I completed US Army basic training at Fort Dix in May of 1990. Immediately after, I went to advanced individual training (AIT) at the US Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Drill Sergeant Smith was my platoon drill sergeant.
Somebody Did Something Wrong
I recall several platoons gathering outside the barracks after an exercise. Drill Sergeant Smith saw a soldier walk past something that was below standard. The army, as you might imagine, is big on maintaining standards. I don’t recall the specific issue, but I’m sure it was something that, as a civilian, I would think was no big deal.
Drill Sergeant Smith ordered the soldier to stop and go back to correct the problem. The soldier replied “I didn’t do it.” Smith yelled back (because drill sergeants don’t simply speak) “You saw it. You knew it was incorrect. You don’t get to just walk on by and ignore it.” The soldier (from another platoon) went back and corrected the problem.
Do What’s Right Because It’s Right
Smith gathered our platoon to give us a lesson because we had all seen what had happened. He told us that if any of us ignores a standard and leaves a problem for someone else to correct, we’d be letting the army down, letting each other down, and letting ourselves down.
Smith told the platoon “If you see something that is screwed up and you don’t do anything about it, you are just as screwed up. It is your duty to make things right.”
The Point Was Clear
How the problem occurred or who caused it didn’t matter. Our job was to maintain the standards of the army. No excuses. No exceptions. Ignoring even the most insignificant problem is to declare the standard doesn’t exist, which brings the legitimacy of all other standards into question. The effectiveness of the organization then begins to erode.
It’s About Trust and Respect
It isn’t until we can trust that the standards are legitimate, respected, and maintained that we can begin to work as a cohesive unit. When we see people consistently doing the right things when a problem or crisis doesn’t exist, we trust the right things will be done when a problem arises.
What Do You Demonstrate and What Do You Tolerate?
We’re all leaders when it comes to maintaining standards, regardless of titles or positions. A leader is someone who influences the work of others. Each of us does this by setting the example by not ignoring problems or bad practices. Whether it’s picking up a piece of trash that was left behind or calling out improper behavior, step up and speak up. The organization will be better off for it.