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Leaders Do The Messy Things

Show me a leader without a little dirt under their fingernails, and I’ll show you a leader who is falling short.

Recently, my 90 year old father, The General, and I jumped out of an airplane together with the Army’s Parachute Team, the Golden Knights. We visited Fort Liberty in Fayetteville, North Carolina and both of us were reminded of what Army leadership is really all about.

Most people don’t understand military leadership because less than 1% of our current population has served. What most people think they know about military leadership comes from Hollywood. When I travel around the country, doing keynotes or facilitating workshops people share what they think military leadership is. They describe a top down autocracy. They believe the lower ranks are powerless. They think that things get done in peacetime and battles are won in combat because the highest ranked officers make the decisions and everyone else just follows mindlessly. Like I said, that is Hollywood not real life.

As we interacted with everyone from the 20 year old Privates to the Commanding General of Forces Command, General Drew Poppas, both my father and I were incredibly impressed by everyone’s willingness to do “the dirty work.”

Nobody was above picking up a piece of trash blown onto the parade field. We witnessed a full Colonel clearing the table in the mess hall for people of lower rank. I watched a high ranked non-commissioned officer (NCO) run down to a truck to gather more ammunition for another lower ranked NCO so that NCO could continue teaching his class without interruption.

Show me a leader without a little dirt under their fingernails, and I’ll show you a leader who is falling short. We define Duty as taking action based on our assigned tasks and moral obligation.

Many people believe that if you have the rank, you no longer have to get your hands dirty. The dirty work is now left for someone else to do. That may be true - if you are a leader who leads based solely on the authority of your rank. But that is not how great leaders - Leaders of Character actually lead. They lead by inspiring others because they show they are still willing to get dirty and do the hard work. Nothing that needs to be done is below them. Their rank may mean some tasks have been assigned to others. But they see those tasks as their moral obligation no matter who was assigned to do it. They take action even when that means getting their hands dirty. They dig foxholes. They wash vehicles.They will take radio watch.

In the civilian world getting dirty may mean covering a shift for an employee. It could mean stepping in to correct and coach someone who’s falling short. It could mean cleaning up after the meeting is over instead of expecting others to do it. There are a lot of ways leaders everywhere can follow a true military model of leadership - leaders lead by example and do messy things.

If somebody knows people in Hollywood, would you please let them know they keep getting it wrong?


● What is your reaction when you see a leader willing to do messy things?

● What messy things could you step in and do for others?


Here is a quick assessment that will take you 5 minutes to figure it out. Nobody will ever see your results but you.

Warning: If you are not going to be honest with yourself this is a worthless assessment.

To take the assessment use the QR code above or go to

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