The Leadership We Need for the Long Haul

Thearon W. Henderson

Spending nearly a decade around some of the greatest leaders in our country has given me a pretty decent eye for leadership. Marines are trained from the beginning that they are formed, molded, shaped into small unit leaders. From the Fire Team leader to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the principles of leadership are the same. Since I retired from the Marine Corps I have noticed that these traits crossover to every aspect of life.

Leadership shows up in adversity more than anywhere else. These young players that we have are going to be able to see what Gus and his staff are really made of. Everyone has a plan until you get beat down at home and the stand are half-empty at half-time. After that, what? Fight, flight, freeze. Those are the options.

I learned a lot about the man Gus Bradley by watching his short post game speech that was aired after the Oakland loss. Marine Corps principles were in place. We can all learn something from these principles and traits.

The leader is ultimately responsible for the actions of the team.

Despite the ultimate responsibility of the leader, everyone is held accountable. Every step. Every misstep does not involve just one or two people. Every mistake is a system failure. Where were the breakdowns? Find those. Eradicate, educate and eliminate. Eliminate meaning that we move past the memory of mistakes. Own it, eat it, and shit it out.

When I showed up to boot camp, I was a 155lb 20 year old kid. I could do 10 pull-ups, run 3 miles in 25 minutes, and do 90 crunches in 2 minutes. Decent. Not great. I met the minimum standards. I was not about to win any awards on fitness levels for Marines. I could have graduated that day and been well within the standards. My leaders demanded more. After a while, I demanded more. I wanted to improve; as a result, I worked harder everyday because those leaders placed over me demanded it. They did not demand it of just me but they also demanded full effort from every single would-be Marine around me.

The environment was contagious.

Marines buy in to being the best. We buy in to locating, closing with, and destroying the enemy by fire and close combat. Why? Because that's who we are. At some point, and there is a defining point, our inner constitution changes.

Gus Bradley can do that with this roster. From my experience, guys that join the Marine Corps with something to prove take longer to develop into leaders, key role players, and go-to guys but when they do, oh man. That's what we are hoping happens to the slew of undrafted free agents. Are they 15 year Hall of Fame caliber guys? No. But they can fill a role and lead. There are far more Marines that get out after four years but their impact on the Marine Corps is long lasting. We didn't pick up any hall of famers on the waiver wire but we did sign some pretty decent guys that we can use as building blocks. New guys will be here soon but there is a job that needs to be done now.

We have a roster full of guys that are talented, hard working, and thirsty for getting better. It's no secret that I'm not the biggest Poz fan in the world. Poz, as a captain, displays amazing leadership in a picture posted on twitter early this week. As soon as the team got to the hotel, Poz was out in the open studying film.

Leaders do that. Leaders let you see that they are preparing. It's contagious.

When I was the Company Gunnery Sergeant I made it a point to run, workout, and clean my office during lunch time. I didn't do all that during lunch because I wasn't hungry but because was determined to let Marines actually see the work that I put in. I did not just come up with philosophy one day. I did that because the Company First Sergeant was doing the same thing. When I got the job, it was required. Lead from the front. If anything needs to be done, we do it first. We do it where people can see. They will want to join. They did.

Gus Bradley would have been one hell of Marine. I was speaking with Alfie a while ago and we were talking about R. L. Ermey. For people that have not had the privilege of being in the Marine Corps, Ermey is what they usually think of. That's fine. There is so much more.

Is there name calling, hitting, screaming, running, push-ups? Sure. What the public doesn't see in the movies is the part of leadership that involves tucking a young Marine under your arm and listening to his stories about how his wife left him. The public doesn't see the combat hardened leader teaching about finances. The public doesn't see the monthly counseling sessions. The public doesn't see the problems. The public sees the guys in dress blues. You see the finished product. You don't see the 6 uniform inspections that the Marine went through to make sure his uniform was perfect before the Marine Corps Ball.

People have actually wanted Gus to throw his players under the bus. Leaders don't do that. Why would you trash your own people in a public fashion. You use mistakes as teaching points while teaching with accountability. No one should think mistakes go uncorrected but leaders, a huge majority of the time, are not going to make those corrections in the public square.

The teams inspections come on Sundays. The fans, in some cases, expect Gus Bradley to trot a team ready to set the world on fire. These guys haven't been together as long as basic training. It's a new platoon of guys. Some of them showed up and were the football equivalent of "155lb kid that can do a couple pull-ups." Coach Bradley will train them right.

Give them time. Enjoy the show of leadership. If you are a leader in your job always remember that there was a time that you sucked. If you are in a subordinate role, chin up, your boss sucked before and might still now. Get better.

A squad of 53 guys with the talent that we have simply wont make the playoffs. Some games we might not even look competitive. We might get blown the hell out every single game. What we need to focus on is "blooming where we are planted." Discipline is the key. There is no doubt in my mind that we have the right leaders to lead us where we want to go. Reinforcements will be coming. 2013 might be a battle we "lose." Don't be short-sighted. Sometimes you give up the queen to take the king. Leaders know that.

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