[December 6, 2018] It was 5am on a snowy January in southwestern Germany’s Black Forrest, many decades ago when I first encountered Sergeant “Bad Boy Mac” McCracken. McCracken was known for his hot temper and miserable demeanor. It took me only a few minutes to witness his bad attitude and the impact was to be significant.
I received a cell phone call from a good friend’s son a few days ago. This young man was with four other friends; all in the U.S. Army Infantry stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia. Each a Private with only a few months in the military, they were asking for my advice on how best to succeed and get promoted.
Rarely do I get these calls anymore but, of course, I was all too happy to spend a few minutes on the call with them. I wanted them to remember what I said, so I gave them three simple, yet fundamental principles to live by in the Army:
- Obey the rules.
- Work hard.
- Have a good attitude.
It was the last point where we spoke most and also that generated the most questions. “What’s a good attitude?” “How do I show it?” “Can you give me some examples?” We talked for nearly an hour; much longer than any of us expected.
I began with my stories of Sergeant McCracken; truly a bad individual from southern Chicago and a mean-spirited man. Although highly talented, “Bad Boy Mac” was a disruptive influence on the teamwork the unit’s leaders desired us to create and nurture. We were all unhappy those many decades ago and were more concerned about averting his nastiness than getting our job done and creating a functioning fire team.
If there is anything that endears us to others, it’s a positive attitude. Frankly, I told these young men that you can do just about anything if your attitude is right. People are more forgiving, willing to help, and attracted to those who show a good attitude. This is particularly necessary for leaders expecting to build teams and get their mission accomplished.
Sergeant McCracken never bent the rules and worked us hard. His attitude problem however generated undue attention from the Battalion headquarters and soon we found ourselves being disciplined for failing to achieve the tasks given to us by the Platoon Leader. Our Squad Leader and the rest of us missed our next promotions and we stayed on restricted duty for a month.
It’s important to have a good attitude; more than most of us would believe. A poor attitude that is not adjusted quickly, can be a big problem. The Privates told me they appreciated my stories and the advice. I hope they will remember the Sergeant “Bad Boy Mac” story.