« This Veteran’s Day Weekend, consider Tampa from another perspective | Main | Forget Amazon's drones. Give the Marines some credit. They’ve been doing it for years. »

On Leadership: When people outside the military think of logistics, they often think of it as something alien. Good leadership is universal.

By Steve Geary | 11/24/2013 | 9:21 AM

In industry we often use the context of war and the lessons of Sun Tzu in The Art of War as a metaphor, but for military logisticians there is nothing metaphorical about it.  Military logistics is about positioning, planning, clarity of vision, and of course, leadership. 

War is just another kind of competition, just with higher stakes.

So, just like with Sun Tsu, the lessons of the practice of leadership and logistics in the military transcend, although the frame of reference is far different from that of the typical logistics practitioner.

I recall a great leader and military logistician we met along the way, Maj. Gen. Charlie Fletcher, USA (ret).  See “If it's Thursday, it must be Tonga: interview with Major General Charles Fletcher,” DC Velocity May 2007.  These days Charlie is a as group senior vice president at Alion, but when we met him he was as the Director of Operations and Plans (J3), U.S. Transportation Command.

That USTRANSCOM title is a mouthful, but the translation is simple.  Charlie was the senior operator for the largest logistics operation in the world.  The position itself suggests that he is an accomplished leader and logistician, and more than that Charlie is a warrior in the best tradition of Sun Tzu.

Charlie is a thoughtful and introspective man who earned the Bronze Star five times. 

The Bronze Star is the fourth-highest individual military award in the US Military. It may be awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone.  Note combat zone.  Charlie lived war for real as a leader and he did it as a logistician not as a metaphor.

That gives Charlie the right to stand tall in any crowd as a warrior, but Charlie is a self-effacing low key man whose greatest accomplishments are as a leader.  During our conversation Charlie was thoughtful, direct, and honest, and candid.  More important, Charlie’s choice of words was revealing.

Charlie’s favorite pronoun is “we.”  It isn’t just communication that makes a great leader.  What the leader communicates matters. 

A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.  While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.  For more, go here.

A servant-leader needs to be grounded and there was a really interesting signal in Charlie’s office.  The military facetiously refers to “love me” walls, where people put their egos on display.  What stood out in Charlie’s office was not chest thumping, but a low key souvenir tucked away on his bookshelf.

There was a red hardhat sitting on the shelf, a memento from his days loading and unloading cargo ships for the military.  Stenciled across the front of the hardhat was his call sign from days gone by, Stevedore 6.  When we talked to him, Charlie might have been one of the most powerful logisticians in the US Military, but what he celebrated and put on display not his ego but his heritage a guy who worked for a living loading and unloading ships.

This week I received a note from an old friend, talking about leadership.  She shared with me a snippet from an email she received called, “What 'favorite' bosses do that others don't:”

What is it that makes some bosses really great and others, well, just OK? What do "favorite bosses" do that keeps people motivated, engaged and productive? How do they consistently win the trust, respect and loyalty of their people?

When you think about the best boss you ever had, there's a good chance that he or she was a GREAT communicator.

The best bosses always seem to know just what to say and just when to say it. They're honest and straight-forward about everything from expectations and attitude to performance and pay. Their people are never in the dark about where they stand.

Mr friend is right, though I don’t think she goes far enough. 

Good communication is vital, but not sufficient.  Think about the servant-leader and Charlie Fletcher.  Communication matters, but the message matters more.

Author’s note:  if anybody knows where the snippet from me friend came from, please do send it along so I can properly attribute.



By submitting your comments, you agree to our Terms of Service.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph is a recently retired Marine Colonel with over 30 years of operational experience, proven leadership, and management success in the logistics and supply chain management fields. He is an executive consultant with ROSE Solutions and the Supply Chain Visions family of companies - consultancies that work throughout the government sector. Mike led the Marine Corps Supply Chain and Life Cycle Management Center at Marine Corps Logistics Command - responsible for supply chain and life cycle management of all ground weapon systems, equipment, and reparable components, the depot maintenance program, and equipment prepositioning program. During 2004-2008, he served two tours of duty in Anbar Province, Iraq as the G-4 for Multi-National Force – West, supporting all combat operations and coalition efforts to revitalize Iraqi economic development and stability. Mike's efforts were recognized with the Bronze Star for his first tour and the Legion of Merit for his second. He was widely recognized as a visionary and innovator in the Marine Corps logistics community.


Popular Tags

Recent Comments

Subscribe to DC Velocity

Subscribe to DC Velocity Start your FREE subscription to DC Velocity!

Subscribe to DC Velocity
Go digital