’s supposed to be played (most of the time) if you want to be more effective in making things happen.
Following procedure and knowing when to buck it is critical to effective leadership.
#3. Sometimes you need to lead your leaders (with tact and professionalism or it won’t work)
Many leaders, especially younger ones or new bosses could use the guidance of a more experienced subordinate.
There’s a way to do this tactfully though. There’s a way to help without making them feel threatened or disrespected. You can become a trusted confidant. A right-hand man. And this is good for your team and your leader.
Part of being a good leader is being a good follower. You have know know when to challenge leadership and if you do, know how to do it tactfully.
You shoot your efforts in the foot if you approach things with belligerence, indignance, or a poor attitude just because you think you’re right. That was my problem then.
Be helpful. Be professional. Be respectful. Use tact. This greases the skids in all directions. Plus it’s just the right thing to do. You’ll want your people to act like that when you are in charge.
And maybe if you start out as a good assistant to the regional manager you’ll wind up as assistant regional manager someday.
#4. You’re lucky if you work for an organization that recognizes leadership
A lot of employers and companies don’t highly prioritize leadership. Sometimes you’re just a cog in the wheel, “not paid to think” as they say. Don’t let that discourage you. Don’t lose your creativity and initiative. Sometimes you just have to know your role. And sometimes your role is to follow. Sometimes it’s to perform a specific function quietly. You can still be someone worth following even if you’re not in charge.
I know people who have been fired for trying to improve things but the thing is they weren’t in a job where people wanted to hear thoughts…at all.
This simply happens in some jobs. It’s OK. Don’t let it discourage you from always thinking like a leader.
But if you work for an organization (like the Marines) that values initiative and leadership, count yourself lucky because they don’t all do this.
And if you’re in a position to recognize and reward leadership, please do it. If you have good leadership in your organization, it is the most valuable asset you have.
#5. A leader has to act for the well-being of “their people” even if it hurts the leader
Troop welfare or subordinate welfare is of prime importance to a good leader. A solid leader will readily put themself in harm's way or risk their comfort to make sure “their people” are taken care of.
A good leader is like a loving parent in this way. The well-being of their child is always, without even thinking about it, prioritized over their own.
So a good leader never throws their team under the bus…ever. A good leader takes responsibility for any failure completely while giving complete credit to their team for the wins.
A good leader bleeds first and eats last.
Luckily, I didn’t have to walk the plank. I was flirting with it though. A little too closely perhaps.
But I learned many valuable lessons from this experience.
I hope these lessons can help you as well in your role as a boss at work or as a volunteer leader…or even as a follower. Because all great leaders were great followers first.
Just one bit of professional advice though before you go:
Try not to actually get charged with mutiny as I hear it's frowned upon on resumes.