Eyeball-to-Eyeball Leadership

By | December 17, 2020

[December 17, 2020]  Old war stories never seem to stop.  Any time there is one Veteran in the room, you are likely to hear a war story about some event or person.  A crusty Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant (MGySgt) told a small group of civilians about the time he was a Drill Instructor at Parris Island, S.C.1  His story was about eyeball-to-eyeball leadership.

“They’re on our right, they’re on our left, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us; they can’t get away from us this time.” – Chesty Puller

 For those new to the U.S. military, one of the early experiences is likely to be a Drill Instructor (or Drill Sergeant) yelling commands at you from less than 6 inches from your face.  By the time you arrive at Boot Camp, you are overtired, hungry, and wondering whether you just made the dumbest mistake of your life by joining up.

For those who have witnessed recruits interacting with a real DI for the first time, watching the intimidation can be awe-inspiring.  Intimidation is not the goal, of course.  Intimidation drives motivation, and motivation is what makes success.  Highly motivated people can efficiently unlearn old ways of being an individual and learn new ways like teamwork.

Breaking down the individual is just one method of turning a “flabby, cowardly, cynical, leftist lot” into a mean fighting machine.  The only way to do so is through eyeball-to-eyeball leadership.  It means getting down into the trenches with the new military recruit and be willing to get dirty with them, to experience their fears, and to understand your teaching will make a difference.

This was the case with MGySgt John Stannic.  He was a highly-decorated career U.S. Marine who saw action in Vietnam.  Seven combat tours of duty, two Purple Hearts, and a stack of other medals, this was not a man to be trifled with at any time.  I think they made the character Marine Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway – played by Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge (1986) – from the likes of MGySgt Stannic.  Highway, like Stannic, was a hard-nosed, hard-living Marine who clashed with his superiors.

Stannic’s experience led him to become an opinionated, no-nonsense man, prone to loud outbursts, especially when he was drunk.  Some will say that Stannic is a relic of an old-styled military.  But this is precisely what makes for the best eyeball-to-eyeball leaders.  A combination of harsh training and rough mentorship toughens up the men Drill Instructors like Stannic may have to lead one day.

At the lowest levels of any organization is where the job gets done.  Without those at the bottom, no company could exist.  No product will be made, no war won, and no money made.  These are the most inexperienced, the least dedicated, and the most easily distracted.  MGySgt Stannic tells us of the eyeball-to-eyeball leadership necessary to make the military work.


  1. The U.S. Marine Corps boot camp training area on the East Coast.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Eyeball-to-Eyeball Leadership

  1. Willie Shrumburger

    I enjoyed this article greatly and hope that Gen. Satterfield gives us more like it. I particularly loved the story of the senior Gunny sergeant and the way he helped others. That is why being strong is a good thing and the manly thing.

  2. Orange Man

    Marine Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway – played by Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge (1986). I really enjoyed this movie and the character Gunny Tom HIghway.

    1. Jerome Smith

      “What are the qualities of a good leader? Leadership isn’t something people are born with – it’s a skill that can be cultivated over time. When you’re able to develop strong leadership traits, you’re positioned to inspire your entire team. Here are eight basic leadership qualities that everyone can refine in order to be a more productive leader.”
      This is where the website of Tony Robbins comes into play.

  3. Dale Paul Fox

    I enjoyed today’s article. Reminds me of when I was just starting out in the retail business. It as hard learning all the details of customer service and of how to motivate my team. But now that I know that, I can teach and mentor those who work for me at a higher level.

      1. Kenny Foster

        Yes, thanks Dale and Ronny. I too remember those days, not long ago in fact. I think that it was the most difficult time for me. Trying to learn so much about leadership and the technical part of leadership was hard work, required a lot of time and put a lot of stress on me too.

  4. Valkerie

    Excellent article, General Satterfield. I’ve been reading more about leadership and thanks to your website, I now have great motivation to learn even more.

  5. Janna Faulkner

    Once again, Gen. Satterfield has hit the proverbial nail on its head. Leadership means many things. And, leadership’s meaning changes a little in style and form as one moves up the chain of command into higher levels of responsbility.

  6. Army Captain

    Great article about tactical-level leadership. This is, as Forrest noted, the most basic form of leadership. At one point in ancient times, this was the only kind of leadership. Either you found yourself looking directly into the eyes of the ones you were leading, or you weren’t leading.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      Right, and that is how we start training our young military leaders … eyeball to eyeball.

    2. Tom Bushmaster

      Yes, and excellent point Army Captain. I would like to personally read more on this type of article. Getting down to the basics is where we all start and where the details of leadership are hammered out. Getting more like this article is why I’m here at https://www.theleadermaker.com. Hope that everyone here has a Very Merry Christmas. 😊

      1. Nick Lighthouse

        It is always a pleasure to read such positive comments. But let’s not forget that the main reason for this website is SENIOR level leadership, not just basic level. Although, I must write here that I do really enjoy working at the lower “tactical” level. It reminds me of when I was younger and brighter. ha ha ha ha……

  7. Forrest Gump

    Basic leadership is what you are writing about and yes, it means eyeball to eyeball.


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