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© 2006

Of all the leadership rules I have learned from the Military, the single most important one is:


The concept is simple: If your people are safe, happy and alive, they will be sure to show their gratitude by keeping you safe, happy and alive. Seems simple, doesn't it. It's a lot more complicated than that. It's also the most violated leadership responsibility in the world today.

The true leader will be able to insure that individual concerns are put aside for the good of the group. My favorite allegory is digging the ditch for the latrine. It's a nasty job, but somebody has to do it. Nobody will leap up and say "Hey, I love to dig latrine holes. Let me do it." But somebody must or the entire group will have a severe sanitation problem.

The good leader would set up a lottery, with names drawn out of a hat. The names are written down in order that they are drawn. The first name on the list digs the first hole. The next hole is dug by name number two. The only time the first person's name comes up again is when everyone has had the joyous opportunity to dig at least one hole.

This is a chance drawing with no favoritism towards anybody. The group still won't like the job, but they will have no complaint as to how they were selected to do it. No favoritism to anyone. Sooner or later, everyone will be experienced "poop excavators".

A true leader will know the skills and limitations of everyone in the group. He or she will never assign tasks to a person who has neither the skill, ability or inclination to complete a task correctly - if at all. It is self-defeating to force a job on anybody who cannot possibly finish it satisfactorily.

A true leader delegates both authority and responsibility to the most qualified person. The group may select the people on the "board of directors", but special tasks may need special people. A trusted delegate will also be given the authority to speak for the leader when authority is necessary. Authority and responsibility are what leaders are all about. It does no good to assign someone a job but ham-string that person by not having the authority to get the job done.

After delegating a job to a trusted co-worker, the leader should be able to sit back and watch, supervising only when a major problem (like a safety-type problem) crops up. This leader will offer assistance only when asked for direction. He or she will not "micro-manage" the task. He or she will, however, have the responsibility of insuring the project is completed within the designated or agreed upon time schedule.

The U.S. Military has one set of rules that I have never agreed with. It is another version of the Peter Principle: "A person will eventually be promoted to their level of incompetence." It's the military's "Up or Out" policy. This policy states that after you have been in a job for a specified period of time, you must be ready for the next level of supervision. This leaves no room for the person who does a super-fine job at one level, but has absolutely no desire or talent to be the boss. The military says that this person is not supervisory material, and is summarily discharged from the service.

A ditch digger may perfectly happy to be the world's best ditch digger. Alas, he is promoted to be the boss ditch digger - and he hates the job and fails miserably at it. You fire him. Now you have just lost the services of the world's best ditch digger. What's the sense in that?

Why bring up the ditch digger? In your group, you will probably have one or more people who have no desire or skills to be promoted to a supervisory level. Some people simply cannot work well in a group while others cannot function without a group. We are back again to "Know your People". Don't attempt to get blood from a turnip by asking someone who is already contributing at their highest possible level, to do something else they are doomed to fail at.


All survival group members should be double-tasked, if at all possible. There should be a backup for every critical position. For example. If you have a nurse who is a "Jill of all trades", then she is a very valuable team member. But what happens if she gets sick, or worse. Somebody has to be given at least some training in how to step in and take her place. This person might not want the job, but will probably understand that they are the most qualified to step in.


Children can contribute a lot, if you give them a chance. Under close supervision, they can help with almost any task you can think of. "Gopher" is what the military calls them. Go ‘fer some coffee - Go ‘fer some nails. For older kids, let them handle the tools and perform selected jobs that will eventually lead to their higher and higher skill levels to contribute to the group. If you have a sullen teenager hanging around, the morale of at least one member of your party is bad. A true leader will take active steps to correct this problem because if he/she doesn't, then you are breaking rule #1 by not taking care of your people. A busy teenager doesn't have time to mope around. You will be very surprised at what youngsters can do. Give them a try.

Above all, a true leader is someone who gets the job done, as safely and quickly as possible, without getting his people killed. If you look at Operation Desert Storm closely, you will see that every effort to protect the soldier on the ground was made. The net result was the complete annihilation of Saddam Hussein's army with a bare minimum loss of lives of US servicemen. A truly remarkable task. It wasn't until the operation changed to "Enduring Freedom" that it all fell apart - under different leadership. Once again, we win the war and lose the peace. Go figure?