[December 30, 2018] As a U.S. Army Private I witnessed a strange event during one of my unit’s formations that stuck with me. Our Platoon Leader, a new Second Lieutenant, was yelling at our platoon one day. Just then, our Commander strolled out, put his hand on the LT’s shoulder, and calmly gave him some advice. I couldn’t hear what was said but it was clear to me that the commander was smoothing the rough edges of the Lieutenant.
Leadership comes in many forms. On a good day, we all worked together with our new, abrasive Lieutenant and he was a happy guy. We were too because we got off early in the day. On the other hand, we had many bad days when the LT would scream at us, not unlike a baby crying when he doesn’t get his way. However, after a few “sessions” with the Company Commander, the LT was much calmer, more focused, and nicer to us low-ranking troopers.
It is the traditional duty of senior leaders to teach, coach, and mentor those in their sphere of responsibility. Sometimes this is called smoothing out the rough edges. All of us are ‘diamonds in the rough’ to some extent. We have imperfections, personality faults, and quirks that get in the way of getting the job done. We’re not perfect because we’re human and we sometimes miss things we should not have, behave improperly, overlook a task that should have been accomplished, etc.
For those leaders who are fortunate enough to have someone help them along and smooth out those rough edges, their time as a leader will be more successful. Perhaps there is someone out there who is much smarter than us, better looking, and more advantaged and thus doesn’t need their edges smoothed. Assuming this person exists, I’ve never met them. For the average Joe (or Josephine) who is doing their best, day-to-day, we need that teaching, coaching, and mentoring.
That Second Lieutenant in my company would later become a Major General and commanded the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq. His performance as an LT was lacking on the day our Company Commander began smoothing out those rough edges. One day, more than a decade ago on the open plains of central Iraq, we laughed together as we remembered that day back in 1975 when we were all educated on being a good leader.