Those who have ever been in the military, and even college, have probably had a great chance that they were subjected to some pretty stupid things in reference to what some might call hazing. Others may call it a rite of passage. Whatever it was called, now it is very taboo in the military, and college campuses worldwide. But surprisingly, it was during one of these events that I learned one of the most important lessons about leadership that I ever learned.
The 75th Ranger Regiment is one of the most prestigious units in the United States Military and even the world. My time at 3rd Ranger Battalion, was one filled with examples of the Ranger Creed, and while there are parts of any job that one may not like, I would not trade one part of the entire experience. The following story is a rough rendition of what happened on a brisk, yet humid morning during a training exercise in Georgia, if memory serves right.
The members of my platoon were taking a break after a hard morning of training. There were groups of privates, newly appointed Non-Commissioned officers (NCO), and the seasoned NCOs all milling about and chatting. One of the corporals from the group of new NCOs sauntered over to the group of privates that I was in.
“Hey… Do you all want to Qualify or what?” we were asked by the Corporal. Various forms of yes came out of our mouths in the form of “Roger” and the likes. The answers came from all of us. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into, even though it probably wouldn’t have mattered whether we said yes or no.
“Alright then bear crawl over to that tree and qualify! Wrap your arms and legs around it, whoever hangs on the longest is qualified.”
We each ran, like bears, over to the tree and grabbed on…. Only to be yelled at that we were doing it wrong… “Koalas hang up-side down on trees! You did say you wanted to Koalafy, right?”
None of us wanted to be doing these ridiculous things, but a lot of times we were being judged and rated through events like this to see what we could take or put up with. And of course, we all were trying to impress those who were higher ranking and we wanted to be the strongest and fastest, even at something as ridiculous as “Koalafying”. We all corrected our terrible errors of being upright Koalas and became upside down Koalas. I’m sure it was a sight to see, as those that were present laughed quite hysterically, and I even laughed to myself.
After about a minute of this I saw a pair of Bellevilles (the boots we were issued) walk up and I looked up, or down depending on who’s perspective. It was my team leader at the time. He said something along the lines of “You lost” and pulled me away from the spectacle. I was relieved to be done with the games but felt bad about leaving my fellow privates… maybe only a little bit.
Together, we walked away from the shenanigans to do more serious work. We started building breaching charges for the training event we were to be doing that night. We worked diligently, with him coaching me as I learned the various ins and outs of the task. When we finished our team’s charges and I started putting away the tools, he looked at me like I was sprouting a penis on my forehead. Without a word, he grabbed more material and kept on building charges for the other teams. I stopped putting away the tools and kept helping. Some time later, the other guys from the “Koalafying” fiasco showed up, and you could see the guilt and shame on the faces of those Junior leaders and NCOs as they realized we had built all of their charges while they played stupid games.
My team leader never said anything to them (at least not in front of me), but the hazing, or rites of passage really died off after that. I didn’t know what to call what I witnessed that day until I started getting my Business Management degree, and I started learning about management and leadership. What I had witnessed was Servant Leadership. A quick search engine check of servant leadership and the first definition that pops up states this: “Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.” There is no better way to describe how I feel about this leadership style, and on that day, I saw it used in the most effective of ways. Through only a few simple actions, a leader was able to correct several subordinates and equals without even speaking.
What really was the smallest act, had an extremely large impact on our organization in the military, but it has had an even greater impact on my life. I try to embody the servant leadership that I saw. An example for others to follow (something Rangers pride themselves on) was set that day, and I try my hardest to be as good of a leader as my team leader was. I might fail many times over, but I continue to learn and grow from the other leaders in my life outside of the military. I hope that I can pass on this lesson and the many others that my team leader gave to me, to the next generation, and to those who have and will work with me in all capacities. The lesson and the man who taught it to me will never be forgotten.