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The 5 best military leadership one-liners

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U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Jillian Hix, 20th Public Affairs Detachment

Spending any amount of the time in the military will expose you to some memorable and colorful characters. Many of these are leaders whose particular attributes make them well suited to lead men in combat. They possess a depth of uncommon leadership that is often conveyed not in long speeches or drawn out lectures, but rather in passing quips.

Here are the 5 best military leadership one-liners

It don’t matter what you know if you can’t go

Physical fitness, endurance, and stamina are a key component in “leading from the front” particularly for those in combat arms. A leader who falls out of a run or a hike loses all credibility within the unit. It does not matter how tactically proficient they are, how much technical skill they’ve developed, or how much experience they’ve gained. If they cannot meet the physical demands commensurate with the mission then they are immediately side-lined as irrelevant. They’ve lost the ability to influence. This may seem harsh to outsiders but in combat one who cannot hang, who cannot carry their own weight becomes a liability to the unit. Additionally, if they fail to maintain the standard, then they’ve created an environment where they demand of their people what they do not demand of themselves. This is an utter erosion of effective leadership.  

Half of manning up is showing up

The phrase “man up” may be waning in modern times but the sentiment behind the expression is still relevant. It calls forth attributes of courage and boldness, of facing adversity head on. This is necessary in the military and particularly in preparation for combat. People have different fears but training in the military provides opportunities to succeed in spite of these fears. Those with a fear of height may have to jump off an elevated platform into the pool, or rappel down a tower, or even jump out of airplanes. The gas chamber intimidates many, and for good reason. One could, with very little effort, find a passable excuse to avoid these training events and thereby avoid facing their fears. This will result in limiting your growth as an individual while communicating to the members of your unit that they can’t fully count on you,

They don’t care what you know, but they know when you don’t care

There is incredible value in a leader being technically proficient and tactically sound, but it must be remembered that leadership above all is a human endeavor. It is all about people. Mission first, people always. A leader that tries to impress others with their skills and knowledge, or worse yet who places all of their effort in pursuing the next rank, is a poor example. Leadership means you work for them, they do not work for you. You must care about your people and look out for them. It does not mean you coddle them or make them happy, rather you act in a manner that contributes to their success and overall well-being. Ironically, you will get much better results at work when they know you care about them. They will perform even you are not around to supervise because of the environment you’ve fostered.

marine leadership
Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Aguilar, left, stands in front of formation after receiving an award in recognition of his leadership. (USMC photo)

You don’t have to like your job, you just have to do it

The excitement of your new life in the military will soon wane. Monotony sets in. Preconceived notions are shattered by reality and you may find that the job which sounded so exciting is actually rather dull. It’s true that if you enjoy your work it quite often won’t even seem like work. A military member must remember they have joined the service, so sometimes it all comes down to simply doing your duty. You are not required to enjoy it, but you are required to do it. As you adapt to your new environment a personal and professional maturity sets in and you find a sense of satisfaction at doing your job well. In time you will even grow to enjoy it.

You better not let “gunny” find out

“The gunny” is a legendary figure in the Marine Corps. A gunnery sergeant is a salty individual. Years of service combined with experience in various clime and place creates an intimidating leader. The authority the gunny commands barked in ferocious orders sets the tone in a unit. When a young Marine is considering skating they will often pause and consider the consequences of gunny finding out. This analysis comes in two forms. The first is “If Gunny finds out he will kill me”, the other and one which reflects the deep respect held is “Gunny wouldn’t approve of this.” The gunny’s impact is so significant the thought, “You better not let Gunny find out” is enough to keep a Marine from making a very bad decision.

During your time in service you will hear moving speeches and dull talks. You will see acts of courage and pettiness. You will work with amazing people and a few losers, but listed above are the best 5 leadership one liners you can take with you as the uniform comes off and you return to America a better citizen.