Pick of the Litter

By | September 21, 2020

[September 21, 2020]  I admit it, I love dogs.  My life began with my trusty Cocker Spaniel “Rusty,” and we were inseparable.  Dogs have a special connection with humans, a meta-story that tells of great companionships.  But today, I’m talking about another story.  This is about how leaders are chosen.  I’m calling it the pick of the litter story.

It was 1984, or thereabouts when I was promoted to First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.  Our Infantry Brigade Commander had called all his junior officers (Captain and below in rank) into a vast auditorium to give us guidance on what he wanted to see from his men.  I don’t know how many were there, but it must have been two hundred of us.

He began his talk about the importance of being a good officer, setting the right tone for our soldiers, standing up for what is right, hard work, sacrifice, etc.  It was a good speech.  He also said, “Those of you in this room are the pick of the litter.”

I thought back to the dogs in my life and initially misunderstood what he was getting at with this comment.  Our commander wanted to tell us that the citizens of the U.S. had given us an opportunity that only a few have and that we were special because we were chosen for our assignments by others.

Yes, we were the pick of the litter.  We must have been.  Of the few hundred there, at least a dozen General Officers came from the group; nearly all had fought in the Gulf Wars with distinction, at least half had advanced college degrees, and – as far as I knew – we all served with honor.

Someone once said that ten percent of those that work for you produce 90 percent of the work.  I believe it.  Those in that auditorium that day had navigated a long and challenging path to get where we were.  We had graduated from college, completed several military courses, had stayed out of trouble with the law, were physically and mentally fit, and we were a determined bunch.  When we got our assignments, we carried out our duties completely.

A month later, the Brigade Commander chose 15 new Company Commanders. Usually, this goes to a Captain or senior First Lieutenant.  I was fortunate to get one of these command slots with one month in grade.  We were all honored by his chooses.  Looking back to that time, I was unable to ferret out why I was chosen.  Regardless, it set me on the right path, and I retired with 40 years of service.

Maybe I was, for that time, the pick of the litter.  Never would I let something like that go to my head.1  In a word, I was humbled.  As a Company Commander and as the only First Lieutenant in this distinguished group made me feel pretty good.  But I never forgot that I was chosen by others and thus I had to keep my nose clean and do a good job.



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.

21 thoughts on “Pick of the Litter

  1. Greg Heyman

    I certainly enjoyed this article, Gen. Satterfield. Thank you. I want to note that we all do this all the time. We call it good judgment. Good judgment is based on our experiences and good memories.

  2. Albert Ayer

    Ha, I also thought of my dog, a German Shephard/Collie mix. She is great, yet she was NOT the pick of the litter because she was a rescue. I chose her because she seemed so friendly. Oh, I guess I just made Gen. Satterfield’s point — I picked her for a criteria I like; friendliness.

  3. Mikka Solarno

    Well written and educational. We don’t realize how privileged we are to live in America and have every opportunity known to humankind. It matters not who you are, you just have to work for the chance to excel.

  4. Eric Coda

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield for another spot-on blog post. ‘Pick of the Litter’ has a wide meaning and I do think you are correct in how you are using it here to teach us about leadership. I see that even among the best of leaders, there is still a selection process for the best of the best. And, then, you have written (in the past) that even there is further competition among commanders as to who has the best units. This hierarchy of competence is what sets us apart from other nations and communism/socialism ideology.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Yes, Eric, good comment about the terrible ideologies of the past that failed and failed greatly as it destroyed 100+ million lives.

    2. Edward Kennedy III

      Good one Eric. Gen. Satterfield has consistently written about socialism and its attractiveness (allows us to reject all responsibility for our actions) and the destruction is has brought upon us (the dead of the 20th century). Yet, to my shock, so many still believe its the way to go because we are just smarter than people of the last century. Or morally better, I’m not so sure. Ha Ha. Will never work. Tried that experiment and it didn’t work.

      1. lydia truman

        Hi EKIII, can you write another article for Gen. Satterfield? Appreciate what you do.

  5. Doug Smith

    Also good insight into the world of leadership at the lower level of the US army. Appreciate what you do and how those lessons from the past keep cropping up.

  6. Kenny Foster

    I had a great weekend. I have my old job back, my family and I went to the lake for some recreation, and my friends are close enough that we went inside a restaurant for the first time in a long while. The governor of New York has finally begun to ease off his Hitler-like restrictions. Oh, so much socialism and nowhere else to destroy human social lives.

    1. Dennis Mathes

      Funny you mentioned NY state, just think about NY city. The mayor is a communist fruitcake and he still thinks communism is the wave of the future. Well, we tried that experiment in the 20th century and look at all the dead. Tried it, nope, rejected it too. Mayor deBlasio is a fool.

    2. JT Patterson

      Same here in Connecticut. Lots of rules. Most based on “ideas” on how to “maybe” make things better. Destroy lives over ideas and maybes.

      1. Max Foster

        Well said, JT. Most people are just sheep and don’t see what’s really happening to them and their neighbors and communities. Like Portland that allows rioters and looters run free every day for now over 100 days, this is socialist government at work. Leadership? Ha, it doesn’t exist as a good thing.

    3. Wesley Brown

      And yet our neighbors don’t see this. They think they are being protected and that there is no downside to it except they can’t eat at a restaurant for now. How blind? Yep, amazing how blind people can be. Travel the world and see how others live, get to know your neighbors, and let them know what the real world is like, as opposed to their inward looking idea of how things are.

  7. Army Captain

    “Pick of the Litter” what a great idea — yep, we all want the pick of the litter whether we admit it or not. It’s like saying you want the rotten tomato in the basket instead of the most pristine.

    1. Randy Goodman

      … and I want the best employee to get a promotion so he will stay. I want the best place for our company to locate to take advantage of lower taxes, less regulation, and a friendly local govt. Why else would I be choosy.

    2. Harry Donner

      We all want the best. Why settle for the garbage when you can have steak?

      1. Nick Lighthouse

        Harry, good point but too many folks just don’t see reality this way. They want something handed to them. But what they don’t see is that there is no honor in getting a free ride.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.