I Hate Hats … but they symbolize my leadership

By | November 27, 2018

[November 27, 2018]  I hate hats.1  I hate wearing them, keeping them looking good, and I hate the way they fit on my head.  If it’s raining, I use an umbrella or hood on my coat to keep the rain off my head.  But, over time I’ve come to realize that hats also define my leadership.  By that I mean people judge my leadership position and ability based on what hat I wear.

I remember when the U.S. Army came out with a new requirement that all soldiers must wear the new black “beret” which replaced the field cap.  Special elite troops already wore them and rightly so.  Was everybody now an “elite” troop?  No, of course not.  That was another reason I hated hats; in this case the beret was hard to wear correctly and keep looking neat and fit.

Long after I retired from the U.S. Army, I began to think back over my career and to take a different look at those hats.  On the top of my gun case (yep, I have guns in there too) sit four helmets; each from a different era – Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq War, and post Iraq War.  I wore each of them in combat at some point and now they sit collecting dust.  But visitors to the home of my wife and I are more likely to comment on the helmets than anything in else in our home.

For 40 years I was required to wear some form of hat; the time and place governed by circumstance but more by military regulations.  I’ve come to realize that hats carry a good deal of symbolic meaning to others.  Nearly every hat I wore was embellished with my military rank.  With those hats, people saw that I also possessed a certain level of authority by which to command or to make decisions.

A hat, whether worn voluntarily or required, carries with it a level of symbolism that is often unmistakable.  This morning while walking my dog, the hat I wore has “TSC Tractor Supply Co” on it.  It was given to me by a friend.  To me it’s a free hat.  To my wife, it means I’m some kind of hick from the backwoods.  Is that really how people see me now?

The lesson for leaders is that hats do have meaning.  They communicate much more than their practical value.  Hats carry messages like the hat I wore this morning.  Are you important, a hick, a military officer, a firefighter, a police officer, a corporate CEO, or just an average kind of guy?  Leaders use symbolism to their advantage.  But, I still hate wearing hats.


By using the term “hat” I mean anything on my head like an army helmet, beret, cap, cowboy hat, beanie, etc. or whether it’s for keeping out the cold, rain, sun, or heat.


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.

27 thoughts on “I Hate Hats … but they symbolize my leadership

  1. Mr. T.J. Asper

    When I read your article I got to thinking about my HS football team and their helmets, uniforms, and all the colors and mascots associated with fielding a successful team on the playing field. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield.

  2. Yusaf from Texas

    For those of us who live in Texas, hats are just a part of life and really we don’t think much of it. But spend a day without a hat is like not having a cup of coffee in the morning. Hats have meaning and are practical. They have symbolism that sometimes we don’t even recognize.

    1. Drew Dill

      We haven’t heard from you in a while Yusaf. Hope that all is well and that Texas is still the great state we all know it to be. 🙂

  3. Nick Lighthouse

    Like Doc said below in response to Army Captain, this is the type of information leaders need to have in their leadership rucksack. Call it what you want but to have this type of article, short and to the point, is a blessing for junior leaders. They are the ones with little time on their hands and need something quick and easy to read. If you read this every day then you will gain crucial info to make yourself successful.

  4. Dennis Mathes

    Good article and thanks for putting it out on your blog so close to the holidays. Leadership is a challenge to most of us and thus we should be looking out for what we get as gifts.

  5. Joey Holmes

    I liked your article today. My dad says that I should read your blog more often. CHEERS!

  6. Wilson Cox

    I’ve seen many so-called leaders who don’t understand this. Some say they are just “doing their own thing.” I say they have failed their organization and those who follow them. Like Obama and others who do not understand that your “hat/beret/helmet/clothes” are symbolic of something more important. Wearing them (correctly) shows you are part of the team.

    1. Roger Yellowmule

      I agree completely with you and Max. Wilson, you hit the nail on the head today! 🙂

  7. Max Foster

    I especially like the thumbnail used. This is a WW2 helmet for those not in the know. Hats, uniforms, ties, boots/shoes, lapel pins, etc. all go toward symbolizing something about us and perhaps too about our organization. That is why US Pres Obama was so heavily criticized for not wearing a US Flag lapel pin. He was rightly criticized because not wearing it feed into the notion he was not a good American.

    1. Jerome Smith

      That he failed to wear the pin was at the beginning of his term as president. There are many of us who still believe he is not proud to be an American and it started there with a pin. It goes to show that leaders, esp senior leaders, need to be particluarly careful in what “hat” they wear.

    2. Georgie M.

      Excellent point, Max. I still don’t like Obama or his wife. They are the anti-Americans!

    3. Mike Baker

      As usual, you have made a spot-on comment about America and rightly so. US Pres Obama was one of the world’s worst leaders and he is still showing it today.

    4. Scotty Bush

      Good point. There are those leaders who have failed to recognize what the simplicity of your topic today. Thank you Max for emphasizing it.

    5. Greg Heyman

      Yes, well said Max. Pres Obama was not good for the country. His terrible economic plan only delayed a full recovery and we are now barely getting out of it 10 years later. When senior leaders fail, they fail spectacularly.

  8. Danny Burkholder

    I never really thought about it this way. Appreciate you getting me to think!

  9. Eric Coda

    Wow. That’s all I can say. This is really good. I too wear a hard hat everyday to work because it’s not only required but common sense so I don’t get my head bashed in.

  10. Janna Faulkner

    Loved your article today, Gen. Satterfield. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being right on target again.


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