Quick story time, as it’s 35° where I am, and I’m about to go skydiving if this weather ever warms up.

I was 19 years old and heading out on my first deployment to Iraq. Unbeknownst to me, I was a sponge when it came to watching seasoned combat veterans prepare, and I hung on their every word, especially Staff Sergeant Jackson’s.

I’d pack my rucksacks the way they did, shoulder my rifle the way they did, and unblouse my boots, especially on patrol.

There are a lot of skills that one must learn in the military, and most of them are absolute hard skills: how to clean weapons, behave in a nighttime raid, clear houses, and breach doors.

But many soft skills weren’t necessarily spoken about yet certainly still taught. In particular, when it comes down to how the military handles leadership. It is leading at the front: doing, not saying, and never becoming a hypocrite.

They don’t preach about it and have you go to class to learn; they do it, you watch, and everyone implements the best to each situation. I’ve always preferred that method.

One of those soft skills was around growing talent within the squad. This was important because everyone had to have overlap – just in case something happened to your right or lefthand team member.

Enter Staff Sergent Jackson again. A 3x Iraqi vet who had everything from Purple Hearts to everyone’s respect. He’s a guy that the company turned to, trusted, and stepped aside. Not only because of his accolades but because he was an absolute leader in showing what needed to be done. You knew where you stood with him, how he would support you, and what the greater mission was – alongside your position in ‘the machine.’

SSgt Jackson had a way that created a sense of trust. Regardless of any fault, he’d help and get you on track. He wouldn’t push you aside, replace you with another, or remove you (sans incompetency). He’d build, refine, and deploy you.

I learned a lot from him and others who were similar.

And this brings me to a few key leadership traits that I’ve held for almost 15 years ago and slightly converted them for today’s corporate workforce.

  • A good leader should never surprise you. Not during performance reviews. Not during re-orgs. Never, ever.
  • You should always know where you stand, where you’re going, and how you’re getting there.
  • You should always be a little uncomfortable in your job. You should always be stretching yourself when the situation allows. Your leader should acknowledge and support this.

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