The Best Leadership Advice I Never Took


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Have you ever been given a really good piece of leadership advice… and then didn’t follow it? Did you later regret not following it? I did. And I have. And I learned a lesson from it.

I hope it might be instructive to share my own lesson with you.

30 Years ago yet seems like yesterday

It happened over 30 years ago. I remember it well. I was 20 then. College student. Enrolled in Naval ROTC. Training to become a leader in the Marine Corps as a Marine officer upon graduation. Each summer, we ROTC students went through various sorts of military training.

I had just returned to campus in the fall after summer training. I began recounting my summer’s experience with my military professor. Major Morris, USMC. A wise person. I was indignantly venting about all of the stupid, petty, time-wasting activities we had been subjected to during our training. He listened intently, without interrupting. I never got the tired old lecture that I’d come to expect about how “discipline” is good for you. No. Instead, Major Morris offered this leadership advice.

He said, “Cliff, why don’t you keep a journal? And in that journal, write down all of the stupid, petty, time-wasting things you are required to do and how they make you feel.”

Breaking the cycle

He paused briefly before continuing. “That way, once you have been promoted a few times, and you have reached the position where you are a leader and the one who is making decisions or setting the policies that require your subordinates to do stupid, petty, time-wasting activities, you can look back at your journal and remind yourself what it was like to be on the receiving end of those. Do that, and you’ll be a better leader than the leaders whose decisions you’ve just experienced.”

Wow! That hit home. Sadly, I didn’t keep such a journal. Wish I had.

Do you have to do stupid things?

I realize that most organizations don’t operate the way the Marine Corps does. So, if you work for a corporation, you may never have been required to do stupid, petty, time-wasting activities. But, I doubt it. And in case you have… or in case you are doing them now, why don’t you follow the Major’s leadership advice? You’ll grow to become a better leader for it.

As a consultant for the past 20+ years, I am now often put in a role of translator… I translate between the perceptions of senior management and the frontline. I’m often given a mandate to facilitate a two-way conversation because leadership management and the frontline don’t speak the same language. The needs of the business as perceived by senior managers are seen one way. And the nature of the work that needs to be done to meet those needs is seen quite differently by people on the frontline. Guess what? People on the frontline often think they are being required to do things that are stupid, petty, and that waste their time.

The impasse is preventable. Of course, if everyone followed Major Morris’s advice, then I suppose there would be less work for us leaership consultants. So, on second thought, pretend I never shared this advice with you and call me in the morning.

Receiving other helpful leadership advice like Major Morris’s can be found in your free copy of the eBook 7 Keys to Employee Engagement now.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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