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  • Jonathan Shuerger

A Lesson in Leadership from a Gate Guard


One of the greatest leaders I ever met was a gate guard manning his post in Fallbrook, CA.


For most of my service commitment with the Marine Corps, I was stationed at Camp Pendleton. I lived off-base in Temecula, and had a 45-minute commute to make it to my 12-hour shift (not counting PT, so make it 14). If it only took 45 minutes to get back home (not likely, considering San Diego traffic), it gave me 16-hour days.


Every time I hit the Fallbrook gate, there was a gate guard who made my day: retired Sgt. Major Thomas.


Most gate guards check your ID and half-heartedly wish you a good day. They don't want to be there; they didn't join the Marine Corps to tell military spouses to go to the other gate because they don't have their IDs on them. And most of us don't blame them, because we don't want to do it either.


Sgt. Major Thomas was different.


You're driving up to Fallbrook gate at 0730. You've already been in line for 45 minutes to get into the base, because some genius made it one lane to get into the entire east side of one of the Marine Corps's primary bases in North America.


You're irritated from the idiots who drove through the Albertson's parking lot to cut into line, and the guy in front of you has edged into the median so the motorcycles can't drive past you and get up further in line.


And you hear him.


"HUH-LEFT-RIGHT-LOW-RIGHT!"


And a helpless grin breaks across your face like the sun cresting the horizon.


Awesome. He's working today.


At the gate, there's a tall black man in impeccable shape wearing a flat-brimmed drill instructor cover. He's laughing and having an absolute blast scanning IDs. Every time a car drives through and another car/motorcycle pulls up, he throws back his head and roars another marching cadence.


You can hear him for two hundred yards through your window. "Good morning, devil! You have a Dan Daly day, oorah? Raaaaaaaaaagh! Huh-left-right-low-right!"


The man blitzed cars through as fast as he could, and he did it singing the whole time. He had a grin on his face and motivation blasting out of his pores.


Sgt. Major Thomas loved Marines.


He loved seeing Marines, yelling at Marines, having Marines yell back at him, and most of all, he loved being a Marine.


He was always happy to see us, and it made us, regardless of how bad our day was going to be, happy to see him. He was a perpetual reminder of the positive things of the Corps, the brotherhood, motivation and culture we loved. For a couple of minutes, it didn't matter what stupid thing we were going to do that day. Sgt. Major Thomas was jazzed that we were there.


A lot of people don't know how to lead, and it frustrates the people under them.


People are quitting their jobs over their supervisors. They hate walking into work to perform their same grinding tasks over and over for the same idiot who is barely competent and as beaten down as they are.


According to Jesus Christ, the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.


Be happy to see the people under you.


When they walk in, get a big grin across your face because, man, it's on again! Before the business of the day has to start, take a minute to enjoy your employees, your kids, or your subordinates.


This is why people have dogs, okay? To have something always irrationally happy to see you when you walk into your home. It engenders truly stupid levels of loyalty in return (I point you to the John Wick series).


By loving your people and showing it, you can hide a pretty good amount of incompetence. I have no idea how good Sgt. Major Thomas was at his job. I never saw a performance evaluation or FITREP. I also do not care, and if any pen-pushing limp-wristed sack tries to go after him, I will sit my happy self down in the brig of my own free will after the horrible crime I perpetrate.


If you want happy workers, with high performance and low turnover, lead them with your own enthusiasm. Love your neighbor.


Huh-left-right.

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