Recently I had the privilege of attending a mountain training event with the US Marines. We had just stepped off on a three-day patrol high up in the California mountains when a two-star general came out of the treeline to visit us. He was out walking the lines to survey the training. Shortly after his arrival, the unit came across a mountain stream with a bridge over it. The snow runoff was still the cause of some really cold obstacles. 

The General and his staff watched the Officer in Charge survey the bridge and then tell his Marines that they were not allowed to cross over it due to potential booby-traps. Everyone was going to have to cross over via the river. They were stepping off in the first hour of a 3-day exercise and their platoon commander was telling them to start it by getting icy cold wet. With a muffled groan they strapped their gear on tight, threw safety lines and crossed over. Each Marine was chest deep, in a frigid mountain stream. The General observed for a moment and then leaned over to the Captain and discreetly asked: “Are you really going to send all your Marines through the water, even with a bridge right there?”

The Captain, in true Marine fashion, said “Yes General, we are. My boss told us to stay off the trails and the bridges. We are getting wet.” This is the part I love about the Marine Corps: The General, without even a pause handed his cell phone off to his aide and stepped into chest-deep freezing water to share the same hardship with the Marines he was there to inspect. His entire staff followed close behind.

I feel compelled to tip my hat to the power move the General made by handing off his phone before crossing.

The story ends with his staff leaving the training area after about another 30 min of watching the Captain and the patrol. The entire group was completely soaked as they headed down the mountainside to continue on with their schedule.

There was absolutely zero reason for this General to get wet. Only a handful of Marines even saw it and he was not part of the exercise. He was there to observe training but when an adversity struck he jumped in because he wanted to show solidarity in what they were doing. In the Marine Corps this camaraderie is a crucial part of their ethos. Imagine the morale boost your company would experience with that level of commitment from leaders in your organization?

The illusion of power can make people in charge forget that their rank and position do not mean they should exclude themselves from sharing in the hardships of the workplace. The environment that good leadership creates mandates a leader who is also willing to share any challenges.

As you progress in rank, you hold an even greater responsibility for environment shaping. Build conditions that ensure the success of your team and make sure any challenges are something you are also willing to encounter.

Review daily tasks that your team completes and remember to experience them once and awhile. It helps keep you grounded and ensures that you are aware of any trouble on the horizon. Don’t wait until retention is out of control to realize that you’re out of touch.

Rank certainly has its’ privileges but presuming that you are superior to others on your team should not be one of them.