The seed, unknown to me, had been indelibly planted in my brain nearly fifty years ago by Sergeant Hatchel. Known by many of my equally fearful fellow recruits as the nastiest Drill Instructor in the entire Marine Corps. He took no prisoners. A machine gunner, he had fought in two wars and was looking for a third, us. His permanent scowl said, “Never make a mistake and we can live together – but, even then, I won’t like it and I will never like you.“
When he was around, we lived in perpetual terror.
As a “older” recruit, I had been anointed a squad leader whose major role was not to piss off Sergeant Hatchel. Even worse, the mistakes of the small band I led became my own mistakes and, oh, how I would pay. As a result, I was always on full alert – that is, almost always…
It was a sweaty, torrid sunny day in July in the last place anyone would want to be, Paris Island. I was ushering my twelve privates back to the barracks after a wickedly grueling two hours of PT under an unforgiving, broiling sun. Stopping, perhaps twenty-five yards from the barracks, I casually looked back over my shoulder at the weary group and shouted, “Group, dismissed.”
From a second floor window came a screaming tirade, “Private, you get your sorry ass up here or I’ll come down there and break your miserable neck.” It was Sergeant Hatchel looking for blood and he had found it – me.
I ran to the small porch in front of the barracks to receive his rage – knowing the punishment would follow. He was just warming up. “What do you think you doing, taking a walk on the beach? That kind of slovenly, undisciplined behavior is what gets people killed, and you’ll be the cause of it.”
My sin? Not pivoting smartly and saluting, while giving my order. His rant continued as he proceeded to insult me, several of my favorite body parts, my closest relatives, all the while asking me why I had the nerve to insult the entire Marine corps by joining in the first place.
Between gritted teeth he shouted, “I want a hundred squat thrusts, a hundred sit-ups, a hundred push-ups, twenty five at a time and, then we’ll see what else. And, they had better be perfect.” In spite of my exhausted state, pure adrenalin drove me through the first six rounds of twenty-five. And, then, there was nothing left to give. Meanwhile, he’s screaming something about being a spineless, chicken shit. Then, he had me stagger to my feet, stand up, heals angled against the wall, body pressed straight against it, and said I was to slowly lower my body and hold it half way down. Well, my entire body was shaking in a matter of minutes and I caught a glimpse of his sneering smile. Some time later – I had lost all sense of time and my body – he screamed, “Private, when I count three, I want your sickening self out of my sight.”
When three came, I couldn’t move. There was nothing left – not even pain. Just humiliation and a commitment to pay attention in the future. All these years later, it’s still there — the huge gift from Sergeant Hatchel.
Pay attention. Be fully present. Own your own mistakes. And in my words:
Be intentional in everything you do as a leader, since there are real consequences for yourself and others. There are few short cuts and no six easy steps to success.
I believe the “how” can differ, (it doesn’t demand suffering) but the message was clear.
Leadership demands a meticulous and rigorous approach to “what” is expected of each leader in that role, in any given moment.