[January 18, 2018] My first permanent duty assignment in the U.S. Army took me to a remote outpost deep in rural West Germany in 1974. Immediately upon arrival all the “newbies” (as we were called) got a lecture from our Platoon Sergeant. The takeaway, as I remember, was that he would not put up with any whining or backtalk from any of us.
These two rules were rigidly enforced. The Platoon Sergeant was one of the toughest men I’ve ever known … then or since. I only wish my wartime service had included this man serving with me. You see, combat is the ultimate game that separates real men from the pathetic whiners of my generation. True enough, there are other ways but combat is the one that does most efficiently.
“A little less complaint and whining, and a little more dogged work and manly striving, would do us more credit than a thousand civil rights bills.” – W.E.B. DuBois, American sociologist and civil rights activist
Not unlike W.E.B. DuBois, our sergeant wanted us to work hard, think smart, and do as we were told. Our duty assignment was not top-of-the-line; we were guarding nuclear weapons and knew that our time there would be of little value to our career. What made it worthwhile, however, was that our sergeant knew how to make men out of us and show us how to be real soldiers. That he did and more.
The man was unique and exactly like any military should have been; professional, took to shinola from anyone, and hard as nails. His handshake crushed my hand on the day we arrived. A veteran of the war in Vietnam, he had several hard and fast rules but the most visible to us was that no one was to never – and I mean never – whine or backtalk to him or any of his leadership team.
And we followed his rules. They were unpleasant times occasionally like when the heat went out in the barracks during mid-Winter. We said nothing and got no heat that night. But he smiled for the first and only time the next day when he fixed the problem for us. We all knew we had accomplished something important but also realized that whining serves no purpose other than selfishness.
Adults today are different. I hear whining and backtalk all the time; especially on college campuses. Some of my friends that teach High School say it’s worse with their students. For whatever reason whining and backtalk are part of the school culture today and beware to any teacher or professor that upsets a student in the middle of a tirade.
The lesson for leaders is simple; don’t tolerate whining and backtalk. Otherwise, the discipline that is required to maintain order will vanish. Trust will run away as well. For those who haven’t figured it out yet, leaders should also follow these rules and also never complain.
[Don’t forget to “Like” the Leader Maker on our Facebook Page.]