I was enlisted in the US Marine Corps for four years many, many years ago. It was my first experience in having an IT management responsibility.
First, I was the 3rd shift supervisor as an E4 Corporal in a small Data Processing platoon of some 20 Marines at Kaneohe Marine Base in Hawaii (someone had to do it 🙂 ). I became a 1st shift supervisor when I was promoted to Sergeant. In my last year, I transferred to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina where I became the Operations Chief of a slightly larger organization.
As Operations Chief, I had day-to-day operations management responsibility for the entire platoon, , , three shifts of some 30 Marines working in an IT Data Center.
The interesting thing about this is that the position they gave me responsibility for was an E8 level position, , , I was still a Sergeant E5 level, , , three levels below the rank that normally occupied this responsibility.
The experience was great, especially so early in my career. Some of the lessons learned were even better because one in particular helped mold my management approach that would help me immensely in later years.
The best lesson I learned
In the Marine Corps, you can give an order to your troops and they have to carry out the order. There is no such thing as, “I don’t feel like it.” or “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” If a senior Marine orders something to be done, we do it or face the consequences, , , and that could mean possible jail time.
Discipline is straightforward and simple, , , you obey orders.
Well, I learned this aspect very quickly, , , but the most valuable lesson I learned was that if you want your men to do a quality job and with enthusiasm, , , then you must explain why we are doing this, what’s in it for them, and what the benefit will be in doing this task. In other words, you need to persuade a bit and not just give orders. This is especially true with IT people.
I literally began changing my management style from an authoritative manager to a persuasive manager without realizing it. I made this change because I somehow understood the results were better when I discussed the reasons and explained why we needed to do certain things with my staff. Twenty years later, this work behavior dynamic is what helped me land the CIO role in one of the fastest growing companies in the US at that time.
I didn’t know or understand anything about employee work behavior tendencies until 20 years later. I’m convinced I began changing my normal personality from authoritative to persuasive in the Marine Corps, , , even though I never realized it was happening until many years later.
A challenge we have is that IT managers in large part are authoritative managers, , , it’s my natural profile as well. We are more comfortable giving orders. But to truly succeed, we need to empower our employees so they want to do these jobs, , , otherwise they resist.
When employees are empowered, understand the reasons for the work, and feel like it will benefit them, , , maybe even have some fun with it, , , they do a much better job. And that’s what we want, , , quality work and results.
My Marine Corps experience was great but the most valuable experience was starting to learn how to motivate and lead people.