Captain Grose's Motivation pages

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While going to college, I was assigned the task of so many before me: write about leadership. Here is what I came up with on June 6, 1997.

-- Jason D. Grose

Over the last four years I have been exposed to near toxic levels of leadership training. I have read papers, wrote papers, listen to speeches, and had numerous discussions on just about every aspect of the subject. I have learned a great deal about textbook leadership but in order to spare you, the reader, from another idealistic, theoretical, dry overview of leadership, I want to provide a different perspective. If you will indulge me, I will describe my journey to this mystical land called leadership. While I do not claim to have all of the answers nor do I dub myself the apex of leadership, my quest for the ideal has taught me many lessons I feel qualified to share. Because the first tenant of leadership is to lead by example, the subject in this paper describes the largest driving force to my concept of leadership. Through his examples, you can see the roots of my leadership beliefs.

If you were to ask any great leader who they idolized, they would probably be able to pick out one person who stands out among the hordes of contributing leaders they have encountered. Everyone has their heroes and our interaction with these guiding points of light have profound effects on who we are.

SGT Shane Maxey is my mentor and the best leader I have ever encountered. To me, he is the very definition of leadership. Tough as petrified nails, SGT Maxey had a compassion for his people that, no matter how hard he tried to conceal, shone through his rough exterior. To understand this walking book of leadership, a little background information is necessary.

SGT Maxey was a hard cookie from the start. Combined with a rather troublesome upbringing, his hard-headed attitude resulted in a critical and negative personality. After joining the Marine Corps, the institution’s demand for excellence together with his own intense discipline created a chemical reaction. Suddenly it was as though the Marine Corps was made for him rather that vice versa. He excelled as a junior Marine, attaining rank and responsibility quickly. SGT Maxey eventually became a drill instructor where he spent three successful years as arguably the best DI in San Diego.  After completing his time as a drill instructor, he returned to avionic maintenance where he had served prior to volunteering for DI duty. At this point, our paths crossed and I would never again be the same.

It is said that the best kind of leadership is not read out of any book. Leadership by example is the only real way to absorb the essence of becoming a true leader. In this spirit, a few pivotal examples come to mind to show you why SGT Maxey holds such a important place in my leadership model.

The first time I met SGT Maxey, I hated him. Avionics had always been a pretty lax environment with few harsh conflicts. I had “grown up” in this attitude and was professionally deficient. The first day that SGT Maxey checked in, he still mentally had his DI cover on. There was a call for FOD walk on the avionics pad and I was hiding in the back of the shop, sipping on some coffee. I thought I could get away with hiding out if I looked busy. SGT Maxey walked by, stopped, and pointed a finger at me. “WHAT GOOD ARE YOU DOING?” My deer-caught-in-the-headlights response was an unconvincing mumbling, prompting SGT Maxey to bark, “GET YOUR BUTT OUT THERE WITH THE REST OF THEM!” Thus our relationship began.

Looking back, the lesson I learned from that experience was that as a leader, do not hesitate to lead even if you are new. SGT Maxey took charge from the moment he arrived. None of us knew it but he was the #1 sergeant in the avionic division before he went the drill field and thus was very technically proficient. From the beginning, he expected the most out of those who were put in his charge, asking from them what he gave: 100%.

For the next few months, SGT Maxey continued to be the discipline force for our workshop. He by no means made any friends but strange things started to happen. the quality of our work increased and the overall expectations around the workcenter increased. It was fate that made this happen because the Gulf War was just beyond the horizon.

When the workcenter staff NCOs called SGT Maxey into their office, not one of them could look him in the eyes. He even intimidated most of his superiors and what they had to tell him they knew he would not like. He knew exactly what was going on but no one wanted to tell him he was leading the deployment. He had served his time on the drill field and had just reunited with his wife after arriving early to Yuma in order to set things up. He had given a lot to the Marine Corps in the last three years and he felt he needed a little “down-time.” But this would not be the case. Knowing it was futile to fight the assignment and knowing he was the best qualified for the position, he told the staff he would lead it only if he could pick the Marines that went with him. Such was his power and brashness. This demand, unheard of from a sergeant to a group of staff NCOs, was granted and I was among those he picked.

This is the next lesson I learned from SGT Maxey. As a leader, you owe it to your people to be forceful yet respectful to superiors. As rough as he was, I never once heard SGT Maxey fail to start a sentence with “Sir” when speaking to an officer. He never backed down even in the face of conflict with higher echelons. He was a force to be reckoned with but somehow kept an air of respect even with those that did not deserve it. I found this combination of forceful attitude and professional respect astounding.

The night before we deployed, SGT Maxey invited those of us who had wives over to his house. Even though it was his anniversary, he invited all of us to sip wine and spend the evening together in the spirit of camaraderie. That night, he made a promise to the wives, unknown to the husbands, that he would bring us back alive.  This promise he took very seriously and eventually, kept.

Later that night I asked him if I could speak with him. I was having trouble figuring out what I was going to tell my mother. The deployment was pretty obvious to the public but we were not allowed to call loved ones because of security precautions. He took me to his phone in a back room and not only told me to call her, but also what to tell her. He told me to tell her that I had to go away on business for awhile and that she knows what business I was in. I was to tell her I would write when I could and that I would be home soon. He then left the room. I called my mother and followed his instructions. She cried and I then called my brother, an ex-Army soldier, and told him the same story. He understood, told me to get home in one piece, and said he would call Mom to calm her down.

SGT Maxey taught me two things that night. First, the line between a leader’s personal life and professional life is transparent. Second, that a leader’s responsibility extends to the families of those led. SGT Maxey invited us into his home that night despite the fact that it was his wedding anniversary. A lesser man would have justifiably spent the night alone with his spouse, especially considering the impending deployment. But not SGT Maxey. He extended his family parameters to those under his charge and that was something that had a profound effect on me. By making commitments to the wives, he in essence, took personal responsibility for the Marines safety, answerable to their wives. This was not required and is not written in any book. Yet this example of leadership embodies everything ever written on the subject.

A leader must take a personal interest in those led. SGT Maxey did not hesitate to step in when I came to him about my problem that night. He gave sound advice while adhering to the security requirement. I later found out that he had made a similar phonecall the night before.

One of the best leadership lessons I ever absorbed from SGT Maxey was how much one individual can affect a group. SGT Maxey is the kind of person people sit around and tell legendary stories about. When two people get together that knew him, much time is spent telling stories of greatness about him. Very few people ever attain this status but rest assured, SGT Maxey still does to this day.

As a leader, SGT Maxey did an amazing thing. He redefined what was “cool” in our workshop. Before he came, many of the young, single Marines bragged of drinking, womanizing, and general mischief. The more women they dated, the higher their status was within the group. SGT Maxey never publicly admonished the practice but his influence changed the attitude over time.

SGT Maxey had been married to the same woman for over ten years and they had two children. One day he invited the shop over to his house for a barbecue and I had arrived early to help. What not many people knew was that SGT Maxey did exactly half of the housework at home. He would say, “I cause at least half the mess, probably more, so why shouldn’t I help clean it up?” Every Saturday SGT Maxey, his wife Michelle, and the kids would spend the better part of the day cleaning the house. When the group showed up for the barbecue, SGT Maxey was just finishing up and was cleaning the downstairs toilet. They all walked in and saw him hunched over a toilet, scrubbing away. Needless to say there were shocked gasps, snickering, and outright laughter. There, on his hands and knees, was the roughest, hardest, fire-breathing sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, scrubbing away on a toilet like a private. With all the dignity in the world, he stood up, dropped the scrubber, and silently dared anyone to say anything. It was a moment I will never forget. I know he redefined many attitudes that day.

The lesson was that no one, not even the most senior leader, is above menial work. He showed that a real man is not the one with the most notches on his ego, but a hard-working, faithful, fair leader who is willing walk the walk both at work and at home.

With sea stories that included how he won a bet on his first deployment from the men in his shop who bet he could not stay faithful in the Philippines, SGT Maxey defined appropriate behavior without issuing a single order. The high degree of respect he earned from the men of the shop helped to redefined beliefs. Suddenly it was the “in” thing to be monogamous because that was how SGT Maxey operated. By no means was there a blind hero-worship attitude in the shop because too many independent personalities were involved for that. We did not gush over SGT Maxey and even hated him sometimes. But whether you liked him or hated him, you were affected by him. The definition of being a “real man” became a monogamous, family-oriented, professional, moral, ethical, and proficient Marine.

One of SGT Maxey’s final leadership effects resulted in my upcoming commission. From the beginning of my career, I had planned on becoming an officer. Ignorantly, I laid out a plan from the start to enlist and then just pick up a commissioning program. Big talk from a 19-year old PFC. I did not consider the work it would take and stupidly bobbed along like the Marine Corps owed me a slot in the MECEP. After my first two years, my dream was fading. I had always been the average Marine but never excelled. Liberty was more important than my job and the undemanding role as an avionic technician did not challenge my abilities. I became comfortable ... too comfortable.

After I met SGT Maxey, I realized how deficient I was becoming. I started to feel uncomfortable with my surrounding as my expectations increased and started to feel the need to improve myself. As I made these realizations, my attitude resulted in alienation from my contemporaries. My need to exercise my leadership clashed head-on with the status quo of those around me. I was confused about what to do and started believing I would make a lousy officer.

I had never told SGT Maxey my intentions to become an officer. By the time the Gulf War rolled around, I had almost forgotten my intentions for a commission. After the deployment, SGT Maxey told me I should apply. After telling him about my original goal, there was no stopping his involvement.

I had lost most of my own confidence in my leadership abilities. I had managed to alienate myself from just about everyone around me but SGT Maxey saw something different. I tell people that there is a permanent boot mark in my butt the size of SGT Maxey’s foot. He hounded me, threatened me, yelled at me, and pushed me to put together my application. He believed in me when I did not believe in myself. With his prodding, I realized that I could make a great officer and owed it to the future Marines I would lead to become one.

While sitting in a van in the communications center parking lot in Okinawa, I was told that I had earned a slot for the MECEP. Stunned, I sat motionless as the realization set it. Everyone in my shop, including myself, was surprised that I had made it on the first try. Everyone, except one person. To SGT Maxey, it was a foregone conclusion.

I was very lucky that my path crossed SGT Maxey’s. He played a pivotal role in my life as a person and as a Marine. Through professional and personal example, SGT Maxey uncovered the concept of leadership I now hold. Whenever I am met with a difficult decision, the last check I make is to ask myself how SGT Maxey would handle it and if my decision meets that standard, I know it is the right one. My single professional goal is to symbolize just such a leader to someone in my life. No man could ask for more and only then will I consider myself a true leader.

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