Keep Your Shirt Clean

[May 18, 2020]  One of my Fort Benning Basic Infantry teammates was notorious for his lack of body cleanliness.  When you live side-by-side with someone, you get to see and smell their good and bad side.  We told Christopher to keep his clothing, gear, and room clean.  His poor performance in school was a reflection of a messy mentality.  My advice to all leaders is simple; keep your shirt clean.

Dr. Jordan Peterson, the well-known psychologist from the University of Toronto, has gained considerable notoriety for giving depressed people similar advice.  “Clean your room,” he says with a severe look, and with complete confidence, this bit of behavioral change will make a massive difference in how others see you.  And how you see yourself.  An 8-minute YouTube video of him discussing it can is here (see link).  Others may have heard similar advice called “make your bed every day.”

One of our instructors at Benning gave us several small lessons for our large group of brand-new Second Lieutenants.  During our second week of administrative training, he told us to keep our desks orderly and avoid clutter.  The reasoning made sense to me.  He believed how we order things in our possession will determine how our commanders will see us.  If we have a cluttered desk and unorganized gear, then our commander will see us as cluttered and unorganized leaders.  That is, of course, a bad thing.  Regardless of how well we perform, this is how we will be viewed and also remembered.

We all paid close attention and absorbed as much advice as we could get.  Note that our class, all from ROTC programs, was the class immediately before the class from West Point arrived.  Why this was an issue was because the Point rigidly drilled into their cadets the capacity to keep things in order, neat, clean, and well maintained.  We didn’t want to be caught up in what many of us thought was a waste of time.  Too much order and discipline were getting in our way of graduating and finding the right women to date on the weekends.

At the time, I thought all that thinking about an orderly, uncluttered desk was a bunch of BS.  We had other things to do.  Study a reasonable amount, account for all our gear (you paid for lost items), stay in good physical shape, hold yourself upright, demonstrate respect, and keep our uniforms clean and neatly pressed.  Second Lieutenant Christopher did not believe he had to go by those rules.

During a three-week training event, Christopher went the entire time without washing his undershirts.  And, to make matters worse, he only had two that he rotated daily between his cargo pocket and his body.  It is unbelievable how much stink can exist when a sweaty t-shirt is kept in a warm, dark, humid location.  Later, we convinced him to change his ways by showering him with green kitchen scourer pads.

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.

22 thoughts on “Keep Your Shirt Clean

  1. Anita

    I enjoyed today’s article Gen. Satterfield. Appreciate the story of your early days in the military. I keep wondering where you would have gone if not for military service. Have you ever wondered about it?

  2. Kenny Foster

    Another on-target leadership article. I will suggest, if I may, that you do a series on “what is military humility” at some point in the future. We are hearing more and more about it and how certain national-level leaders lack humility and then how they fail occasionally from that personality defect.

    1. Doug Smith

      Good suggestion, Kenny. Humility is an appropriate topic and one that is a segway into what we are discussing today.

  3. Drew Dill

    I do believe Gen. Satterfield has used this example of his friend Christopher before and the same example of him wearing a t shirt every day and stinking out his fellow lieutenants. Remember the bus episode? LOL

  4. Linux Man

    This is really about discipline … not hard-core discipline that we see on military tv shows but that which means doing those things we know we need doing. Simple, make your bed, keep your living and working areas clean and tidy, and keep your thoughts organized. This is one of many ways – in combo with other attributes – that allows us to live a good life.

    1. old warrior

      I disagree Linux Man. Discipline is discipline and there is nothing short of perfect discipline. Otherwise how can you win at a game or be the very best at what you do. There is nothing we cannot do without discipline.

      1. JT Patterson

        You have a good point but I do believe that most people need to ease into discipline. It can be shocking when first trying out the extreme version of it.

      2. Tracey Brockman

        I disagree. Discipline is by degree not by perfection.

    2. Valkerie

      Let’s not forget that General Satterfield is making a valuable contribution with his articles on leadership. The idea of discipline is him showing us by example. Why else is there an article here every single day? It takes a dedication of effort to make that happen.

  5. Wendy Holmes

    Good reference to Dr. Peterson. I highly highly recommend his books and video lectures.

    1. Deplorable John

      Thanks Wendy, you are correct about Jordan Peterson, PhD and well-known member of the world intellectual thinkers. His videos are really popular and useful.

  6. Randy Goodman

    Another excellent article that made me think. That’s why I come to this blog. I also recommended it to my friends.

  7. Wilson Cox

    Gen. Satterfield, you must have had a lot of real characters who went to school with you in the army. I like reading about them and your use of them as examples of how to be a leader or not be a leader does help me remember the themes because I can remember the story. On another subject matter, let’s all hope our upcoming next few days shows a decrease in the number of coronavirus deaths worldwide. There will be many lessons learned. we can expect to see them listed here and discussed.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Right. Gen. Satterfield has already made a few keen observations recently on the COVID19 pandemic. One of them refers to those who believe we overreacted to the threat and harm ourselves in many ways.

    2. Ronny Fisher

      I like these examples too but didn’t write about them earlier because I never really gave it much thought. But that’s the point, I guess. This is how we remember things. Those meta-stories (as Gen. Satterfield likes to call them) are part of our long history as humans. Great article today. Thx.

      1. Eva Easterbrook

        Yes and that should come as no surprise to those of us who read this leadership blog. I’ve been on the website for only a few months and have learned so much. Thank you Gen. Satterfield. Oh, I’d like to see more of those guest bloggers you highlight.

  8. Jonnie the Bart

    This is an interesting way of saying to keep yourself orderly (out of the chaos that Dr. Peterson discusses repeatedly). Thanks for another article worthy of me getting up early to read before the start of my day.

  9. Eric Coda

    A bearded buy modeling an Army shirt. Interesting! Good topic, btw.

    1. Albert Ayer

      Yeah! I was thinking the same thing about the t-shirt. Subject is spot-on for us. Wishing everyone a great new week and getting out more after being ‘hunkered down’ for too long.

    2. Dennis Mathes

      Ha ha ha ha ha. LOL. Good point Eric.

    3. Yusaf from Texas

      You always seem to catch the smallest things that are a bit off, Eric. Hey, thanks. This is why I read all the way to the bottom of the comments forum. Occasionally I find a real gem.

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