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.
IN THE BEGINNING....
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:
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.
HIS TROOPS ARE HIS TROOPS
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,
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
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.
THE BOOT MARK
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
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.